A legal loophole that has seen drivers escaping penalty points by accepting disqualifications as short as one day is a “source of concern” given the recent increase in road deaths.
Barrister and author David Staunton is warning that courts are using a provision in the Road Traffic Act to give drivers one-day suspensions instead of the automatic six months they could get by hitting 12 penalty points.
It’s understood at least two District Court judges have used the provision to give drivers very short qualifications following applications from their solicitors.
Some drivers have even been allowed to select the day they would be disqualified so that it would not impact upon their work.
Mr Staunton explained the loophole to Newstalk Breakfast this morning.
He said that anyone who reaches 12 penalty points on their licence is automatically banned from driving for six months.
When you get a fixed charge penalty notice, you can either pay the fine and accept the points or decide not to pay and go to court instead.
Should you elect to go to court and get convicted of the offence in question, the number of points you will get rises from three to five.
He said the loophole has come into play in circumstances where the driver is at risk of breaching the 12-point limit and getting a driving ban.
“When they get to court, they may say to the judge, look, ‘I'm going to be disqualified for a period of six months because I'm now going to exceed the 12-point limit,’” he said.
“But under this provision in the 2002 Road Traffic Act, if you were [instead] to be disqualified for a period, the court will not impose the penalty points – meaning you won't get five penalty points on conviction, but you'll get a one-day disqualification instead. Or as short, potentially, as one day.”
Circumventing the law
Mr Staunton said the loophole is “rarely” used – but it is still concerning to see the “intention of the legislature being circumvented” in this way.
He said it is not clear if there is any legislation on the way to close the loophole – but noted that it would not be difficult to do so.
“It is capable, very easily, of being corrected by, for instance, saying that a court, if they're imposing a disqualification instead of penalty points, that it would be not less than six months, meaning that [there would be no benefit],” he said.
“It's circumventing the intention of the legislature and of course, at the present point in time, where there's a concern about increased road deaths, it is a source of concern for the public.”