Speed limits are controversial and they are always changing. Some people argue in favor of lowering speed limits while others believe speed limits should be raised. Some state have recently increased fines for speeding offences while other states have reduced them.
Each state and local jurisdiction sets its own speed limits, but laws requiring drivers to obey speed limits tend to be uniform from state to state. Other state laws that define driving offences involving excessive or imprudent speed (such as careless or dangerous driving) vary from state to state. Penalties also vary, depending on the state in which you are accused of speeding.
If you want to examine the laws that pertain to speeding where you live, here are some examples:
VIC: Road Safety Act 1986, section 64
VIC: Road Safety Road Rules 2009, Rule 20
QLD: Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995, section 83
QLD: Transport Operations (Road Rules) Regulations 2009, section 20
NSW: Road Transport Act 2013, section 117
NSW: Road Rules 2008, Regs 10-2 and 20
SA: Road Traffic Act 1961, section 45A
SA: Road Rules 2009, section 20
WA: Road Traffic Code 2000, Regs 11, 17, and 18
This eBook provides an overview of speeding violations and penalties, discusses speed detection, and explains the infringement notice process. The information provided in this eBook is general in nature and is not intended as legal advice. Whether you have a defence to a speeding accusation and the potential penalties you face will depend upon the specific facts of your case. You can only obtain legal advice by discussing those facts with a lawyer who handles traffic cases. If you are accused of speeding and wonder whether you can avoid demerit points, a suspension, or other penalties, you should ask a lawyer.
2. Speeding violations
Exceeding the speed limit
Speed limits are enacted by governments and posted on signs. Most speed limit signs establish a maximum speed at which drivers can travel, but a minimum speed might be indicated by signs on some roads. Drivers are required to obey the posted speed limit from the point at which the first sign appears designating that limit until another sign designates a different limit or until an "end speed limit" or "speed derestriction" sign appears. The latter signs are used to indicate that a temporary speed limit (in a school zone, for instance) no longer applies.
When no speed limit sign appears, drivers must obey the "default" speed limit. States generally establish slower default speed limits for "built up areas" and faster default speed limits for roads that that pass through sparsely populated areas. Some states establish additional default speed limits. Drivers are expected to know and to comply with the default speed limits of each state in which they drive.
Exceptions to speed limits
Some states establish speed limits that drivers must obey under certain circumstances, regardless of the posted speed limit. Those circumstances may include:
Speed depending on conditions
Some states penalize drivers for driving too fast for existing conditions (on a wet road or when fog reduces visibility, for example) even if they are driving at or under the speed limit. Other states will use laws that prohibit unsafe driving, reckless driving, or driving with undue care to penalize drivers who are driving at or under the speed limit if their choice of speed contributes to (or nearly causes) a traffic accident.
Speed cameras have become a popular means of catching speeders. They record a vehicle's speed and take a picture of its license plate. An infringement notice is then sent to the vehicle's owner. The owner is required to pay the fine specified on the notice unless the owner either (1) nominates another person as the vehicle's driver, or (2) lodges an objection and asks for a court hearing.
If the owner nominates another person as the speeder, that person will be sent an infringement notice. The nominated person has the ability to nominate a different person as the driver. If the vehicle owner does not know and, after making reasonable inquiries, cannot reasonably be expected to know who the driver was, the driver may be able to avoid a fine by declaring that the driver is unknown. That defence usually succeeds only if the vehicle was stolen or in similar circumstances that make clear the owner's inability to identify the driver.
Other speed detection devices include radar and laser guns. Radar is generally less reliable that laser, but no speed detection device is reliable if it is not operated properly. Was the device pointed at your car or at a nearby car? Did a flock of birds fly through the radar field just as the device was measuring speed? In appropriate cases, doubts can be raised about the validity of a speed measurement during a court hearing. To learn whether those doubts can be raised in your case, you will need to consult with a lawyer.
