As speeding, drink driving, and drugs dominate road safety headlines, it’s worth getting reacquainted with some fines you may not know – or might have forgotten about.
Fines and demerit points vary across different states and territories – even though they have the same or similar offences – so we listed the penalties for NSW, the jurisdiction which hands out among the harshest fines in the nation (with the exception of Queensland’s $1000 mobile phone ticket, the most expensive nationally).
No matter where you’re holidaying in Australia, we hope you make it home safely. For those in a passenger seat, here’s some trivia to break the boredom of the long journey.
Fail to stop at orange light: $464 and three points
Many motorists mistakenly believe it’s ok to drive through an orange or amber traffic light, and it’s only red lights we need to worry about. Not true. And we wish authorities did more to educate the motoring public about this little-known rule.
The orange light is intended to give drivers time to stop before the traffic signal changes to red.
Which is why you can be booked for punching an orange light if police determine you could have stopped in time safely.
Have you ever been frustrated by another driver behind you or in an adjacent lane blasting through an orange or red light after you’ve stopped? That’s what this ticket is for.
It’s especially a danger to pedestrians and other cars that could be waiting to turn in the middle of an intersection.
It’s the reason we have speed/red light cameras: to discourage drivers from accelerating to beat a red. A T-bone crash at speed can have deadly consequences.
What puzzles us most about orange-light runners: drivers who skip one orange/red light usually get stopped at the next intersection in any case. So all that risk, and for what?
Oh by the way, in NSW if you punch an orange light in a school zone the fine increases to $581 and four demerit points.
Cutting through a service station driveway to skip a red light: $349 and three points
You know the scenario: there’s a line of traffic in front of you at an intersection, and you want to turn left onto the next road. Then you notice there’s a service station with driveways on both corners.
So you take a short cut. Except that’s illegal, not to mention dangerous if you’re in a hurry and nearly wipe out someone walking across the forecourt to pay for fuel.
The ticket falls under “drive on or over footpath” but is designed to improve pedestrian safety at service stations. If you drive over a nature strip in a school zone the fine is $464 and four points.
You're allowed to drive over a service station footpath/driveway if you stop to refuel (otherwise we would all be booked when we filled up), but not if you keep going and have no intention of stopping for fuel.
Headlights off at night: $116 and one point
Ok, so you probably know this is illegal. The problem is that there is an increasing number of cars driving with their headlights off at night – because modern vehicles have backlit instruments even when the headlights are off.
So while this is an easy mistake to make, it could cost you a $116 ticket if you forget to check the little light symbol in your car’s instrument cluster – or check the road ahead to see if your headlights are throwing a decent beam.
Bright daytime-running lights can confuse some motorists into thinking their headlights are on.
The solution: an increasing number of modern cars have “dusk-sensing”, “light sensitive” or “automatic” headlights, which switch on by themselves as it gets dark (or when you drive through tunnels or undercover car parks).
On some cars, you can even leave your headlight switch on permanently – and they will turn off with the ignition. But be sure to check your car does this automatically, to avoid draining the battery when parked.
If you’re driving a truck, the fine for not operating headlights at night is much higher – $1393 and four points – because heavy vehicle monitoring cameras rely on the illumination of the rear number plate.
Throw an apple core or banana peel from a car: $450 and no points
Many people mistakenly believe throwing fruit or other food scraps out the window is not deemed littering, perhaps because it is biodegradable.
However, it’s still a ticket because it still regarded as littering (not a normal part of the surroundings or environment). Plus it can be a danger to wildlife and other motorists by encouraging animals to come to the edge of the highway for a feed.
Discard cigarette butt or lit cigarette: $680
This fine is obvious: fire danger. But did you know it could cost you a carton of cigarettes?
Toot horn and wave goodbye: $698 and three points
Many people like to toot the horn and wave goodbye to family and friends after a holiday visit, but this is actually risking two tickets.
The first ticket for “unnecessary use of horn or warning device” is a $349 ticket and zero demerit points in NSW. But waving with your hands or arms out the window is another $349 fine, with zero points for passengers and three points for the driver.
The fine is known as “limb protrude” or “part of body outside vehicle”. Back before we had turn signals on motor cars, many drivers used to lose a limb attempting hand signals.
So, maybe wave goodbye from inside the car, and avoid an unnecessary blast of the horn.
Car unattended with engine running: $349 and no points
In the heat of summer, it’s tempting to start the car and leave the engine running for a few minutes while the air-conditioning cools the interior.
Just make sure you’re not more than a few metres away from the vehicle, because the car could be deemed as “unattended” with the engine running.
The $349 fine is designed to prevent opportunistic theft. It’s the same reason there is a $116 fine for not locking the doors or securing the windows of a car while it's unattended when parked.
Flash high beams to warn drivers about a speed trap or RBT: $116 and one point
The $116 and one demerit point fine previously was referred to as using high beams in a built-up area, but now it’s simply “use high beam towards oncoming vehicle”.
Furthermore, in NSW there is a $116 ticket (and no points) for using fog lights when there is no fog or “inclement weather”.
Leave keys in car or ignition (such as when filling up with petrol): $116 and no points
This ticket is also designed to prevent opportunistic car theft. Be sure to take your car keys with you when you go in to pay for petrol.
Oh and be sure to apply the handbrake properly: in NSW that's a fine of $116 and no points
This fine is likely aimed at occasional users of boat ramps who might forget to apply the handbrake when loading or unloading a boat or jet ski off a trailer. Or anyone who parks on a hill.
Aside from the embarrassment of having your car roll away and damage other vehicles or property – and risk injuring someone – there is the small matter of a $116 fine on top of your insurance claim.
Recline front passenger seat while car is being driven: $349 and three points
Ok so this offence is not specifically related to the front passenger seat being reclined.
However, the issue is that the seatbelt may not properly be secured across the front seat passenger.
With the seat reclined, in most cases the belt would sit above the occupant – not fitted securely across and against their body. In such a scenario, the seatbelt would not be able to do its job properly if the driver needed to slam the brakes suddenly.
So while it’s tempting to recline the seat and have a bit of a nap when riding shotgun, be mindful it might not be safe if the belt is not fitted snuggly – and it could be a $349 ticket for the offending passenger.
Supplementary road rule you may not know: It’s ok to drive barefoot
There is no specific mention that driving barefoot is ok, however there is no specific offence banning it.
Police we’ve spoken to recently and over the years have said it can in fact be safer to drive barefoot compared to wearing high heels with slippery soles – or poorly fitted or clapped-out thongs.
What police are really interested in is that the driver has proper control of the vehicle.
While driving barefoot is ok, it could be a good idea to have a pair of comfortable shoes ready to put on, in case you need to render assistance to someone who’s had a prang. Or you need to extract people from your vehicle after a mishap of your own.
Do you really want to be testing your soft bare feet on hot, stoney bitumen while trying to get to safety after a crash?
Happy motoring. Here’s to more courtesy on the roads in 2021.
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