Jenny Leong on road transport amendments

On behalf of The Greens, I indicate our support for the Road Transport Legislation Amendment (Automated Seatbelt Enforcement) Bill 2023. I acknowledge that the Minister for Regional Transport and Roads is in the House and recognise that the bill will amend road transport legislation and related legislation to allow automatic detection of seatbelt infringements, relying on existing infrastructure used for mobile phone related infringements. This is important because we know that the non-use of seatbelts is a significant contributing factor in road‑related fatalities. We know that Australia's road toll continues to rise, despite vehicles being safer than ever before and constantly improving. Whatever we can do to reduce the risks associated with having so many cars on our roads, and tragically so many deaths, we absolutely must do.

The simple act of strapping into a safety belt is one of the most important steps that vehicle occupants can take. That is why it is illegal to drive without wearing a properly fitted seatbelt wherever one is available. It is why drivers have a legal responsibility to ensure that passengers are safely strapped in. That should not be news to anyone. These are long-established rules, and we are familiar with the finding that a driver or passenger is much more likely to survive an accident if they are wearing a seatbelt properly. The amendments in the bill will authorise the approval of existing cameras to detect certain seatbelt offences, to photograph vehicles when detection occurs and for the resulting images to be used as evidence of a seatbelt-related offence. A number of additional amendments will also be made to ensure the proper administration of the scheme.

One thing that is missing from the bill is detail about how and when the new detection method will become operational, and the processes by which road users will be made aware of these changes. We have been briefed by the Government that there will be a nine-month period when people who disregard these long‑established rules and do not wear a seatbelt and who are caught by existing cameras that will now be allowed to detect them will be given a warning rather than a fine. While it makes sense for some kind of grace period to apply so that drivers can get used to the new rule, The Greens question whether a nine-month warning period for something that is already a requirement can be justified in terms of compliance with an existing and well-understood rule.

Notwithstanding this concern, The Greens support the bill and hope to work with the Government not only to ensure that all road users across New South Wales are aware of the change, but also to address whether the requirement for a warning period of that length is necessary when the rules about buckling up and wearing a seatbelt are already in place.

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