Travelling clinician fined $100 for sleeping in his van overnight raises questions over resting, driver fatigue
When Michael Harvey pulled up on the outskirts of Kununurra to have a sleep in his van overnight, he had no idea he was going to have to pay the council $100 for doing so.
But that is the exact situation the Melbourne-based clinician found himself in after he was fined by rangers last week for camping illegally.
Mr Harvey — who has been travelling regional Australia for years building custom-made orthotics for people — said he was busy taking care of work emails the next morning when he got a knock on his van door.
“I arrived in Kununurra approximately around midnight, filled up with diesel fuel … and then parked up on the outskirts [of town].
“About 6am in the morning I had a knock on the door … It was the ranger and he told me I am not allowed to camp there.
“I said I don’t agree with that. I’m resting, which is not camping, and secondly I’ve been informed you’re allowed to rest up to 24 hours and it’s not considered a breach on major roads in most places unless there are parking restrictions.
“So I thought I was totally entitled to do what I did.”
Fine ‘sends a bad message’
For Mr Harvey, he said he wasn’t worried about the cost of the fine because $100 would not break the bank, however he said he was concerned about the message the council was potentially sending drivers who chose to rest on the side of the road.
He said with State and Federal Government campaigns sending a very clear message to drivers against driving tired, he was concerned the fine contradicted that.
“When you’re travelling say from Darwin to Karratha, it’s about 2,300km [and] I have roughly three days to do that so it’s not a long time,” Mr Harvey said.
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“So most of the people when we drive long distances you’ll drive as long as possible in the first couple days until you get tired and then pull over.
“Now because you might hit kangaroos you might have roadworks you might have other traffic on the road that is driving very slowly, you cannot predict where you’re going to get tired.
“You cannot predict where you’re going to be at the end of the day.”
Laws different in each area
The rules for people sleeping or resting in their cars differs from state to state and according to different local government by-laws.
A spokeswoman from the Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley where Mr Harvey was fined said the council was unable to comment on the specific case as the infringement was subject to appeal.
However the council did point to the local Caravan Parks and Camping Grounds Act 1995 which states that, when camping at a spot other than at caravan park or camping ground, a person could for up to 24 consecutive hours in a caravan or other vehicle stop on a road reserve in an emergency “unless to do so would cause a hazard to other road users or contravene any other written law with respect to the use of the road reserve”.
Mr Harvey said he planned to fight the infringement and would go as far as he needed to go to ensure he did not have to pay it.
A spokeswoman for the WA Road Safety Commission said drivers needed to manage their fatigue as well as plan their trips.
“It is about managing fatigue on long trips and we want people to stop and make sure they get that rest,” she said.
“If you know it takes eight hours to get to Kununurra, get in touch with local government or tourist people to see where you can park.
“We want everyone to get from A to B safely and part of managing that fatigue is planning your trip so you do have regular rest breaks and that you are in an appropriate position to sleep.”