A viral video of an Australian man refusing to co-operate with traffic police is being used to push the claim that motorists aren’t subject to road laws if they describe themselves as ‘travellers’ instead of ‘drivers’.
The claim is false. The suggestion drivers can evade police action by defining themselves as travellers is rooted in a ‘sovereign citizen‘ misinterpretation of the law.
The man refuses to accept he was driving, telling the officers: “I’m not driving a motor vehicle. I’m travelling… We don’t need a licence to travel in private property” (video mark 19sec). He then declines police requests to show his driving licence or take a breath test. The video ends with the motorist saying he will argue the case in court.
The video was posted to an Australian Facebook page on September 29 and has since racked up more than a million views.
The description of the video claims that “for those who don’t know, ‘driver’ deems you as a legal fiction whilst a ‘traveler’ (sic) maintains your living status as a man or woman”.
The police car in the video has a Victorian number plate and the officers appear to be from Victoria Police.
The claim that drivers can exclude themselves from road rules by defining themselves as travellers is a tactic sometimes used by ‘sovereign citizens’, a disparate movement of people who question the validity of government.
The sovereign citizen movement is rooted in decades-old US-based conspiracy theories but has become a worldwide phenomenon with devotees in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa and elsewhere.
“There isn’t any get out jail free card when it comes to these sort of things,” Dr Hobbs said in a phone interview.
“These arguments have been tried in courts all around the world including Australia, the United States, Canada, Germany and New Zealand.
“No court has ever upheld the claim of a sovereign citizen on this basis … there’s just no way that a claim like this can be upheld in a court of law.”
Dr Hobbs says while sovereign citizens often speak in a form of “legalese” that makes them look like they have a special insight into the law, there is no legal basis for the idea people can opt-out of certain laws.
“What sovereign citizens do is rely on the ignorance and good faith of people who may not be so familiar with legal concepts or legal rules,” he said.
“We live in a community of laws and so we need to follow those rules. If you don’t like them, you can stand for parliament or you can petition your parliamentarian. That’s the appropriate democratic way.
“You can’t opt out of the laws by calling yourself a sovereign citizen and withdrawing from the operation of the law.”
In an article about sovereign citizens and the law, published by the Queensland Law Society‘s Proctor magazine in September 2021, Brisbane solicitor Ella Scoles says all humans are considered to be legal persons in Australia.
“Simply rejecting or renouncing this, through whatever supposed legal document, will not grant one immunity from the laws of the state… in the Australian system statutes as enacted by parliament enjoy supremacy over other systems of law,” Ms Scoles wrote.
“Such arguments have been judicially tested at all levels of Australian courts and none have succeeded.”
She said drink and drug driving laws applied to anyone driving or in charge of a motor vehicle, including on private property.
The description used by a person to describe what they were doing at the time they were intercepted by police was not relevant, the spokeswoman said.
Victoria’s Road Safety Act defines the word “drive” to include anybody “in control of a vehicle” (page 18). Under section 49 of the Act (page 224), a driver who refuses a preliminary breath test when requested by a police officer is guilty of an office and can be disqualified from driving for at least two years.
Each Australian state and territory adopts its own road laws but the rules are applied consistently across each jurisdiction, with minor exceptions.
A Facebook video’s implied claim that motorists can evade road laws by calling themselves ‘travellers’ instead of ‘drivers’ is baseless.
Legal experts and Victoria’s Department of Transport say the words a driver uses to describe what they were doing makes no difference to their legal status. Statutes enacted by parliament take precedence over other systems of law. Nobody can opt-out of state and federal laws.
False – The claim is inaccurate.