This power was initially introduced to seize motor vehicles of young drivers convicted of “hoon” offences (that is, driving erratically or speeding in suburban streets). It has now been extended to large number of offences, including in the Road Safety Act, to first offenders with a BAC of 0.1 or higher.
Police and courts can impound, immobilise and forfeit motor vehicles belonging to drivers who are convicted of certain serious driving offences (s 84F Road Safety Act). These offence include:
• driving while disqualified;
• driving while unlicensed;
• certain drink-driving offences;
• certain excessive speeding offences;
• dangerous or careless driving;
• failing to stop when directed by police (s 64A);
• entering a rail or tram crossing inappropriately;
• driving with excessive passengers in a car, driving with passengers who are inappropriately seated and driving with passengers who are not wearing seat belts.
Drivers who commit the above driving offences can be dealt with by the police or by the Magistrates’ Court:
• by police action
If the police believe a driver has committed a relevant offence, they may seize, impound or immobilise the driver’s motor vehicle (s 84F Road Safety Act). This decision is subject to review by a senior police officer (an inspector or higher rank) (s 84M). This decision can be appealed to the Magistrates’ Court on the grounds of exceptional hardship (s 84O).
• by Magistrates’ Court action
A driver who has committed a subsequent relevant offence that gives rise to an impoundment order in the previous six years must have their car immobilised for a minimum period of 45 days and up to three months. The magistrate may order the car to be forfeited (s 84S, 84T).
These orders may be avoided if the driver is experiencing exceptional hardship. This requires the magistrate to consider the driver’s employment, road safety and the public’s best interests (s 84Z). Although, if exceptional hardship is granted, the driver may have to give an undertaking about driving the vehicle and other matters (s 84Z(3D)). Any driver seeking an exceptional circumstances exemption must give at least seven days’ notice to the police of this application (s 84O(2A)) and the grounds for exceptional circumstances (s 84O(2B)).
If the car is impounded, magistrates must order the driver to undergo a safe-driving program (s 84BL(1)). The court notifies VicRoads of the order (s 84BL(5)), then VicRoads notifies the driver that they are required to complete the program (s 84BM). If a driver fails to complete the program, their drivers licence can be suspended until they complete the program (s 84BN).
Often, the driver who commits an offence is driving a motor vehicle registered to another person. In these circumstances, police may apply for a vehicle substitution order for the motor vehicle owned by the driver who has committed the offence (s 84V Road Safety Act). A court can make a vehicle substitution order provided the order does not cause undue hardship (s 84V(3)).