Lofty Ideals, Policy Potholes & Local Licences
“Tough on crime”, “the War on Drugs”, and now….. “Towards Zero”: the latest rhetoric to metamorphosis into policy. So commendable is this policy principle, we invite you with us, to look behind the rhetoric, examine the details, and the impact these will have on day-to-day lives of drivers.
A report published in February 2018 titled – NSW Road Safety Plan 2021: Towards Zero,  has resulted in recent legal changes that have now entered into force in NSW. Of particular relevance to the Local Court Lawyers, are the changes to:
- sentences for mid-range drink driving – with mandatory interlock orders for anyone convicted;
- license suspension and fines for low range drink drivers; and
- license suspension and fines for drivers detected with a trace of drugs in an oral fluid sample.
The plan states that it uses ‘targeted and proven initiatives’ that are ‘evidence based’ to address ‘key trends, behaviours and… types of crashes’, with reduction targets to be achieved through improved ‘road design, safer speeds, safer vehicle technology and equipment, robust laws, education and enforcement,’[
The broad policy objectives of the plan are bundled into 6 priority road safety plan areas:
1. Saving lives on country roads
2. Liveable and safe urban communities
3. Using the roads safely
4. Building a safer community culture
5. New and proven vehicle technology
6. Building a safe future
While few could argue against the core objective of ‘towards zero’ – an end to all road fatalities, serious traffic injuries and road trauma in NSW by 2056 – it is worth discussing this objective in more detail. This inarguably laudable objective is at the heart of the Road Safety Plan 2021: Towards Zero, but, as usual with broad rhetorical statements used to frame government objectives (think: “the War on Drugs”), the devil is in the detail, because this broad (and laudable) policy is also driving these recent legislative changes, with more changes to come.
From May 20, the “devilish detail” looks like this: the automatic issuing of a $561 fine plus 3 months license suspension, for someone caught with cannabis in an oral fluid sample (even if they are lawfully prescribed the cannabis!). And of course, we all know, under this legislation it is irrelevant whether impairment had made these drivers a safety risk at the time. NSW drivers who ingested cannabis, whether many days and possibly weeks prior – drivers who perhaps shared a joint at a weekend party, ate a cookie at a festival, or consumed oil for pain management – will, following the advent of this new policy and the consequent legislative changes, now be fined $561 and suspended from driving for 3 months.
In part 2, the Local Court Lawyers’ Peter Randall explains more of the devilish detail, as the government strives to achieve this laudable goal.