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The weblog of Tony Morris

Obstruction

Posted on April 4, 2007, in Law

On 28 April 2006, I was charged by a police officer for obstruction under Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 Section 444 (since amended to Section 790). The police officer alleged at the time that my holding of a sign that reads ‘Police Speed Trap Ahead 50’ – with emphasis on the 50 indicating the speed limit in that area – constituted an offence, obstruction.

I subsequently entered a plea of not guilty (after one adjournment) and made several attempts to obtain a Brief of Evidence from the police prosecution. Their incompetence would normally astound me, but these days I just roll my eyes – in fact, a demonstration of competence itself would invoke surprise (know of one?). Of course, no brief was available, for days, then weeks, then months and in the meantime, I had spent countless hours on putting together a defence.

Finally, the day before the trial, still without a brief (roll eyes now), the police prosecutor rings me and attempts to negotiate – in the usual friendly/manipulative manner as expected. After the usual banter (trying to obtain information from me), I am offered a ‘guilty plea for no conviction’ deal, which I immediately decline and hang up the phone with, ‘see ya tomorrow mate’. I then travelled to the police station to request a brief of evidence, knowing I wouldn’t receive one, but adding to my record of attempts to obtain it, that I would be presenting to the magistrate the following day. A couple of hours later, I receive another phone call to be notified that the charge has been dropped.

This occurred for two reasons.

  1. The police prosecution was too incompetent to get their act together to pursue the charge

  2. But most importantly, the police do not want to set a legal (lawful) precedent for this behaviour

The police prosecution clearly believed that there was a strong possibility that my not guilty plea would pay off. If it were successful, a subsequent appearance on television (see the first one below) would have propagated the legality of this activity among the public and the police definitely do not want an informed public even if it means that I ‘get off’. Instead, it is best to leave the issue ‘blurred’ and continue pursuing ‘offenders’ such as myself, who otherwise do not know any better and enter a guilty plea on the day in court (I understand that many police officers genuinely believe that they are performing a public duty, but let’s leave that side issue).

Although I am not a lawyer, this activity is not illegal if it is executed correctly. I encourage any member of the public who is concerned about road-safety in Australia to engage in this lawful behaviour, although I do not accept any liability for any adverse consequences that you may encounter, including, among other things, a criminal conviction.

To engage in this behaviour legally in Queensland (other states may be similar), ensure the following:

What about flashing vehicle headlights? If you flash your headlights to warn other motorists of an impending speed trap, a police officer will almost certainly issue you with an infringement notice of Rule 218 of the Australia Road Rules (Transport Operations Regulation 1999 in Queensland). It is important in this case to fulfill your legal obligations (name, address and produce valid driver’s licence) but offer no other comment – why? Because you may not have committed an offence, that’s why.

Let’s take a look at Rule 218 of the ARR (Part 13 Division 1):

218 Using headlights on high-beam (1) The driver of a vehicle must not use the vehicle’s headlights on high-beam, or allow the vehicle’s headlights to be used on high-beam, if the driver is driving: (a) less than 200 metres behind a vehicle travelling in the same direction as the driver; or (b) less than 200 metres from an oncoming vehicle. Offence provision. Note High-beam and oncoming vehicle are defined in the dictionary. (2) However, if the driver is overtaking a vehicle, the driver may briefly switch the headlights from low-beam to high-beam immediately before the driver begins to overtake the vehicle. Note Low-beam and overtake are defined in the dictionary. Diagrams follow

Your infringement notice is for part (1) of Section 218, but a police officer almost certainly will not ask you if you used your signals for part (2). Have you ever asked yourself why ADR (Australian Design Rules) compliant vehicles have a high-beam flasher switch? Of course, because it is entirely legal to flash your high-beam headlights under some circumstances.

If you wish to warn opposing traffic of an impending speed trap, ensure that you flash your headlights under legal circumstances – while overtaking a vehicle, briefly from low-beam to high-beam and immediately before overtaking the vehicle. Do not feel tempted to justify this action on the side of the road with a manipulative police officer! Simply enter your not guilty plea in the court and explain to the magistrate that you were acting legally and responsibly under Rule 218 of the ARR.