Tougher Penalties for Dangerous Drivers

  • Jenny Shipley
Transport

"The Government is continuing its Safety Drive by announcing tougher penalties for careless, dangerous, reckless and drink drivers," Transport Minister Jenny Shipley said today.

These measures are included in legislation being introduced in Parliament today. The legislation also covers the measures announced recently in the first part of the Safety Drive package.

"This programme has been a major plank of the National - New Zealand First Coalition's road safety initiatives. My colleague Peter Brown has been closely involved in its development. United New Zealand MP Peter Dunne has also been involved in some discussion and has promoted a private members bill.

"Our aim is to get the most dangerous drivers off the road without disadvantaging law abiding drivers. We must make driving on our roads safer.

"We have been making considerable progress in the past few years with the road toll dropping and dangerous driving becoming increasingly socially unacceptable. So far this year 446 people have died on our roads, compared to 441 at the same time last year. While there has been a reduction in the number of people being killed on the roads over the last six months, we can still do better. The Government is committed to further reducing the road toll.

"Under the new regime penalties will increase dramatically as offending worsens. There have been 22,700 convictions for drink driving in the first nine months of this year and nearly half of these were repeat offenders, and more than 15 per cent of drivers had three or more previous convictions.

"With the introduction of new penalties, people convicted of drink driving or disqualified driving for the first or second time will be liable for a maximum of three months in prison and a $4500 fine. Those convicted for a third time will be liable for a maximum of two years in prison and a $6000 fine.

"It is important that people who drive dangerously realise the risks they pose to others' safety and by increasing the penalties we are sending a clear signal that dangerous driving is totally unacceptable. We want people to suffer the financial consequences of their actions rather than the tax payer always picking up the costs of prison sentences.

The changed penalties also include:

  • the maximum fine for dangerous, reckless and drink drivers who cause injury or death raised from $6000 to $20,000
  • the maximum fine for careless drivers who cause injury and death increasing from $4500 to $10,000
  • the maximum fine for drivers who fail to stop and render assistance after an accident causing injury or death will increase from $6000 to $20,000

"Penalties will now reflect the seriousness of offending. There will no longer be a discrepancy between penalties for drink drivers and disqualified drivers.

"Legislation for tougher penalties is due before the end of the year and we will be able to put them into effect by the second half of next year.

"The sooner we have the penalties in place the sooner lives will be saved, Jenny Shipley said.

The first part of the Safety Drive released two weeks ago included:

  • raising the minimum driver licensing age to 16 years
  • stepping up requirements for novice drivers
  • introducing photographic driver licences
  • giving Police powers to suspend a serious offender's driver licence for 28 days
  • giving Police powers to impound the vehicle driven by a repeat offender for 28 days

The Government is still considering further measures under the Safety Drive including:

  • reducing the legal blood alcohol limit
  • encouraging low alcohol beverage consumption
  • mandatory detention in police custody of grossly intoxicated drivers
  • the application of demerit points to speed camera offences
  • the use of cellphones in vehicles
  • drag racing
  • refresher training for traffic offenders

A discussion document covering these issues will be out next year for the public to comment on.

"The tougher penalties released today are part of an integrated approach to making our roads safer. It is important that we have a strong three tier system in place. One that has good prevention techniques, that stresses deterrence and when those fail, tough punitive action. Under the Safety Drive serious offenders may first have their vehicle impounded for 28 days and then go on to be sentenced in court using the tougher penalties.

"The Government is determined to make our roads safer and reduce the number of preventable deaths on our roads," concluded Hon Jenny Shipley.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- TOUGHER PENALTIES

Key decisions
Increased penalties for third time convicted drink drivers
Increased penalties for drivers failing to stop after an accident causing injury or death
Increased penalties for offenders causing injury or death

What is the goal?
To increase public safety by strengthening penalties for dangerous drivers.

Will law abiding drivers be targeted?
No.

