You can dodge but not hide

Delinquent drivers were trapped by recognition technology and eftpos capabilities. Picture: JOHN RUSSELL
Delinquent drivers were trapped by recognition technology and eftpos capabilities. Picture: JOHN RUSSELL

NORTH East residents owe a whopping $7 million in unpaid fines and, with the help of a portable eftpos, sheriffs are out to recoup some of that today, the second day of a large-scale operation.

Sheriffs, police and VicRoads officers reeled in suspect cars on the Hume Freeway at Glenrowan yesterday and will do so again today, chasing $7.7 million missing from government coffers.

An automatic number plate recognition camera flagged in seconds whether a car was unregistered, stolen or its driver had warrants for unpaid fines or arrests. Another police car further down the highway stood ready to signal suspect cars to pull over.

A driver with an unpaid fine can be ordered to pay on the spot, using a portable eftpos machine.

Police detected suspended drivers and unregistered cars in the first hour of the operation, which started at 3pm.

“It’s about returning the money to the community,” Sheriff of Victoria Brendan Facey said.

“Hopefully, this will make people more aware not to get into this situation.

“By the time you’ve left fines and we’re dealing with it, you’ve got a whole lot more fees. Do something about it as soon as you get it.”

Wodonga has the most offenders in the North East — about 3500 people owe about $3 million in unpaid fines.

Almost 1700 people in Wangaratta owe $2.2 million, and 1200 in Benalla owe $1.9 million.

Mr Facey said the region’s figures were consistent with the rest of the state.

The Hume Freeway is not a usual target for the sheriffs, but it’s certainly not their most inventive way of catching fine dodgers. They trawled the departing crowd at a Collingwood-Essendon AFL match last year to collect cash.

The operation is also a way for police to catch likely petrol thieves before they enter the nearby service station.

Glenrowan’s Leading Sen-Constable Ross Woodrow said there had been four petrol thefts there in a week recently.

“It isn’t a lot when you think about the traffic through there, but our average number is one every three or four weeks,” he said.

Wangaratta highway patrol Sgt Michael Connors said most petrol thieves had a plan to avoid detection.

He said many would-be thieves used false or stolen plates or stolen cars to avoid detection.

He said the operation was catching dodgy drivers “who have no right to be on the road” on one of the country’s busiest freeways.