Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Unlicensed to chill - why an esky was deemed a motor vehicle

A man was recently fined almost $1,500 for apparently operating an unregistered vehicle, without a licence.

So, why did that become a story, in The Age, the Herald Sun and the ABC?
Answer: the vehicle was an esky, and the man was riding it along a footpath.

But there is no need to panic - it is still possible to safely and lawfully transport cold beverages, whether by esky, 'chilly bin', or other preferred type of beverage conveyance.

Under the Road Safety Act 1986, it is an offence to use an unregistered motor vehicle on a highway (s 7) and to drive a motor vehicle on a highway (s 18) (unless there is an applicable exemption).  Conventional use of an esky will not contravene either provision, but as this recent news shows, the Road Safety Act can apply more broadly than the public might expect.

First, a footpath can be a highway under the Road Safety Act. A highway includes both 'roads' and 'road related areas'. A footpath or nature strip, which is adjacent to a road, is a road related area (as is, for example, an area that is open to the public and is designated for use by cyclists or animals).

Secondly, any vehicle with a motor may be a motor vehicle, should it be used on a road or road related area. A motor vehicle is any 'vehicle that is used or intended to be used on a highway and that is built to be propelled by a motor that forms part of the vehicle'.  So even if  you attach a motor to your esky, it will still only be a motor vehicle if it is used, or intended to be used, on a highway. That needs to be considered in relation to each particular vehicle or esky (rather than motorised eskies as a class). While it is doubtful that any motorised esky is intended to be used on a highway, it will generally be sufficient if it is actually used on one.

There are also exemptions which could be useful for prospective operators of motorised eskies (and like vehicles) to know about. For example, if one walks with one's motorised esky, rather than rides it, and it has a maximum speed of less than 7 km/h, it would be exempt by an order that has been made under s 3(2) of Road Safety Act. The same order also exempts certain scooters and bicycles. Motorised wheelchairs are exempt under the Act itself.

This case is (hopefully) somewhat unusual. That said, public authorities often have other issues arising under the Road Safety Act (such as in relation to land under their control), or under the Road Management Act 2004, Transport Integration Act 2010, or about roads generally, with which we can assist.

For such road related queries, please contact:

Mark Egan
Principal Solicitor
mark.egan@vgso.vic.gov.au

Anthony Leggiero
Acting Managing Principal Solicitor
anthony.leggiero@vgso.vic.gov.au

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