For anyone who’s ever driven around Canberra, it’s common knowledge that diplomats have a ‘get out of jail free’ card when it comes to traffic laws.
As an extension of their ‘diplomatic immunity’, minor (and sometimes major) traffic offenses are often overlooked.
Photos captured by traffic cameras are of little use, and parking inspectors usually don’t waste their time writing tickets for cars overstaying the maximum allowable time in a parking space.
Of course traffic departments have the capacity to issue fines - just not the capacity to demand that they be paid by diplomats. And there are virtually no repercussions for repeat offenders.
Drivers in Canberra know to steer clear of cars wearing ‘DC’ or ‘DX’ number plates, as stories of woe have emerged from some of those caught up in a collision with one of these vehicles…
But the free ride looks set to end, with new rules now in effect in the Australian Capital Territory in an attempt to ensure drivers of diplomat’s vehicles adhere to the law like anyone else.
Fairfax reports that the ACT Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (known as ‘Dee-fat’) has reached an agreement whereby a 12-point demerit system will be introduced for DC and DX drivers.
Offenders in these vehicles who accrue demerits beyond the 12-point limit or refuse to pay fines in the ACT may soon have their licences suspended.
While it could be argued that most diplomats are abiding by the rules, DFAT records show that some are a little less willing to play the game.
The Department reportedly wrote to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia last year, requesting an explanation for 274 unpaid traffic fines totalling more than $64,000, racked-up in around 28 months.
The High Commission of Malaysia is on DFAT’s list, as one of its drivers was caught exceeding the speed limit by 60km/h an hour, only to be caught again moments later exceeding the limit by 9km/h.
The Embassy of Libya also received a letter, with 145 outstanding fines totalling more than $62,000.
Not all are happy about the new arrangement, with representatives from Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Russia reportedly planning a meeting to discuss the changes and Papua New Guinea’s High Commissioner has voiced his disapproval - saying that most diplomats adhere to the road rules.
The High Commissioner even threatened a ‘tit-for-tat’ response, suggesting that similar changes could be on the cards for Australia’s diplomats in PNG. He argued that Canberra benefited greatly from the presence of diplomats, and that stories of rouge DC drivers were exaggerated by the media.
If the new system is deemed a success in the ACT, DFAT reportedly plans to roll it out Australia-wide.
But a new system doesn’t necessarily guarantee that penalties will be enforced, as countries including Australia traditionally shy away from offending their diplomatic guests. DFAT has always had the power to request that diplomats return to their home countries, and that power extends to those deemed to be repeatedly flouting the road rules.
Time will tell.
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