Imagine for a moment that you’ve just started a new job where all seems perfect in every way, asks truckies’ lobbyist Trevor Warner of the Drivers Advocate group.
Then one day, out of the blue, all your hard-earned money disappears from your bank account in one life-changing hit.
Unbeknown to you, Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) has a court order in its favour for 90 outstanding fines for driving an unregistered vehicle and a truck with a defective speed limiter.
The truckie is totally blindsided, and his life turned upside down – all the notices were going to an old address and the business he drove for at the time has long since folded.
But according to Revenue NSW – the fine issuer and debt collect for TfNSW – he’s on the hook for $113,000 and they’re not budging.
Sadly, however, this isn’t a fictional scenario, says Warner, the Queensland delegate of the National Road Freighters Association.
This very real case, and a similar one in which a driver racked up $38,000 in fines, are now the inspiration for a new crowd-funding campaign to fight back.
The Drivers Advocate group is asking truckies to help raise $3000 needed to fund a legal challenge by the Highway Advocates, a legal practice fighting back with affordable, focused advocacy for the heavy vehicle industry.
“Drivers have been screaming about this for a long time [Safe-T-Cam fines] and once they get this across the line, it will be a carbon copy template for every other driver who has just shut up, paid the fine and moved on,” said Warner
“We believe there must be compensation for these unjust fines paid back to all drivers. If we can get 600 drivers throwing in $5 each, we can get this job done.”
To contribute to the legal fight, click here.
Warner said the issue starts because some Safe-T-Cams are not picking up the rego plates correctly.
In the case of one of the drivers above, Warner said he was doing express freight between Brisbane and Sydney for months, oblivious to the penalties he was racking up.
“Now if you had an unregistered vehicle and it was supposedly speeding every night of the week wouldn’t you issue an enforcement order or an intervention order to pull that truck up?
“But they didn’t, they just let it go, and also why wasn’t he getting infringed at every single camera?”
Warner is also adamant that under the chain of responsibility laws, the registered owner of the vehicle should have received the infringement notices, not the truckie.
“It’s an absolute money-spinner for TfNSW,” he said.
“They know that if we go to court to fight, we’re up for $2000-$3000 in lost wages and for travel, and we have to pay for a lawyer on top of that, and we believe TfNSW plays on that.”
Highway Advocates’ CEO/director Robert Bell, a former truckie-turned paralegal, is confident that he and lawyer Adam Cockayne are building a solid case for the campaign. The pair has already had success with this offence, having similar matters withdrawn and dismissed at court.
“It is a ludicrous, revenue-raising offence, that apart from all the other legal issues, raises a Constitutional issue of some significance,” Bell said.
To illustrate, he cites the wild discrepancies in penalties for obscured number plates in each state. A Victorian driver infringing in NSW would trigger a $1449 fine, along with four demerits, yet if that same vehicle was captured in its home state, it would not be deemed unregistered.
The penalties are also a lot lower for NSW registered trucks – $686 and three demerits. NSW trucks are not “deemed” unregistered in NSW. They are charged with having an obscured or illegible number plate.
“This triggers the Constitutional issue,” Bell said. “Section 117 of The Constitution provides that you cannot be discriminated against, or suffer a disability, as a resident of one state as opposed to a resident of another state when operating in that state.
“Put simply, NSW have simply created this offence, which now heavily punishes drivers, not registered operators, whilst they are passing through NSW.
“There are multiple offences related to uncompliant speed limiters also, with the fines being issued retrospectively after detection.”
In an emailed statement, a TfNSW spokesperson said a driver can potentially accumulate multiple offences by continuing to drive an unregistered vehicle during the same journey.
“For example, in a single journey from Queensland to Victoria the heavy vehicle may pass through a number of different Safe-T-Cam sites over a number of days,” the spokesperson said.
“If the vehicle is detected at different times and/or different dates, the offences are distinct and may result in separate infringement notices being issued.”
The spokersperson added that every licence holder in NSW is required to notify TfNSW not more than 14 days after a change in the licence holder’s name, residential address and most importantly, address for the service of notices.
Failure to do so can result in a maximum fine of $2200.
“It is the responsibility of the driver and the registered operator to know the expiry date of their registration. This can also be checked on the Service NSW or NHVR app.
If a fine is issued, the registered operator or driver can pay the fine, request a review with Revenue NSW or elect to have the matter dealt with at court.”