Disadvantaged car owners are forced to choose between paying a fee to release their impounded cars or covering legal costs – even if they have a real defense to their charge, says the Law Society of South Australia.
Most important points:
- Alleged violators must pay $1,135 in 28 days, or up to $1,395.50 in 38 days, to release their car
- The legislation focused on scorn or dangerous driving
- Those who cannot afford the release fees or legal aid may be left without a vehicle
SA police revealed that 822 seized vehicles had been destroyed or sold since the rules for dangerous drivers were introduced on July 1 last year.
The law required alleged offenders to pay up to $1,395.50 to release their impounded vehicle, otherwise it could be destroyed or sold after 38 days.
Between July 1 last year and June 20, 520 vehicles were crushed for scrap, while 302 were auctioned.
During the same period, 635 vehicles were released on the grounds of deprivation.
The alleged offenses ranged from driving an unregistered vehicle to drink driving, including taunting or dangerous driving.
Not everyone can afford release fees
The Law Society of SA has previously criticized the new rules, with its president Justin Stewart-Rattray warning that vehicles seized and possibly destroyed before a person is found guilty “would affect less affluent South Australians”.
“The Company is aware of cases where drivers face the destruction of their vehicle who may have had a genuine defense against their charges but were unable to pay the impoundment fee required to release their car, and who also cannot afford legal representation,” he said.
And because most violations that can lead to forfeiture of the car are not covered by legal aid, the drivers in these cases have no legal opportunity to challenge charges.
“With the car repossession system in place for nearly 12 months and we begin to see lawsuits testing the evidence against defendants, it is likely that there will be instances where people will be dismissed or withdrawn their charges, which could then lead to to people seeking compensation for out-of-pocket expenses as a result of having their car impounded.”
A spokesman for the SA police said they were unable to comment on any court results linked to the seized vehicles.
But they said a refund will be paid if a case is dropped, withdrawn or a person is found not guilty by the court.
The Law Society of SA is calling for fees for vehicle releases on conviction and for reinstatement of payment plans.
“Clearly, those who will struggle to pay the substantial release fee and cannot afford to sue, even if they have a legitimate defense, will be far worse off than those who can comfortably afford to pay. for the release of their vehicle,” he said. said.
“This is compounded by the fact that there are no payment plan options for those on low incomes, which only serves to entrench the backlog, although society notes that the police commissioner has the freedom to waive repossessions in the event of serious financial problems.”
Rules aimed at reckless driving: minister
Police figures show that 23 of the 37 lives lost on SA roads this year were caused by speeding or dangerous driving.
Police and Road Safety Secretary Joe Szakacs said the state tolls are a strong reminder that dangerous driving is not an innocent act.
“The government will continue to seek advice from SA police on the taunting laws to ensure they are properly implemented – including forfeiture, sale and crushing of vehicles.”
The Law Society of SA said it supported measures to deter dangerous driving but questioned whether car impoundment was the most effective model, as several offenses under the scheme are unrelated to scorn-driving.