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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    I had a similar thing happen it was about 2:00 AM.
    Pulled over into an RBT.
    My licence expired at midnight.
    Cop had no leeway at all.

    Correct. By acknowledging you were the driver of the vehicle and identifying yourself you have entered into contract with you. They cannot enforce the law without your consent to contract.
    You could have simply said "Yes, I was driving the vehicle" and closed the door.

      Sounds like someone failed Year 12 legal studies.

      None of that is correct.

    Judging by the logic of people in this thread as soon as your licence expires you lose all ability to operate a vehicle.

      Actually, its as soon as your licence expires you lose all insurance coverage to operate a vehicle.
      It expired 6 weeks ago! OMG won't someone think of the children this man could potentially rob of a parent or breadwinner, with no chance of compensation.

        Ah; love forum poster facts and logic...

        First off; no; you do not lose insurance coverage when your license expires; you are still paying for the service and still applies. I know first hand; as I was hit by a unlicensed driver.

        Secondly; they are still states that DO NOT require insurance; ie: NH. We are surviving without chaos in the streets; somehow...

        The fact that people think it's OK for a state to expire your license and charge with a criminal offense; is BEYOND ridiculous. This is a draconian law at its finest. Serves 0 purpose; other then causing grief for normal law abiding citizens... There should be a HUGE difference between unlicensed driver vs expired license drive (should be a 50 dollar fee and you have 1 week to get it fixed to waive points)... Why we put up was such nonsense is beyond me.

        Lets keep in mind; "we the people" give the powers to government; not the other way around. We need to STOP this nanny state crap; where people believe the government tells us how to live and behave.

          Well Said .. At least some of us are on the sensible and reasonable side of things.

          Thank you for being real :-)...

          Sincere and Kind Regards,

      HAHA *high five* as juvenile as I seem.. an officer said that to me tonight. ." What if your children happened be be with you while driving on an expired license and you had an a....."
      "I don't have kids and I don't have kids in my car let alone passengers".

    Surfing the web about something that recently happened to me, founded this pretty intense discussion.
    Driving back home after midnight 31.12.15, got pulled over and FINED $623 plus 12 demerit points for having 2 passengers not wearing seat belts.....if we are talking about UNFAIR, I think this is a perfect example!!
    I was driving with my international license, dont know how demerit points apply here.
    Any ideas??? comments?
    so pissed! :(

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