The least reliable speed detection device is the police officer who follows a speeding vehicle and claims to maintain an exact distance between the police car and the car being followed. Officers who claim they can judge the speed of another car by looking at the police car's speedometer can often be challenged in court. If you were given an infraction notice in a speeding case that did not involve a speed camera or other speed detection device, talk to a lawyer about the defenses you can raise.
Speeding is usually dealt with as an infringement. A driver who is suspected of committing the offence is issued an infringement notice. If the driver has been stopped by a police officer, the officer will probably issue the notice on the spot. If speeding was detected by a speed camera, an infringement notice will be mailed to the vehicle's owner.
An infringement notice gives the driver the option of paying a penalty that the state has fixed by law or regulation. The driver also has the option of contesting the infringement notice by requesting a court hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, a driver may receive a greater or lesser penalty than the fixed amount that appeared on the infringement notice, or may be found "not guilty" and avoid any penalty.
States often want to discourage drivers from exercising their right to a court hearing. Their websites often try to scare drivers by warning them that they will pay higher fines and court costs if they request a hearing. That might happen, but a driver with a strong defence might avoid all consequences by contesting the alleged violation. That might be particularly important to a driver who wants to avoid accumulating demerit points. To determine whether it makes sense for you to contest an accusation of speeding, talk to a lawyer who handles traffic defence.
Some speeding offences carry an automatic licence suspension. Lodging an objection and asking for a court hearing usually postpones the suspension and keeps you on the road longer. That benefit of seeking a hearing is particularly important for drivers who need extra time to prepare for the loss of driving privileges, including drivers who risk the loss of a job if their licences are suspended.
Not all speeding violations are dealt with by the issuance of infringement notices. Some major offences involving excessive speed might require a court appearance. If you are required to go to court, or if you want to know whether you should go to court to contest an infringement notice, you should consult with a lawyer.
5. Penalties for speeding
The most common penalties for speeding include fines and demerit points. Additional demerit points are usually assessed for holders of learner, P1, or P2 licences. Penalties can also include a licence suspension or disqualification as well as impoundment of the driver's vehicle. Occasionally the police give drivers a warning rather than issuing an infringement notice.
Fines and demerit points
The fine imposed and the number of demerit points assessed for speeding generally depends upon the amount by which a driver exceeded the speed limit and the kind of vehicle that was driven (drivers of heavy vehicles often receive a heavier fine). The penalty may also depend upon where and when you were speeding. In New South Wales and Western Australia, for example, demerit points for speeding double on long holiday weekends, while fines and demerit points are higher if the speeding occurs in a school zone. Finally, the penalty may depend upon your driving record. For example, demerit points in Queensland double for a second offence in one year of exceeding the speed limit by at least 21 km/h.
Some licence suspensions automatically result from an uncontested infringement notice. Licence suspensions can also be imposed automatically if, for instance, a driver fails to pay a fine or accumulates too many demerit points. Licence disqualifications are imposed by a court. For most purposes, the terms "suspension" and "disqualification" are used interchangeably.
The length of a licence suspension for speeding varies from state to state. In New South Wales, a licence suspension occurs under any of these circumstances:
In Queensland, a licence suspension for a full licence holder does not occur unless the driver exceeded the speed limit by more than 40 km/h. The suspension for that offence is a minimum of 6 months.
States typically permit the impoundment of vehicles when a driver engages in a serious speeding offence. In Western Australia, for instance, the police can impound a vehicle if the driver was exceeding the limit by 45 km/h or more. In Victoria, vehicle impoundment and participation in a Safe Driving Program can be ordered by a court if a driver is found guilty of exceeding the speed limit by 45 km/h or more.
In Victoria, drivers who have not been issued an infringement notice or warning during the past three years can apply to the police for a warning in order to avoid a fine. The warning policy (which the police only fully disclosed in 2013) applies to drivers who were exceeding the speed limit by 14 km/h or less. A request for a warning is made by asking the police for an internal review.
If you want to know whether a fine, demerit points, suspension, or vehicle impoundment can be avoided in your case, consult with a lawyer whose practice includes the defence of traffic matters.