Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack
Podcast Number 138 – Driving in Australia – Demerit Points
(This podcast is 15 minutes and 10 seconds long.)
Australians are a nation of drivers. We use our cars to do most of our travelling. However, as is the case the world over, many of us are not as careful as we should be when we drive. Sometimes we don’t pay attention, or we think our skills are better than they actually are, or we just willfully break the road rules. In cases such as these, we often get caught by the police and are charged with a traffic offence. In this podcast, I would like to talk a little about the demerit system which applies when we get caught breaking some of the rules of the road here in Australia.
The road rules are there to keep us safe. In 2021, despite millions of people being in covid pandemic lockdowns for much of the time, there were still 1,127 road deaths across Australia. To encourage Australia’s drivers to stick to the road rules, we have a penalty system called the demerit system. It is designed to encourage people to obey the rules. The truth is that many Australians will earn some demerit points during their life as a driver. Common traffic offences in Australia covered by the demerit point system include speeding, using a mobile phone illegally while driving, not obeying red traffic lights and not wearing seat belts. More serious offences such as driving while affected by alcohol and drugs are outside the demerit point system and have severe penalties including instant loss of licence and fines.
To encourage people not to break the law, the demerit system was introduced and operates in all states and territories of Australia. There are minor differences between the states, so I will describe the system as it operates in Victoria, as that is very similar to the others. I don’t claim to be an expert on this topic, and anyone wanting a detailed and accurate description should visit the Victorian State government site at this link. https://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/licences/demerit-points-and-offences/about-demerit-points
In summary, here’s how it works. Every driver starts with no demerit points – a clean slate. This is how you want to stay, with no demerit points. When you are caught breaking the road rules, you are given demerit points. The number of points you are given will depend on what type of offence you have committed – the worse the offence, the more demerit points you will receive. Once you have received a certain number of demerit points, called the demerit point limit, your driving licence will be automatically suspended or cancelled. This means you can’t drive anymore for at least 3 months.
Now, the demerit point limit depends on what type of licence you have. In summary, if you are a new inexperienced driver, your demerit point limit is lower. That means, you can more easily have your driver licence suspended. This makes sense, because new inexperienced drivers are more likely to have a crash and may not yet be as safe as they can be.
In Podcast 18 (Learning to Drive in Australia), I talked about how you get a driver’s licence in Victoria. There I mentioned that we have a graduated system of licensing. In summary, there are 4 levels or graduations of driving licence if you are under 21 years of age, and 3 levels if you are 21 years of age or older.
For those under 21 years of age, first you get a learners’ permit, then you get a probationary 1 licence which lasts 1 year, followed by a probationary 2 licence which lasts 3 years and finally a full licence.
For those 21 years of age or older, first you get a learners’ permit, then you get a Probationary 2 licence which lasts 3 years and then finally a full licence.
So, now let’s explain the demerit point limits.
If you have a full licence, your demerit point limit is 12 demerit points in any 3 year period. If you reach 12 demerit points in any 3 year period, then your licence is automatically suspended or cancelled for at least 3 months.
If you have a probationary 1 or probationary 2 licence, then you also have the same 12 demerit point limit in any 3 year period, BUT, in addition, if you get 5 demerit points in any 12 month period, then you also have your driving licence automatically suspended for 3 months. For example, let’s assume you are a probationary 2 level driver and you commit no traffic offences for 2 years. Well done. Then in the third year you get caught speeding three times by the police and you get a total of 5 demerit points. That’s it, you have reached the demerit point limit and you lose your licence for 3 months. A driver with a full licence would not have their licence suspended, since they have the 12 points in 3 years limit applying to them.
Note however that each demerit point lasts exactly 3 years. In other words, demerit points will disappear from your driving record exactly 3 years after the date of the traffic offence. Here’s an example. Let’s suppose you were caught speeding in year 1 and got 3 demerit points. Now suppose you still haven’t learned your lesson and got caught speeding again in year 2 and got another 3 points. That makes 6 points. Be careful! Another 6 points and you will lose your licence. Let’s assume in year 3 you are caught speeding again and get another 3 points. That’s 9 demerit points and only 3 points away from licence suspension. However, when the 3 year anniversary date comes around for your first offence which you committed in year 1, then those 3 demerit points disappear off your driving record and you are left with only 6 points. After another year of good driving, the second lot of 3 points would also disappear and you would be back to only 3 demerit points. After another year of good driving, you would lose the last 3 points and then you would be back to zero again. Well done. You now have a clean slate.
If a driver doesn’t learn their lesson and they find themselves having 12 demerit points within a 3 year period, then their licence will be automatically suspended for 3 months. After they serve the 3 month suspension period, they get their licence back and their demerit points score is once again zero (0). Now they can start their driving career once more with a clean slate. Hopefully they have learned their lesson.
