AS Australia ramps up for a killer bushfire season the possibility of a carelessly tossed cigarette costing lives looms large.
Laws recently passed through the NSW Parliament have increased the fines for littering with lit materials – such as cigarettes, matches or paper – to $660 or potentially a month in prison.
But a recent NRMA survey of nearly 600 of its members found many believe that those who flick lit cigarettes from cars should face tougher penalties including demerit points.
Cigarettes were blamed for many devastating fires, including last month’s fires at Homebush that destroyed or damaged about 100 cars.
NRMA president Wendy Machin said in light of the potential cost in lives and property damage the penalties should be higher.
“Our survey found 94 per cent of Members want the NRMA to fight for these tougher penalties,” Ms Machin said.
Spokesperson for the Rural Fire Service Ben Shepherd welcomed the higher fines but didn’t think demerit points were necessary.
“Demerit points are related to driving but the new offences cover people who might be on the side of the road or bushwalking. There are all kinds of ways lit materials might cause problems, not just in cars,” Mr Shepherd said.
The current laws also specify that people who dangerously dispose of burning tobacco or matches during total fire bans could face fines up to $25,000 or 12 months in jail.
But a study by University of Technology Sydney student Jennifer Dainer called “Can cigarette butts start (Bush)fires?” found that cigarettes discarded by roads were a risk because the wind draught caused by passing traffic could fan any potential fires.
Over a three week period 426 cigarette butts were collected in a 60 square metre area of median strip in Seven Hills.