As thousands of Australian families make their way home from Christmas holidays, they will face the threat of double demerit points for road and traffic offences. But experts are divided about whether they actually work to reduce the road toll.
The national holiday road death toll -- beginning December 23rd -- has already hit 19.
With 348 fatalities, NSW is on the verge of reaching its worst annual road toll in three years. There have been 256 fatalities on Victoria’s roads this year -- an increase of eight from last year’s death toll.
Individual states have introduced double demerit points over public holidays for drivers in New South Wales, Western Australia, Queensland and the ACT.
Transport NSW road safety chief Bernard Carlon said the penalties had helped reduce the road toll across the state since they were introduced in 1997.
“We know that double demerits are an effective road safety initiative," he told The Huffington Post Australia in a statement.
"We've reduced deaths on our roads during holiday periods by a third since they were introduced.”
The penalties have stretched even further this year. For the first time, drivers using mobile phones have faced double demerit points.
“We see too many crashes as a result of mobile phone distraction,” Carlon said.
The debate has gained currency in Victoria, after an increase in this year's road toll.
Victoria currently does not use the penalty system, but Victoria Police's road safety officer Michael Grainger thinks this may need to be re-addressed.
"We have certainly considered double demerits in the past, and we are certainly open to anything that will encourage a discussion that will have an impact on our road trauma," Grainger told the Herald Sun.
But Victoria Police insisted there would be no change to current penalties.
A statement provided to HuffPost Australia said a review of the double demerit systems used in Australia found there was no evidence to show double demerits improve road safety.
“Victoria Police does not support the introduction of double demerits in Victoria at this time,” the statement read.
With NSW and Victoria Police disagreeing on the effectiveness of the scheme to reduce the road toll, where do the experts stand?
Professor Max Cameron, of Monash University Accident Research Centre, said the data was inconclusive as to whether double demerit points work.
He told the Launceston Examiner that the scheme was the "cheaper and easy" option, whereas governments could more "vigorously" use speed cameras, lower speed limits and increase the quality of road surfaces.
Western Australia's roads departments meanwhile found a consistent reduction in injury and death after instituting the measures in 2002.
"Four independent evaluations of the initiative - commissioned by the Road Safety Council - have shown that there were fewer road crashes when double demerit points were in place," a recent report read.
The demerit point systems put in place across the country are designed to encourage safe driving and minimise accidents. Double demerits apply to seatbelt, helmet and speeding offences. The laws vary between states, but follow similar penalties.
The State Of Demerit Points
In NSW, full licence holders will receive a three month licence suspension if they lose 13-15 points;
Across the rest of Australia, receiving 12-15 demerit points in a three-year period will result in a three month licence suspension;
Penalties for speeding less than 10km/h more than the speed limit:
- NSW: 112 fine and one demerit point
- Victoria: 190 fine and one demerit point;
- South Australia: 163 fine and two demerit points;
- Tasmania: 80 fine and two demerit points;
Penalty for speeding less than 9km/h more than the speed limit:
- WA: 100 fine, but no demerit point deduction;
Penalties for speeding less than 13km/h more than the speed limit:
- Queensland: 157 fine and one demerit point;
Penalties for speeding less than 15km/h more than the speed limit:
- ACT: 236 fine and one demerit point;
- NT: 150 fine and one demerit point
Penalties for speeding less than 20km/h more than the speed limit:
- NSW: 260 fine and three demerit points
- Queensland: 235 fine and three demerit points
- South Australia: 357 fine and three demerit points
Penalties for speeding less than 22km/h more than the speed limit:
- Tasmania: 150 fine and three demerit points
Penalties for speeding less than 30km/h more than the speed limit:
- NT: 300 fine and three demerit points;
- Queensland: 392 fine and four demerit points;
- ACT: 352 fine and three demerit points
- Victoria: 417 fine and four demerit points