Ask LH: Do Highway Police Need To Meet Ticket Quotas?

Ask LH: Do Highway Police Need To Meet Ticket Quotas?

Dear Lifehacker, It was recently reported in the news that a highway patrolman was caught writing fake speeding tickets to meet his monthly quota. Is this practice widespread in the Australian police force? If so, what’s to stop people getting slugged with unfair fines on quiet months? Thanks, Law Abider

[credit provider=”Getty Images” url=”″]

Dear LA,

Ticket quotas are something hundreds of cynical motorist suspect they have been victims of. State police departments have staunchly denied the practice, although the evidence suggests that some of them might be fibbing. A bit.

For those who missed last week’s headlines, a NSW highway patrol officer admitted to writing 18 fake tickets for offenses ranging from speeding to inappropriate use of high beam lights. As it turns out, none of the infringements actually occurred and the vehicles didn’t even exist.

Following an internal investigation, the officer plead guilty in court to 18 charges of “modifying restricted data” and three counts of “making false or misleading claims.” He has since been suspended from duty with pay.

The officer in question has denied attempting to reach a quota set by his superiors. But this begs the question: why on Earth would he fabricate fines and risk his job if quotas are not used by police? It just doesn’t add up.

This is not the first piece of evidence relating to the existence of quotas. Back in 2011, a leaked email from Adelaide’s Holden Hill Police Station revealed “minimum targets” for assorted crimes and traffic infringements. Over a five-week period, police were expected to make at least five arrests, for example.

Queensland Police Union President Ian Levers has publicly acknowledged that quotas exist, albeit unofficially. If Levers can be believed, the practice is limited to “some” police stations and only at the behest of “enterprising senior police”.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that traffic fines add around $2 billion to the Australian government’s coffers every year. You can infer from that what you will.


Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our [contact text=”contact form”].


  • Meanwhile, it is estimated that traffic fines add around $2 billion to the Australian government’s coffers every year. You can infer from that what you will.It’s too easy to obtain and retain a licence?

    • Pretty much. It’s not hard to avoid a speeding fine.

      Regarding the article: from speaking to a few police friends (at least in metro Brisbane) there aren’t quotas per se, but rather if you’re in traffic and you aren’t writing tickets your superiors want to know what you’ve been doing with your time. From what I understand it’s kind of a measure of productivity, not “We need to make the state this much money today.”

      • Bloody KPIs, the bane of working life, they don’t usually show the whole story, and so are often misleading.

        For police, low arrest/low tickets can theoretically be a better measure of good performance as it would mean they are doping such a good job there is no need for the arrests/tickets, of course it could also be that they are just sitting in a donut shop all day*

        * No i don’t think all cops do that, its a bad stereotype , i appreciate and respect the police force … please don’t arrest me 🙂

    • This. I constantly see people on FB bitching ‘oh stupid speed cameras, they’re only there to raise revenue, they don’t serve the public, blah blah blah’.

      To which I always respond – If you weren’t breaking the law, you wouldn’t have been fined. Simple as that.

      • Nah, the original point still stands. If they really wanted to stop people speeding they would change it so that you weren’t able to get caught speeding six times (and pay the associated fines) before actually losing your license.

      • Whether or not they are breaking the law does naught to dismiss their objection. Policing is vitally important in any lawful society. They have limited resources, all of which is drawn from tax payer contributions.
        So we have every right to question how those resources are being expended and whether or not they are for our benefit and safety or whether they are just for the sake of propping up a financially mismanaged agency.

        The majority, vast majority, of speeding accidents are not caused by the 0-12kph over the limit speeders, yet indeed the vast majority of revenue comes from those people. Of course they are furious. The state governments conflate low level speeding with high level speeding to justify the absurd and unfair inancial cost being worn by otherwise law abiding people.

        Driving safely and driving according to a posted limit are not the same thing. Extreme speeders and reckless drivers can only be meaningfully stopped by more police patrols targetting those individuals and less focus on Joe Bloggs going 78 in a 70 (THINK OF THE CHILDREN!).

