By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
In recent years, there have been an increasing number of cases emerging involving rocks being hurled at vehicles from overpasses all around Australia.
For motorists, this has become a significant safety matter, particularly because large, hard objects such as rocks not only have the ability to damage vehicles, but more worryingly, can cause serious injuries and even fatalities to drivers and the passengers they may be travelling with.
While for those engaging in the act, often youths, consider it merely a prank, the fact of the matter is that it is an offence to throw rocks at moving vehicles and the penalties for doing so can be momentous – in NSW, even reaching a maximum penalty of five years in jail.
Nevertheless, this hazardous and foolish conduct continues to take place, all while the lives of innocent motorists get put at risk.
February 2020: Vehicles Damaged by Rocks Flung from Overpass in Hunter Region
Last week, the problem of rocks being thrown at motorists once again surfaced as a number of boulders were launched from an overpass in the Hunter region during the night.
At around 10:30pm on 18 February 2020, Hunter Valley Police District officers were advised of a group of people engaging in the dangerous act from the railway overpass at Bridge Street in Muswellbrook.
The group are believed to have been heaving the rocks onto oncoming traffic as they travelled at high speeds.
While no one was injured, the rocks did cause damage to numerous vehicles.
NSW Police Force (https://www.police.nsw.gov.au/news/news_article?sq_content_src=%2BdXJsPWh0dHBzJTNBJTJGJTJGZWJpenByZC5wb2xpY2UubnN3Lmdvdi5hdSUyRm1lZGlhJTJGODMwOTQuaHRtbCZhbGw9MQ%3D%3D) informs that a B double truck underwent destruction to a rear window, while another B double truck suffered dents and paint damage to its roof.
On a Nissan Murano SUV, the front windscreen was also smashed.
Officers from Hunter Valley Police District have since commenced an investigation around the circumstances of the incident and are appealing for any members of the public with more information to come forward.
Police: Throwing Rocks at Oncoming Traffic a “Very Serious” Matter
Following the incident, Chief Inspector Guy Guiana advocated the gravity of rock-throwing conduct.
“Throwing rocks at oncoming traffic is a very serious matter,” Chief Inspector Guiana said. (https://www.muswellbrookchronicle.com.au/story/6639172/three-vehicles-damaged-after-rocks-thrown-from-overpass/)
“We are keen to speak to anyone with any information about this dangerous incident.”
He urged any witnesses or motorists with dashcam footage in the area at the time to contact authorities.
Why is Throwing Rocks at Moving Vehicles so Dangerous?
While to some, hurling a boulder down at a motorist travelling at high speeds on a road may be a laughing matter, the reality is that it is both dangerous and reckless.
To highlight this, consider a vehicle that is moving on a highway at 90km/h.
If a large rock was to hit this vehicle from high above from an overpass, the impact would undoubtedly cause the windshield to shatter. Even worse, given its force, it could leave the driver or a passenger dead.
But these are not the only ways rocks thrown at vehicles have the potential to injure or kill motorists.
Consider, for example, a rock crashing into a car’s windscreen, causing the driver to lose control and crash into another vehicle resulting from the sudden shock of the unforeseen strike.
Or, a boulder smashing down onto a driver or passenger directly in the head with lethal power.
How the Law on Throwing Rocks at Vehicles Evolved in NSW
To give you a sense of the gravity of throwing rocks at vehicles, consider that in 2008, the NSW government had little hesitation in toughening the laws on this matter (https://www.smh.com.au/national/tough-new-rock-throwing-laws-begin-20080523-2hjm.html) and made it illegal to throw or drop an object at a car, train or boat, even if it does not hit the target.
The new laws were brought before NSW parliament in response to a spate of incidents where motorists had rocks thrown at them, one of which injured 22-year-old south coast beautician Nicole Miller.
In July 2007, Ms Miller, from Nowra, suffered a fractured skull and permanent brain damage when she was hit by a 1kg rock thrown from a Kiama overpass.
The man who threw the rock, aged 25, was sentenced to a minimum two years in jail.
Is it a Crime to Throw Rocks at Vehicles in NSW? (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/blog/the-law-and-penalties-for-throwing-rocks-or-other-objects-at-vehicles-or-vessels-in-nsw/)
In NSW, it is illegal to throw rocks and other objects at vehicles and vessels.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of five years jail – a term which is designed to reflect the high level of danger that motorists can be subjected to when a rock is launched from a soaring height that is typical of a highway overpass.
Section 49A Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/1900/40/part3/div6/sec49a) says that NSW Courts can impose a maximum sentence of 5-years jail if the prosecution can prove each of the following elements beyond reasonable doubt in court against the accused person:
- The accused either dropped or threw an object on or at a vehicle or vessel on a road, railway or navigable waters (whether moving or stationary); and
- He/she did so intentionally; and
- A person was in the vehicle or vessel at the time; and
- It caused risk of personal safety.
It should also be noted that law states that in the prosecution of an offence of this kind, it is not necessary to prove that the accused was aware that his or her conduct risked the safety of any person, or that the object made contact with the vehicle or vessel.
A “vehicle” is understood to include a motor vehicle, a train or tram, a bicycle, and a vehicle drawn by an animal or an animal ridden by a person, as per section 4 of the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW) (https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/2013/18/chap1/part1.2/sec4).
On the other hand, throwing a rock and causing harm in those circumstances can also constitute the offence of recklessly damaging property or recklessly occasioning grievous bodily harm or wounding charges (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/criminal-law/offences/assault/reckless-grievous-bodily-harm-or-wounding/).
Some of the defences that can apply to the offence of throwing a rock at a vehicle include mental illness defence, intoxication, duress or necessity or self-defence.
For more details, call us 24/7 to arrange a free consult with one of our experienced Sydney criminal lawyers today (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/).