Ask LH: Was It Fair For The Police To Fine Me?

Dear Lifehacker, I recently visited the local fish and chip shop to get a snack for my kids, but when I got there the shop was closed. I came in, put on the kettle and sat down, then heard a knock at the door. It was the police.

Image: vagawi

“Are you the registered owner of that vehicle?” they asked, pointing to my car. Yes, I am. “Were you just driving it?” Yes, I was. “Where were you going?” Just to the chip shop to get chips. “Did you realise your driver’s licence has expired?” No, I did not. (I did actually forget : the reminders come too damn early!)

To cut a long story short, I was fined $473 for driving with an expired licence. Apparently they couldn’t just give me a warning because the licence had expired more than six weeks ago. I know I was doing the wrong thing technically, but is it fair to knock on my door after the event and give me a whopper fine? I think that’s unreasonable, but am I just being a little emotional? Any advice appreciated! Thanks, Expired

Dear Expired,

There’s no single topic that’s bound to draw the ire of Lifehacker readers more than driving fines, as I discovered when I weighed in on getting fined in private car parks, but here goes:

There are really two sides of this. On the one hand, there’s relatively little that’s a grey area relating to breaking the law (which you were doing) and complaining about being busted for it after the fact. You can’t break the law and cite a matter of minutes as any kind of reasonable defence, and the law (no matter which state you’re in) says you have to have a valid licence in order to drive. Driving without a licence almost certainly means you’re also uninsured, and while you’re not likely to be planning an accident on the way to the chippy, it could feasibly happen.

The trickier aspect is one of discretion; in theory the police should apply the law equally and without fear or favour, but in practice, they do apply discretion depending on the circumstances. To use a personal example, not that long ago I copped a fine for disobeying a No Right Turn signal on a Sydney road; my normal approach for this particular corner was to head a little further, perform an entirely legal three point turn from a driveway nearby and head down via the left. On the day in question, the road was 100 per cent clear, so I figured I wouldn’t bother — and there was a cop car idling nearby. A painful fine — and one that even the cop booking me admitted was a little rough, especially as while he was booking me, a couple of other vehicles zoomed past having done exactly the same thing — but I took it on the chin because, ultimately, I’d done the wrong thing.

It seems a little odd that they’d bother knocking on your door, although you haven’t made it clear if there were other circumstances that led to them checking your licence details in another context. Still, you’d left it a month and a half to renew your licence, which suggests it wasn’t top of mind. The fine is undeniably painful, but that’s the point; perhaps calendaring the renewal date on your phone or computer may help next time to remind you to keep your licence in order. Driving isn’t ultimately a right; it’s a privilege.


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