        I could post link after link of independent studies supporting the fact that low level speeding is not causally linked to more accidents, but no one reads them anyway. Certainly not the government or those useful idiots supporting their money-grabbing tactics.

        If you actually care about safety and those things affecting safety…. do not be a useful idiot supporting this “speed kills!” bullshit. Think critically. Assess the data. Demand meaningful changes to policing.

        It’s a service we pay for, don’t forget that.

        • Think critically. Assess the data.

          I have a post-grad in applied statistics, so you’re preaching to the choir.

          I’m nicking this wholesale from the DTMR, but:

          Australian research^ has shown that the risk of a serious crash doubles with a 5km speed increase on 60km urban roads or with a 10km increase on rural highways.

          So to your point – yes, speeding in of itself isn’t going to cause accidents. What it does is exacerbate the accidents you do have, so limiting speeding is a way to minimize the impact that poor driving has.

          • Exactly right. Increasing the velocity makes the kinematics of trauma much, much worse. The speed limits aren’t arbitrary and are designed to be safe for most road users given the purpose of the road – hence why residential streets have slower speed limits than motorways.

            Just because someone feels confident that they can do 70 in a 60 zone, it doesn’t mean that one day a pedestrian isn’t going to step out in front of you and screw you over. It’s harder to stop the faster you go, and the faster you go the worse the trauma. Are all speed limits sensible? Hell no. But most of them have a good reason for being in place.

      • Speed cameras are not a replacement for good policing.

        The only thing a speed camera can do is detect if you’re speeding. It can’t detect the moron in the next lane chatting / texting on the phone while doing 95 in a 100 zone, which IMHO, is more dangerous than being 3kph over the limit in that same 100 zone.

        Speed cameras in school zone? Great idea. Like most things, context is important.

      • Meanwhile, people texting and updating Facebook while driving, people too busy listening to music and sipping their latte to do a proper mirror – signal – headcheck, people who are too tired, too drunk or drugged up and those who have just never been sufficiently trained to be on the road will continue being the ones causing the accidents.

        The sad fact is that in each of those causes of accidents, speed is a fact, necessarily, because it’s a MOVING OBJECT.
        That speed is a factor is obvious when we’re talking about MOVING OBJECTS. Though “being a factor” is no more relevant than “having wheels” or “being painted” unless it can be established that it was THE CAUSE. Speed is not irrelevant but it is very rarely the CAUSE of a crash.

        The curious thing is that many people are baffled when they are pulled over for speeding because they will SWEAR that they thought they were travelling at a safe speed. They were reading the road conditions, they were maintaining a safe distance to the car in front. Their vehicle has modern tyres and ABS and traction control. They weren’t fatigued or distracted or drunk.

        Yet they are fined and told they put lives at risk. Meanwhile, those who cut in front of me or pull out in front of me without looking or signalling, every single time i’m on the motorbike – the people who but for the grace of my good reflexes narrowly avoid killing me…. – they carry on their way, obeying the speed limit and being completely oblivious to how many people they put at risk with their awful motor skills. They believe they are competent and safe, because they stare at that odometer and never exceed a certain number.

        Too many ignorant, reckless, unskilled drivers believe they are safe and I do blame the state governments and police for stuffing these campaigns down our throats which focus disproportionately and unjustifiably on SPEED AND SPEED ALONE. If you’re not speeding, you’re safe! Carry on!

        • Well, if you come up with a way to automatically monitor people texting and updating Facebook while driving, people too busy listening to music and sipping their latte to do a proper mirror – signal – headcheck, people who are too tired, too drunk or drugged up and those who have just never been sufficiently trained to be on the road, I’m sure you will make millions.

          In reality, speed cameras and red light cameras are the only automatic policing tool there is, and the only thing freeing resources for the police to do actual patrols to catch all other ways people drive badly – and when they’re on patrol, if they see you speed, they’re gonna pull you up on it.

          Now you may be correct in saying speed is very rarely the cause of the crash (it’s probably alcohol), it is entirely a factor in how SERIOUS the collision is and the risk of injury. Accidents will always happen but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to lower the risk of someone dying because of it.

