Sophie Lewis – CBS News
Drivers in Australia can now be fined up to $11,000 for tossing a lit cigarette from a vehicle. The stricter penalty was introduced as deadly wildfires continue to spread across the continent.
The new punishment, introduced by the government of New South Wales in December, went into effect on Friday. New South Wales has been the hardest hit part of the country, with thousands of people forced to flee their homes and more than 800 million animals feared dead in the region alone.
The new penalties can also apply to passengers, and also include receiving 10 demerit points on the culprit’s license.
According to government officials, more than 200 people were caught tossing a lit cigarette out of a vehicle in New South Wales last year.
“This reckless behavior puts the safety of firefighting volunteers at risk,” NSW Rural Fire Service Association President Brian McDonough said in a statement. “I hope this move makes people think very carefully about the consequences of their actions next time they go to discard a lit cigarette.”
The largest fine would be given if the crime is committed during a total fire ban, “declared on days of extreme weather or when widespread fires are seriously stretching firefighting resources.”
Officials did not specify the fine for committing the offense under normal conditions, but noted that motorists would be penalized five demerit points on their license.
This is the first penalty of its kind in New South Wales for this type of offense.
On January 6, the NSW Police Force said it had taken legal action against more than 180 people for fire-related offenses since November 2019. Twenty-four people were charged over alleged deliberately-lit bushfires, 53 people allegedly failed to comply with a total fire ban and 47 people allegedly discarded a lit cigarette or match on land.
Australia has faced unprecedented destruction from this season’s wildfires, which have been burning since September. Millions of acres have burned, destroying thousands of homes and killing dozens of people. Rain and cooler temperatures are bringing some relief for these communities, but the fires are expected to “take off” again.
The full extent of the damage remains unclear until the wildfires subside.
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