Need to know
- It's not unusual for parking and speeding fines to be wrongly issued, especially when overzealous council rangers and faulty speed cameras are on the job
- Wrongly issued fines are certainly worth challenging, but you'll need hard evidence of your innocence to stand a chance
- Consumers have received millions of dollars in compensation over the years for parking and speeding fines that should have never been issued
You may be tempted to pay your parking fine just to get it over and done with, and clear your record. But wrongly issued parking fines are often waived if you make a strong case.
There's no question that council parking officers can be a tad trigger happy when it comes to issuing fines. In capital cities in particular, there are plenty of parking violations to choose from.
In Melbourne alone, different types of parking fines run to triple digits with penalties ranging from $83 to $165. The Victorian capital, along with other locations, has been caught out more than once for sprees of wrongly issued notices.
If you've been on the receiving end of a parking or speeding fine and want to prove your innocence, here's how to contest it.
If you want to overturn a parking ticket, you'll need solid evidence that it was wrongly issued.
How to contest a parking fine
Step 1: Consider your options
If you believe you've 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.
Step 2: What's your defence?
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.
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.
Which parking ticket defences work?
Common defences include:
- faulty parking meters
- a time-restriction signpost that was difficult to see
- blatant errors made by the council parking officer in issuing the ticket.
Which defences don't work?
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".
Step 3. Gather your evidence
If you choose to appeal your fine, 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.
Building up evidence increases your chance of winning your appeal so you may not need to take your case to court
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 faulty machine too.
Step 4: Submit your appeal
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 writing out and posting a long explanation.
The timeline for appeals is limited in all states and territories, so you should act quickly, as the process can take months.
Case study: Lorraine's experience
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 showing 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 costs you further penalty fees.
If you're going to take your case to court, be sure to have lots of supporting evidence to hand.
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.
If you lose, you may have to pay the fine, as well as the costs to the court and the council that issued the fine
You'll 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.
But remember – if you lose, you may have to pay the fine, as well as the costs to the court and the council that issued the fine.
Private car parks have been known to concentrate more on dodgy fines than legitimate fees.
How to contest private car park fines
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 these rogue operators.
In an earlier investigation, the NSW Roads and Maritime Service told CHOICE that "funds claimed by car park companies are not fines and we advise customers to seek professional advice" if they receive a demand for payment.
How to contest 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 in which a caution can be granted differ from state to state.
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 – and it's a longstanding problem.
In 2017, thousands of speed and red light camera fines were withdrawn in Victoria after it emerged that the technology had been infected with a ransomware virus.
'Reliability is poor'
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.
There are lingering questions about whether speed cameras improve safety and are optimally placed
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, although CHOICE certainly supports any measures that make Australia's roads safer.
Councils don't always get it right
In February 2020, three Melbourne councils were forced to refund about $20 million in parking fines issued over a 10-year period to thousands of motorists after an investigation by the Victorian Ombudsman.
And that wasn't the first time. It was reported in 2015 that about 44,000 parking fines in Melbourne had been waived over a three-year period.
Fighting a fine can be worthwhile – if you have a solid case
It happens in other states, too. In February 2019, hundreds of $263 parking fines were withdrawn on the NSW Central Coast after a public outcry and the involvement of the local member of state parliament.
Fairly enough, the highest parking fine you can cop in NSW ($686) is for falsely displaying a disabled parking sticker. Next comes stopping or parking in a disabled spot ($572).
We certainly don't recommend that you do either of the above, but fighting a fine can be worthwhile – if you have a solid case.