The Enforcement of Traffic Law in the Australian Capital Territory†

Publication Date01 September 1980
Date01 September 1980
AuthorD B Nichols
DOI10.1177/000486588001300304
SubjectOriginal Articles
AUST & NZ
JOURNAL
OF
CRIMINOLOGY
(September 1980) 13 (193-203) 193
THE
ENFORCEMENT
OF TRAFFIC LAW IN
THE
AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY*
D B
Nich~lst
Traffic offences
have
become
the
dominant
form of crime in Australia's
national capital.
They
have their
own
special features.
The
motor
vehicle has
brought
Canberra society to a state of universal criminality. It has legitimized
and
enlarged the discretion of the police in the prosecution of offences.
The
rules by which that discretion was previously regulated have
been
displaced.
Substitutes, other than a
random
approach, are
hard
to discern.
The
structure of
the criminal trial has
been
altered. It is unlikely that the prosecuting discretion
can
now
be controlled judicially.
There
is a
new
problem. Perhaps a
new
solution is needed.
The
Australian
Capital
Territory
The
ACT provides aconvenient environment for the study of traffic offences.
Canberra
is a planned city and one of the tacit assumptions of the planners has
been
that the
motor
vehicle is a
permanent
feature of modern life.
The
only
form of mass transportation is the bus.
The
population tends to
be
younger,
more
affluent and
more
dependent
on the
motor
car
for its transport than that of
other
capitals.
The
road
system is
better
and
traffic engineering has been less
thwarted by built
up
areas, a paucity
of
resources
and
amultiplicity of
authorities. There is
not
the congestion
and
chaos which forces a concentration
on traffic flow
rather
than traffic
law
enforcement.
Canberra
has a
modern
and
well
equipped
police force which is not confronted to the same degree with the
accumulation
of
social problems and with concentrations of crime. These and
other
circumstances
have
quickened the
impact
of the
motor
vehicle on law
enforcement.
The
Dominance of
Traffic
Offences
The
offences set
out
in the lists of the
Court
of Petty Sessions in January 1977,
excluding parking
and
company prosecutions
and
pleas by post, totalled 1653
traffic offences
and
420 others.
The
most
common
offence was speeding (617),
followed by disobeying atraffic light (200)
and
smooth tyres (118).
The
most
common
non-traffic offence was drunkenness (75),
but
more
people
were
charged with the offence of driving a
motor
car
with a blood alcohol content
exceeding .08 (80).
The
month of April 1977 was used as a cross check.
The
totals for that month
were
1191traffic and 384 other offences.
The
pecking order
was substantially similar.
The
only other court in the
ACT
which tries criminal charges is the Supreme
Court.
The
number
of offences which it tries is relatively small. A significant
but
not
amajor proportion involve charges of culpable driving arising from fatal
accidents.
*This article was
submitted
for publication before the
author
began to sit as a Special Magistrate in
the
Australian Capital Territory.
tBarrister-at-law, formerly
Director
of Legal Services, RAAF.

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