By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
Ahh, another day; another obscure road rule leaving sincere Australians out of pocket.
If you thought you had the road rules all sorted, then try this for perhaps Australia’s most dubious law.
Earlier this year, a Perth driver was slapped with a mind-boggling fine by police after paying a window washer $1.50.
He didn’t even get off on a caution.
Let’s unpack this.
- Man Pays Window Washer Small Change, Then Gets Fined for “Buying a Newspaper from a Person”
- The Law on Buying, or Offering to Buy, an Article or Service from a Person Standing on a Road
Man Pays Window Washer Small Change, Then Gets Fined for “Buying a Newspaper from a Person”
On 13 February 2019, Luke Bresland was driving from a meeting when he was approached by a window washer at the traffic lights at the intersection of Roberts Road and Thomas Street in the inner western Perth suburb of Subiaco.
The window cleaner washed Mr Bresland’s windscreen, prompting him to look for spare coins in his car.
Mr Bresland handed over $1.50 before continuing to drive along the road upon the lights turning green.
However, a police officer on a motorbike behind him instantly pulled him over, and then slapped him with a $50 fine for “buying a newspaper from a person”.
Driver Left “Flabbergasted”, Completely Unaware of Law on “Buying A Newspaper from a Person”
Indeed, the banker was rather confused about the situation, believing he was being pulled over for something else.
“His lights came on so I thought I might have had a light out or something,” Mr Bresland said.
“Then he’s asked me if I gave the guy some money back there, and I said yes, and he said are you aware that’s illegal, and I said no.
“He just came up and started washing my windows and I thought I’d just give him some money because he’d done it – I didn’t ask him to.”
According to Mr Bresland, the police officer was not able to find the right code to issue an on-the-spot fine, instead advising he would send it in the mail.
“I asked him, given the fact I didn’t ask the window washer to come over, and I didn’t know it was illegal, could he just caution me, and he said he could, but he chose not to,” he said.
Following the incident, a spokesperson from the Western Australia Police Force confirmed to news.com.au that, “the man was issued an infringement for providing payment to a window washer who cleaned his windscreen. This constitutes an offence – Soliciting a service from a carriageway – Rule 259(2) Road Traffic Code 2000.”
Meanwhile, Mr Bresland said he was “flabbergasted” by the police response, particularly given that the officer did not even know the correct code for the offence he had been charged with.
Police Admit They “Stuffed Up” by Fining Motorist for Giving Window Washer Loose Change
After receiving the $50 fine in the mail, Mr Bresland chose to contest the charge.
On 30 May 2019, the banker faced Perth Magistrate’s Court, where he pleaded not guilty to the charge of “buying a newspaper from a person”.
However, according to Western Australia Police Traffic Operations Inspector Vic Hussey, the charge had been withdrawn. It turns out police officers had tried to contact Mr Bresland before his scheduled court appearance.
Speaking of the incident, Inspector Hussey said there were a “lot of issues and a lot of problems” involving window washers disturbing motorists, and so the police officer involved was simply “trying to solve the problem”.
He made clear that it was an offence to pay window washers. However, “the penalty of $50 suggests how we actually view that as a society”.
“So, we had a chat with the officer, and he reflected upon what he had done, and said ‘well, look, it probably was an exaggeration and probably wasn’t the best way to address the issue at hand’,” Inspector Hussey said.
“The reality is, unfortunately, sometimes you can make a decision and then reflect upon on it, and it’s not necessarily the best one.
“Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don’t and, on this occasion, we stuffed up.”
The Law on Buying, or Offering to Buy, an Article or Service from a Person Standing on a Road
In Australia, roadside window-washing is illegal in every state and territory, except the ACT.
In Western Australia, the offence is outlined in Rule 259 Road Traffic Code 2000, which prohibits a person while on a carriage way or median strip from soliciting contributions, employment or a ride from an occupant of a vehicle, or from offering a newspaper, periodical or magazine for sale to an occupant of a vehicle.
The same Rule prohibits a driver or passenger in a vehicle from buying or offering to buy a service or article from a person who is on a carriageway.
In Western Australia, people caught by police breaching the law face fines of $50.
In NSW, this offence is reflected in Rule 236(5) Road Rules 2014, which outlines offences relating to pedestrians causing a traffic hazard or obstruction.
It is illegal for a driver or even a passenger in a motor vehicle to purchase (or offer to buy) a service (or article) from a person who is standing on a road in NSW.
Further, in NSW it is also illegal for a pedestrian to stand on or move onto a road for the purpose of soliciting business, employment or contributions from the vehicle’s occupant(s). It is also illegal for a pedestrian to hitchhike, display an advertisement, sell or offer articles for sale or wash or clean (or offer to wash or clean) the windscreen of a vehicle. (Rule 236(4) Road Rules 2014).
In fact, it’s illegal for a pedestrian to cause a traffic hazard by moving into the path of a driver, or to unreasonably obstruct the path of a driver or pedestrian in NSW (Rule 236(1) and (2) Road Rules 2014).
The above are each penalty notice offences which means that anyone caught breaching those rules will face an on-the-spot fine of $76. This offence does not attract demerit points.
Given these are each penalty notice offences, court attendance is not required. However, if disputing the infringement, a court-election can be made requiring a court attendance in-front of a Local Court Magistrate who will then have the discretion to impose a maximum penalty of up to $2,200.
However, if the Magistrate is convinced enough to order a non-conviction penalty such as section 10 dismissal or Conditional Release Order without conviction then there will be no conviction with no fine.
The one exception to the above rules in NSW is, if the above activities are done in compliance with another law of NSW (Rule 236(6) Road Rules 2014).
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