There is another option for those drivers who reach the demerit point limit and whose licence is to be suspended for 3 months. It is called an extended demerit point period. Extended means longer. For this option, you can choose not to have your licence suspended. You can keep driving BUT, for the next 12 months, you must break no driving road rules that would give you any demerit points, or cause you to lose your licence. If you do break the rules, then you will have your driving licence suspended for double the time – 6 months instead of 3 months. If you are an unsafe, careless and reckless driver, it’s a risky option to take. The idea is that it will encourage you to drive safely 100% of the time during that 12 month extended demerit point period.
So what are some typical traffic offences and their demerit points? Here are some examples.
(See this link for a longer list). https://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/licences/demerit-points-and-offences/demerit-offences
- Exceeding the speed limit by less than 10 kmh – 1 demerit point
- Turn or stop without signaling – 2 demerit points
- Exceeding the speed limit by 10kmh up to less than 25 kmh – 3 demerit points
- Using a mobile phone illegally while driving – 4 demerit points.
I would add that, in Victoria, if you get caught breaking the speed limit by 25kmh or more, you lose your licence immediately. That certainly is an incentive not to speed.
As this area of the law (and in fact any area of the law) is complicated, please refer to the Vicroads website to obtain the latest and most accurate information. https://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/. In the meantime, if you drive in Australia, obey the road rules.
If you have a question or comment to make, please leave it in the comments box at the bottom of this page. Or, you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you. Tell me where you live, a little bit about yourself and what you think of my Slow English podcast. I will write back to you, in English of course. If you would like to take a short quiz to see if you have understood this podcast, you will also find it on my website. Goodbye until next time.
Podcast 138 Quiz - Did you understand the podcast?
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Question 1 of 10
True or False? – The demerit point system in Australia encourages people to drive safely.Correct
Question 2 of 10
True or False? – When you are caught breaking certain road rules in Australia, you lose demerit points.Correct
Question 3 of 10
True or False? – The demerit point limit is something which drivers in Australia should avoid.Correct
Question 4 of 10
True or False? – If you are an inexperienced driver with a probationary licence, it is easier to lose your licence with the demerit point system.Correct
Question 5 of 10
True or False? – If I am a driver with a full licence, I can lose my licence just be getting 5 demerit points within 12 months.Correct
Question 6 of 10
True or False? – If a driver with a full licence gets 2 demerit points every year for 6 years, he will have his licence suspended.Correct
Question 7 of 10
True or False? – If your licence is suspended, at the end of the suspension you will have no demerit points on your driving record.Correct
Question 8 of 10
True or False? – If you are a probationary driver and you get 5 demerit points in 12 months, there is still an option where you can still keep your licence.Correct
Question 9 of 10
True or False? – If you reach 12 demerit points in 3 years, and you choose the extended demerit point period, you have a risk of getting double the suspension period.Correct
Question 10 of 10
True or False? – If you are caught speeding by 30 kmh over the speed limit, you will get 9 demerit points.Correct
accurate = always correct
actually = really
affected = changed
anniversary = the date when something happened last year or several years ago
applies = (here) is used
applying = (here) must be followed
assume = you imagine something
automatically = happens without asking
cancelled = when something is removed. To get it back, you must pass a test
career = (here) the whole time when you do a job or special activity
careless = when you don’t pay attention
charged = when the police say you have done something wrong and must be punished
clean slate = when you can start again without any mistakes from the past
committed = (here) done, usually something bad
complicated = difficult to understand
covered = controlled by
crash = when a car or truck or motorcycle hits another vehicle or runs off the road
depend = when one things changes because of something else
description = an explanation
designed = developed, created, made
despite = even though, nonetheless, notwithstanding
disappear = no longer there
earn = deserve, receive
encourage = when you tell or help someone to do something
exactly = equal to, without any error
exceeding = greater than, more than
expert = someone who knows a lot about a subject
fines = a $ penalty for making a mistake or breaking a rule
illegally = against the law (for example texting while driving)
illegally = not legal, against the law
in addition = (here) as well
incentive = makes you want to do something
inexperienced = when you are new to some task
instant = straight away, immediately
introduced = started
learned your lesson = you made a mistake and now you don’t make that mistake again
licence = shows that you are skilled and are allowed to drive a car/truck/motorcycle
mentioned = to speak or write about something (usually only briefly)
obey = to follow an instruction or rule
offence = when you break the rules and something again the law
operates = works, is used
option = choice
pandemic lockdowns = during covid-19, people must stay at home
pay attention = to be aware of what is happening around you, to concentrate
penalty = a punishment for doing something wrong eg. A fine or jail sentence
permit = (here) a written statement that you are allowed to do something
probationary = when you are allowed something new until you prove you can do it well
reckless = when you make mistakes and don’t care about it
risky = when things can go badly because it’s not safe
serious = something with bad effects
severe = bad, harsh
signaling = (here) using the blinkers on your car/truck/motorcycle to show you are turning
similar = the same as, or nearly the same as something else
skills = things you can do which must be learned
speeding = going faster than the speed limit
stick = (here) follow, obey
suspended = (here) when something can no longer be used until a later time
traffic = cars and other vehicles on the road
typical = when something is seen many times, is average, is normal
willfully = to do something even though you know it is bad
worse = badder or more bad
zero = nothing, nil