Who will be targeted?
People who:

  • repeatedly drink and drive
  • repeatedly drive while disqualified
  • are careless, dangerous or reckless drivers

What penalties will careless, dangerous and reckless drivers face?
Careless drivers (those whose driving falls below the standard of a reasonably prudent driver) could face:

  • a maximum fine increased from $1000 to $3000
  • no imprisonment (no change)
  • discretionary licence disqualification (no change)

Dangerous drivers (those who drive in a manner which is dangerous to other road users in the circumstances) and reckless drivers (those who are fully aware of the possible consequences of their behaviour but continue to drive in this way regardless of the consequences to themselves and others) will continue to face the present penalties of:

  • a maximum fine of $4500 (no change)
  • a maximum prison sentence of six months (no change)
  • a minimum licence disqualification time of six months (no change)

What penalties will offenders causing injury or death face?
Dangerous, reckless and drink drivers who cause injury or death, and drivers who fail to stop and help after an accident causing injury or death could receive:

  • a maximum fine increased from $6000 to $20,000
  • a maximum prison sentence staying at five years
  • a minimum licence disqualification time staying at one year.

Careless drivers who cause injury or death in aggravating circumstances (such as drink driving or speeding) could receive:

  • a maximum fine increased from $4500 to $10,000
  • a maximum prison sentence staying at three years
  • a minimum licence disqualification time staying at one year

What penalties will drink drivers and disqualified drivers face?
Drivers repeatedly (three or more times) caught driving while disqualified, drivers repeatedly caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and drivers repeatedly refusing to give a blood specimen will now receive up to:

  • a maximum of two years in prison
  • a maximum fine of $6000
  • a minimum licence disqualification time of one year

If it is the first or second time a driver is convicted of any of these offences, they will face a penalty of up to:

  • a maximum of three months in prison (no change)
  • a maximum fine of $4500

Why target these offenders?
Dangerous driving kills, especially when alcohol is involved. During 1996 alcohol contributed to 28 per cent of road deaths.

In the first nine months of 1997 there were 22,700 convictions for drink driving. Nearly half of these were repeat offenders over 15 per cent had three or more convictions.

Drivers travelling at 120km/h are twice as likely to die in a crash than those travelling at 100km/h and four times more likely if they are travelling at 130km/h.

How will these new measures affect most people?
Reducing dangerous driving will make the road safer for everyone. High-risk drivers will be given a stronger message that careless, dangerous, reckless and drink driving are socially unacceptable.

What road safety improvements have already been made?
From 1993 to 1995 compulsory breath testing reduced night time (10pm to 3am) serious and fatal crashes by 35 per cent in urban areas, and by 38 per cent in rural areas. Crashes at other times declined by 17 per cent in urban areas and 26 per cent in rural areas.

Speed cameras have reduced crashes in urban sites by 23 per cent, and at rural sites by 11 per cent. This is an overall reduction of 20 per cent.

Safety Drive measures already announced
The key decisions include:

  • Raising the minimum driver licensing age to 16 years
  • Stepping up the requirements for novice drivers
  • Introducing photographic driver licences
  • Giving Police powers to suspend the licence of a driver whose blood alcohol concentration is more than twice the legal limit or who is driving more than 50 km/h over the speed limit for 28 days
  • Giving Police powers to impound the vehicle driven by a disqualified or suspended driver for 28 days.

How do the penalty changes fit with these decisions?

Tougher penalties build upon these measures. They establish a firm three tier system where prevention, deterrence and punishment contribute to lowering the road toll.

Raising the minimum age, stepping up requirements for novice drivers and the photographic licence are put in place to create safer drivers.

Giving Police powers to suspend the licence of an extremely intoxicated or speeding driver and impound a vehicle driven by a disqualified driver for 28 days are severe and swift deterrent measures.

If this does not work then punitive action must be taken by the Courts to keep the roads safer for other road users. Where to next?

Legislation is due to be introduced to Parliament before the end of the year and will include these penalties. The public can make submissions to the Select Committee considering the legislation. It is anticipated that the Bill will become law in the second half of next year.

The Government will be considering further measures to bring the road toll down next year. A discussion document will be put to the public for comment on issues including:

  • reducing the legal adult alcohol limit
  • encouraging low-alcohol beverage consumption
  • mandatory detention in police custody of grossly intoxicated drivers
  • the application of demerit points to speed camera offences
  • the use of cellphones in vehicles
  • street racing
  • refresher training for traffic offenders