COLUMN: Traffic fines should be doubled in the interests of road safety

I think penalties for road offences need to be harsher.

In fact, I’d like them to be doubled.

Now before you yell abuse and spam my email account, let me tell you why.

I will never forget the first serious road crash I went to as a reporter.

I arrived at the scene to find a team of firefighters working to cut a woman from the absolute wreck that was the remains of her Holden commodore.

The noise of the jaws of life ripping the carcass of the car apart was hideous and from the blood I could see through my camera lens I was convinced she was dead.

By some miracle she survived but, every time I drive past that location I see it as it was on that day.

This is just one of many crashes I have attended during my time as a journalist and seeing first-hand the damage a car can do to a human body should be more than enough to stop anyone from breaking the law.

There were 184 fatalities on WA roads in 2014 and it leaves me wondering if people really think about the penalties for dangerous driving which are supposed to act as a deterrent before they get behind the wheel.  

In a bid to lower the road toll, Western Australia recently increased its penalties for the majority of traffic offences.

The changes were the first significant increase in traffic offences in WA in more than 20 years and when the changes came into effect, acting police minister John Day told 6PR Radio that the new fines were aimed at avoiding horrors on the roads.

It goes without saying that the station was flooded with talk-back callers crying foul about revenue raising.

“There’s often plenty of comment, of course, about this being a revenue-raising exercise,” Mr Day said.

“It only has that effect if people don’t drive as they should on the road.”

I could not agree more.

But did you know that each Australian state and territory has different penalties for driving offences?

Having trawled through the rule book for each, I was surprised by how vastly different they are.

Not wearing a motorcycle helmet in Western Australia would set me back $550 and four demerit points but if I commit the same crime over the border in the Northern Territory I will get a $100 slap on the wrist.

Similarly if I talk on my mobile phone while driving in Tasmania I face a $300 fine and the loss of three demerit points but in the Northern Territory it would cost me $500 and three demerit points.

Australian penalties for talking on a mobile phone while driving as of 2015.

Australian penalties for talking on a mobile phone while driving as of 2015.

Failing to stop at a red light in Tasmania will cost me $140 and three demerit points but I’ll fork out $415 in New South Wales.

The differences in fines for speeding were the most surprised, especially if I was to be driving more than 45 kilometres faster than the sign-posted limit.

Get flashed hooning in Victoria and I can expect to pay $722 and lose eight demerit points.

Pull the same move in South Australia and I would get a ticket for $952 with a whopping nine demerit points lost.

But if I commit this offence in New South Wales I would need to see my bank manager for a loan.

I would lose six demerit points and be hit with a $2252 fine.

In court last year I heard a Magistrate tell a male hoon that when he was travelling nearly at nearly 160 kilometres in a 110 kilometre an hour zone, street lights “would have looked like a picket fence”.

The comment certainly seemed to sober him up.

But so often the look on the faces of the convicted as they leave the courtroom tells me the fine they have been handed out has done little to make them realise the stupidity of their actions.

I think the time might be coming for a national penalty list to be drawn up and agreed upon by the states to make people realise just how dangerous their decisions can become.

If harsher penalties save lives on WA roads then I think it is worth it.

Because I really do not want to keep reporting on road deaths and I hope to see more people arrive alive to their destination in 2015.

What do you think? Should traffic fines be increased? Post a comment on this story or email your thoughts to andrew.elstermann@fairfaxmedia.com.au.

*In 2015 Fairfax Regional Media WA, the publisher of this website, is running a road safety campaign called Arrive Alive in an effort to help reduce the number of deaths on WA roads. 

Click back to this website in the coming weeks, months and for the rest of the year to find out how you can join in this campaign and if you have a suggestion to make WA Roads safer we'd love to hear it. Email your suggestion to our Digital Editor Tim Carrier tcarrier@fairfaxmedia.com.au.