New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) says people who camp in highway rest areas may be denying space to those who genuinely need to recover from driver fatigue.
Tents have been seen erected at the Yelgun rest stop on the Pacific Highway, between Byron Bay and Tweed Heads.
RMS network general manager Mike Cush said it was wrong to use roadside rest areas as free camping grounds.
“I understand that if someone pulls up in the middle of the night, or late one afternoon, and they need to manage fatigue, they may be there for a few hours,” Mr Cush said.
“But a few hours is not consistent with a number of days, and having washing out or tents pitched.”
Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell noticed the problem at Yelgun more than a year ago, when councillors stopped there during a road trip to Queensland.
“At about half past nine in the morning there were lots of tents and washing out,” she said.
“When we came back, which was about four o’clock in the afternoon, [it was] the same, so I was really shocked.”
Byron Mayor Simon Richardson said he was also aware of the situation.
“We actually initially requested RMS support to allow van packers to be able to utilise those spaces, even for a very short period of time, because illegal camping in residential areas has traditionally been a problem in Byron,” he said.
“Obviously, what we don’t want is for people who want to use it to get some sleep so they can drive safely, [to be] denied that access.
“If it ever gets to that point, clearly something needs to be done.”
Cr Richardson bristled at the RMS suggestion that policing the situation would be a local government responsibility because most rest areas were on council land.
“Look I don’t think so; we didn’t have anything to do with the design, the location, the type of rest stop,” he said.
“We didn’t have anything to do with the road, we can’t even have a say in signage.
“So for ongoing cost to be given to council is just another example of cost shifting from the State Government.”