: Distracted drivers to be jailed?

Distracted drivers to be jailed?

Steven Castan
Western Australia

New laws proposed in Western Australia could see extremely harsh penalties for drivers who are distracted in the normal course of driving, with drivers jailed under the new offence of careless driving occasioning death, grievous bodily harm or bodily harm. There are already heavy penalties for reckless driving and dangerous driving under the Road Safety Act.

The new laws are being hailed by some advocates as vital to saving lives on WA roads while critics say they are ‘frightening’ in their scope and too harsh a penalty for distracted drivers. The 2014 WA road toll was the highest for four years, with 184 deaths. Based on WA’s population of 2.6 million, the fatality rate equates to approximately 7.1 deaths per 100 000 people; the national rate is 5 deaths per 100 000, and Victoria and NSW have an average of 4.5 per 100 000.

Western Australia’s Road Safety minister, Liza Harvey, believes that distraction is a major cause of road death, and says the new regime is not a mandatory penalty but a new maximum. However Perth barrister Linda Black said that new laws could see otherwise good drivers jailed and severely punished for ’momentary inattention’ especially in instances where perhaps the passenger failed to wear a seatbelt. She added: ‘The fact that your conduct may have caused an extraordinarily extreme outcome doesn’t mean our laws should be dealing with you in an extremely serious way.’

Advocates for the new laws, including Perth man Tom Davies, founder of the ‘Enough is Enough’ road trauma campaign, believe current laws are too weak for distracted or careless driving and that people have to accept responsibility for their conduct even if there is no malice in the behaviour.

The new laws are hoped to be introduced in state parliament before the end of the year.

STEVEN CASTAN is a WA-based barrister, and nationally accredited mediator.

(2015) 40(2) AltLJ 143
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