You know what they say about squeaky wheels getting the grease? Millions of dollars' worth of traffic fines are waived every year for motorists who 'squeak' out.

Last time we checked the statistics in Victoria, about 10% of the state's motorists contested their fines, and about 40% of those contested fines ended up being waived.

Fighting a fine can be worthwhile – if you have a solid case.

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Pre-fight prep

It's not worth your while to put up a fight without proper preparation. Knowing which defences commonly work will greatly increase your chance of success. Procedures to appeal fines vary from state to state, but all require comprehensive documentation.

Which parking ticket defences work?

The most common reasons for incurring a fine will come as no surprise, but the grounds for contesting parking tickets differ with the offence.

  • Parking without paying a meter fee
  • Overstaying your allotted time in a parking spot
  • Parking in residential or disabled parking areas without valid permits

Excuses, excuses

Common defences include faulty parking meters, a time-restriction signpost that was difficult to see, or blatant errors made by the council parking officer in issuing the ticket.

One council told CHOICE the appeals that generally don't fly include: "I forgot to check the sign", "my appointment ran over time", "it was raining", "I was in a hurry", and "I do not live in the area".

Your options

If you believe you have been unfairly hit with a parking fine, you have three options:

  • Pay up
  • Appeal to the council whose parking warden issued the fine
  • Contest your case in court

To decide whether you should bother appealing, first weigh up the cost involved. If you choose to appear in court instead of appealing to the council first, factor in the time you'll need to take off work.

Successful appeals

Here's a list of the issues that have led to successful appeals for some CHOICE members:

  • Penalty notice - Does the offence regulation code match its title? Does the make and registration number match your vehicle?
  • Parking signs - Are they visible from where you were parked or were they covered by a tree or any structures?
  • Road markings - Are the bay markings clear and visible?
  • Lack of parking signs/markings - Are there signs or markings that should be there for the offence you were booked for (such as a "no stopping" sign that wasn't there when you were fined for this offence)?
  • Parking meters - Was the parking meter faulty? Was there a number on the meter or sign nearby with a number you could call to report the faulty meter?
  • Parking tickets - Do you have your original tickets to show you did not stay too long in the space or that you did pay to park?
  • Medical emergency or vehicle breakdown - Do you have evidence or witnesses to verify that circumstances caused you to commit the parking offence?

Before you appeal a parking ticket

Before appealing, you should gather as much evidence as you can in your defence.

When CHOICE extended a call-out to members to tell us how they've successfully contested their parking fines, we received more than 60 responses. Several told us of blatant mistakes made by parking wardens who issued notices when no offence was committed, or issued a ticket for the wrong offence. Most cases had one thing in common: those who thought they were unjustly fined made sure they gathered as much information as possible at the scene of the "crime".

Building up evidence increases your chance of winning your appeal so you may not need to take your case to court. You can still elect to have your case heard in court if your appeal is rejected by the council, so you'll need the evidence anyway.

For example, taking a photo of your car and capturing the immediate area around it may help you dispute a ticket. If you were parked in a space that required a ticket and the ticket machine was faulty, take a photo of the machine in question.

How to appeal a parking ticket

Many councils allow parking ticket appeals to be made online, so check your local council website for details. An online penalty review form may save you from manually writing out and posting a long explanation. In most states, you have 28 days to appeal. But you should act quickly, as the process can take months.

When Brisbane CHOICE member Lorraine was told she had to pay a fine for not displaying a ticket – despite appealing to the council with photos of how there were no ticket machines in sight – she decided to go to court. "About a month later I got a letter from the council that it had made a 'technical error' and that I was not required to pay the fine!"

Whether you intend to appeal or go to court, be sure to act quickly before the payment due date as every reminder sent to you typically incurs further penalty fees.

Fighting a parking ticket in court

Going to court gives you the opportunity to defend your case in front of a magistrate, provided you're prepared to take a day off work to attend. The procedure generally starts with letting the relevant council know you intend to contest the case. The council contacts a magistrate's court, which in turn lets you know the time and date of your appearance.

You will have to prepare supporting evidence to produce in court. If you convince the magistrate the fine was unfairly or mistakenly issued, your fine will be waived. If you lose, however, you may have to pay the fine as well as the costs to the court and the council that issued the fine.

Private car park fines

If the fine is from a private car park operator such as Australian National Car Parks, Care Park or a similar business, and you think the fine is dodgy, you should appeal to the consumer protection agency in your state.

In recent years, many private car park operators have focused more on issuing dodgy fines than collecting legitimate fees – and the fines are often not enforceable. State courts have cracked down on operators such as Ace Parking in Victoria.

Speed camera fines

If you receive a speed camera fine, you may be able to get away with a caution. You can submit an appeal to the police or road authority in your state for the penalty to be withdrawn, or contest your case in court.

But any decision will depend on how fast you were going, your driving record and other circumstances, such as if you weren't the driver or were rushing because of an emergency. The circumstances under which a caution can be granted differ from state to state.

In NSW, for example, if you have a clear driving record for 10 years, did not exceed the speed limit by more than 30km/h and the offence did not happen in a school zone where speed is restricted during class hours, you may submit an appeal to the State Debt Recovery Office (SDRO).

In Victoria, you can appeal for an official warning and have your fine waived if you admit the offence; you exceeded the speed limit by less than 10 km/h; and have held a clear driving record for the last two years.

But in Adelaide, a good driving record is not a basis for an appeal if you have been caught speeding. When appealing against speed cameras, keep in mind you will still receive demerit points even if your fine is waived.

Are speed cameras reliable?

Aside from extenuating circumstances, you may want to appeal a speed camera fine because the speed camera wasn't working properly. There's plenty of evidence that the technology is not always spot-on.

In early 2014 the ACT auditor-general, Maxine Cooper, issued a report that called the effectiveness and reliability of speed cameras into question. "Speed camera reliability is poor, particularly for mobile speed cameras," Cooper told the ABC, adding that more and more motorists were successfully contesting speeding fines in the ACT.

In 2011 the NSW government had to pay back about $32,000 in fines to motorists who had incurred fines in Sydney's Lane Cove Tunnel because of problems with the certification of two speed cameras.

And in 2010, 380 Sydney drivers were wrongly fined on the Kingsway at Miranda, resulting in the withdrawal of about $49,000 in fines and the restoration of the associated demerit points. The camera was in a school zone but was not correctly synced with school zone hours.

Aside from operational malfunctions, there are lingering questions about whether speed cameras improve safety and are optimally placed. Some say speed cameras are more about raising state revenue than making roads safer, though CHOICE certainly supports any measures that make Australia's roads safer.