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Fined in Victoria, okay in NSW: learner driver confusion reigns

By Tim Robson, 06 Apr 2020 Car News

Youngster fined while learning to drive in Victoria

UPDATED Victorian L-plate driver fine rescinded for driving during coronavirus restrictions - but NSW rules don't forbid it

UPDATED Victorian deputy police commissioner Shane Patton has announced that the fine issued to Ms Reynolds would be withdrawn but insisted that the ticket was legally issued.

He also suggested that while the issue may not have been clearly understood by the public, there is no excuse going forward for others.

“It has highlighted a significant issue in terms of something that needed clarity,” Patton said on Melbourne radio station 3AW on Tuesday.

“Undertaking a driving lesson by itself, to simply go off and drive out somewhere … with your parent, you’re not able to do it. t doesn’t sit neatly with any of those permitted exemptions.”

Reports emerged on Monday from Victoria that a learner driver has been fined $1652 for COVID-19 non-compliance.

The learner driver teen, named in the media as Ms Hunter Reynolds, was stopped in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston with her mother in the passenger seat and issued with the infringement for breaking level-three COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Ms Reynolds, who said she was practising in the rain,  told media that she believed she had been complying with the restrictions, which deems all unnecessary travel as illegal.

MORE Stay put, Australia: travelling restrictions listed state by state

There are arguments around whether the pair had broken the rules of essential travel via travelling an excessive distance (it's suggested that the fine was issued five suburbs away from Ms Reynold's home address), and whether learning to drive comes under the provision of 'attending work or education (where you can’t do those things remotely).' 

It's since emerged that senior Victorian police will review the fine.

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Travel restrictions vary from state to state in response to the COVID-19 crisis, but the central tenant is a requirement for people to stay in place and not travel.

It's these variances that are presenting confusion, however.

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For example, the NSW Police Force has a different take on the notion of learner-driving.

"Under the Public Health Orders, a person cannot leave their place of residence without a reasonable excuse," reads a post in reply to a question about learner driving on the NSW Police Force's Facebook page.

"A reasonable excuse includes travelling for the purposes of work where you cannot work from home, so driving instructors can leave their house for their work – to teach people how to drive."

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The post went on to suggest that it would be a "reasonable excuse" for a person to leave the house to receive driving lessons from an instructor or family member, "given that this is a learning activity that cannot be done from home and is akin to the listed reasonable excuse of travelling to attend an educational institution where you cannot learn from home."

"Learner drivers could also continue to drive with a supervising family member for any of the listed reasonable excuses for leaving the house – for example, driving to the supermarket," concluded the statement.

MORE Our live COVID-19 blog, updated daily

While learning to drive may still be permitted in the state, Service NSW - the office charged with issuing licenses in NSW - has banned all physical driver testing for two months, which prevent learner drivers from graduating from their Ls. Online-based testing is not affected.

"Driver Testing across NSW has been postponed for a minimum period of two months. The change comes into effect today in response to the latest health advice and risks associated with COVID-19. It applies to all practical driver assessments conducted by Service NSW," read a statement from Service NSW.

Victorian police said that they issued 108 fines on Sunday after spot-checking more than 900 homes, businesses and non-essential services.