      • Last year QLD did an investigation into speed limits. Some roads had limit increased, others decreased. Every single road that had the speed limit decreased, had a speed camera on it from Day 1 of the change for around 2 months after the change. Every driver got fined, not 1 warning. Those are the things that are blatant revenue raising. Very few people complain about cameras on freeways, or streets that haven’t just had a speed limit change.

        • See, I get stuff like that…. that’s a dick move solely designed to trip people up.

          I’m thinking more of the serial speeders, who appear to be the ones most vocal about how speed cameras as a whole are a bad system

  • It comes down to basic motivations of the Police involved. If you set KPI’s to achieve x number of things to happen they will be hyper-vigilant to those things. I would prefer public safety based KPI’s and not hair trigger 2 Kph over the speed limit nut busting.

  • OT – I keep getting a red band advising me “Your ad blocker is turned on… Please consider whitelisting us,,,”.

    Dear Giz and LH – my ad blocker has whitelisted you ever since you first asked. Why am I getting this message?

  • The officer in question has denied attempting to reach a quota set by his superiors. But this begs the question: why on Earth would he fabricate fines and risk his job if quotas are not used by police? It just doesn’t add up.

    No, it raises the question. Begging the question is a logical fallacy of circular reasoning.

    Sorry, but we all need to stop using this expression incorrectly.

  • This is an interesting discussion that references a report and subsequent analysis, although it’s around speed (safety) cameras, but still deals with quotas.

    There are a few questions to consider.
    Is it dishonest to say safety camera, when the priority appears to be on revenue?
    Is the emphasis on safety compromised if we focus on revenue?
    Should the police force have any role to play in revenue raising?

    While some celebrate the extra revenue, I am concerned that it may compromise safety because of a conflict of interest.

  • I live in the ACT. One Friday night I worked back late and I was driving home around sunset listening to a book on a CD. The road was empty (normally a busy road), except for me and this guy standing in the middle of the road not moving, pointing something at me, shit a lidar gun.

    He pulled me up and informed me I was doing 94 in an 80 zone and asked why. I told him I had just left work and I was tired, listening to this CD book, no-one else on the road so I didn’t notice I was speeding, until I worked out what he was doing standing in the middle of the road.

    He smiled and said yeah I can understand that. He asked if I had a good driving record, to which I replied I didn’t know (I lost my licence decades before, lived overseas for a while, and had only been in the ACT for six months), and he said I will go and check. He came back and said my record was completely clean. He then said lets see if we can keep it that way, I am issuing you an official warning, handed me a ticket that looked like an infringement notice, and said if I was not caught speeding again in the next 12 months it would be expunged from my record.

    Well, it made me not only very careful for the next 12 months but left me with a very good feeling. I have mentioned it to other ACT residents and it is apparently rare but not unknown. It had a much better effect on my driving than a fine.

  • I have a very close mate who is a police officer here in Adelaide and he has stated to me that there are no specific quotas as such however senior officers will question them if they are on patrol for a whole day and do not issue any or very little tickets. So I guess threre is an expectation.

    He also advised me that he and most other cops are quite reasonable when it comes to issues tickets, he says that unless you are driving recklessly or blatently disregarding the speed limit they will, on most occasions, only issue you with a warning. However he also stated that there are some cops that will book you for every little thing.

    I think in general most cops are quite reasonable in terms off issuing tickets, my main issue is for speed cameras that have no human intervention like the ones attached to the front of cars on the side of the road. Near my house, where i have lived for over 10 years, there is a quite a steep hill in the backstreets which to my knowledge there has never been a minor or major accident yet at least once a fortnight there is always an unmarked car with a radar on it sitting on the decent catching drivers that may have crept over the limit for a split second when decending the hill. If this isn’t revenue raising what is?

    One other issue I have is police officers breaking the law themselves to catch people out. I have regularly seen police on push bike riding between cars that are stopped at traffic lights to catch people on their phones. The issue with this is that there has always been a bike lane on these roads and in SA it is illegal for cyclist to ride on the road if there is a bike lane available unless overtaking another cyclist or a parked car. I have no problem with them enforcing the no phone laws but surely they should not be allowed to break any laws themselves to do it.

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!