Tougher penalties focus of road safety package

  • Annette King

A bid to reduce the high number of young drivers dying unnecessarily on New Zealand roads is a central focus of a package of road safety initiatives announced today.

Police and Transport Minister Annette King and Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven say the proposals target young and novice drivers, speedsters and those who persistently break road rules by red light running and not wearing seatbelts.

“The road safety initiatives signed off in Cabinet this week complete the implementation of the Road Safety to 2010 Strategy. They include changes to the current demerit points system, changes to penalties for some speed offences, the introduction of demerit points on intersection and seatbelt offences and measures to reduce the high crash risk to young and novice drivers.

“The emphasis is on changing driver behaviour, which is why we are increasing demerits and decreasing fines.

“Young people far too often pay a high price for the right to drive. We know drivers under age 25 are over-represented in the road toll so strengthening the testing regime is one way to try and reduce the risks,” said Mr Duynhoven.

“We believe there will be widespread public support for these proposals as many of the issues targeted are a direct result of feedback from the public and road safety stakeholders to the See You There … Safe As! programme run last year,” said Ms King.

Ms King and Mr Duynhoven say the measures signal a crackdown on reckless driving behaviour on our roads and further strengthen the Government’s commitment to its goal of no more than 300 road deaths a year by the end of 2010.

A Bill which proposes raising the minimum driving age from 15 to 16 has been introduced to Parliament and is currently before the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee for consideration and public submission.

“A key issue arising from the Safe As consultation concerned the Graduated Driver Licensing System.

“The package of measures aimed at young and novice drivers propose extending the minimum period under 25 year olds spend on a learner licence from six months to 12 months and placing a stronger focus on the current demerit points system.

“The message from the consultation programme was that demerit points are a far more effective deterrent than fines. These measures will make it tougher for young drivers who repeatedly break the rules while on their graduated licences.

“They also build on proposals announced recently to reduce the blood alcohol content limit to zero for drivers under 20 who do not hold a full licence,” said Mr Duynhoven today.

The initiatives also propose shifting the balance between fine levels and demerit point levels for speed related offences and introducing demerit points on intersection infringements and seat belt offences.

For further information: Shelley Tucker, Private Secretary Hon Harry Duynhoven, 021 804 047 or Mari Short, Senior Private Secretary, 021 882 200.

Questions and Answers – 2010 Road Safety initiatives

What are the new proposals?

The proposals cover four areas:

  • changes to the current penalty regime, and in particular the demerit system;
  • changes to the penalty regime for people caught speeding by police officers;
  • the introduction of demerit points for offences relating to intersections and not wearing seat belts;
  • a package of proposals aimed at reducing the high crash risk to young and novice drivers.

It is a well known fact that drivers under 25 are over-represented in the road toll, what is proposed?

It is proposed:

  • to extend the minimum period under 25 year olds spend on a learner licence from six months to 12 months to allow time for higher levels of supervised practice. It has been shown that high levels of supervised practice reduces crash risk when a person begins solo driving;
  • to rebalance sanctions for breaches of Graduated Driver Licensing System conditions (decrease fees for breaches from $400 to $100 and increase demerit points from 25 to 35 points);
  • to allow the Police to issue ‘licence compliance orders’ to drivers found in breach of their licence conditions to prohibit drivers from driving in breach of their learner and restricted licence conditions while the order is in force, with a second breach resulting in a possible 28-day vehicle impoundment;
  • that Police notify vehicle owners when a ‘licence compliance order’ is issued to ensure that they realise their vehicle will risk being impounded if the driver continues to breach their licence conditions;
  • that approved training for which a six-month reduction in the restricted phase is permitted (for example, Defensive Driving Courses) be undertaken during the learner phase, before commencing solo driving.
  • to include questions about the Graduated Driver Licensing System conditions and the sanctions for breaching conditions in the learner licence theory test in order to raise awareness; 
  • to examine the mechanisms available to exclude those who have committed traffic offences from qualifying for the time reduction offered on the completion of an approved training course.

It is also intended that greater emphasis be placed on the restricted practical test component of the Graduated Driver Licensing System, through the development of a more robust and difficult restricted practical test. (This will be subject to a review of the current tests.)

What are the problems with the current administrative penalty regime?

Problems with the current regime include:

  • all demerit points being wiped (sometimes many hundreds) upon completion of a three-month suspension period;
  • all licence holders subsidise the administrative costs for reinstating licences to offenders;
  • automatic licence re-instatement for offenders who incur suspensions for less than one year and one day without any need to demonstrate they understand the requirements attached to driving privileges.

So what changes are to be made?

The proposals include:

  • a three-tier demerit point regime (25 points, 50 points and 75 points) which sets demerit points according to the level of road safety risk for speed, intersection and seatbelt non-wearing offences. It would be applied progressively as further proposals to change penalties are developed; 
  • traffic offenders should bear all direct and indirect costs relating to licence reinstatement and this will be done through a requirement for them to pay an appropriate fee for a re-issued licence including the theory test;
  • all traffic offenders will be required to pass the appropriate driver licence theory test before their licence will be re-issued;
  • demerit points should remain active against any licence for a period of two years from the date the offence was committed;
  • a licence suspension for accumulating 100 or more demerit points will only reduce the total demerit points by 100 and will not remove all active demerit points on the licence; 
  • more than one period of licence suspension can be imposed for demerit points accumulated in multiples of 100 (e.g. 200), and that such periods of licence suspension must be served consecutively.

What changes will be made in respect of people caught speeding by police?

The penalties will be as follows:

  • up to 20km/h over the limit will attract a fine of $50 and 25 demerit points;
  • 21-30km/h over the limit will attract a fine of $100 and 50 demerit points;
  • over 30km/h over the limit will attract a fine of $150 and 75 demerit points.

What about speed camera offences?

Speed camera detected offences will remain the same.

Is there a proposal to ban speed detection and interference devices?

Yes there is, and this will be phased in over two years:

  • the first year after the offence becomes law will attract a fine of $50 and 25 demerit points;
  • the second year after the offence becomes law will attract a fine of $100 and 50 demerit points; 
  • the third and subsequent years after the offence becomes law will attract a fine of $150 and 75 demerit points.

What changes are envisaged for excessively noisy vehicles?

Penalties incurred for excessive vehicle noise will be reduced to a fine of $50 (currently $250) and increased to 25 demerit points (currently 10).

Changes to penalties for intersection offences are also planned, what are these?

There will be a demerit point regime for intersection offences, including those detected by digital red light cameras as follows:

Offences relating to failing to give way or stop

  • failing to comply with red traffic signal will attract a fine of $150 and 75 demerit points;
  • failing to stop or give way at stop sign will attract a fine of $100 and 50 demerit points;
  • failing to give way at a give way sign will attract a fine of $50 and 25 demerit points;

What will happen to the laws around the wearing of seatbelts?

Failing to wear a seatbelt will attract a fine of $50 and 25 demerit points.

There seems to be a move away from fines to demerit points – why is this?

In the case of young and novice drivers in particular, it is felt that some young people are building large amounts of unpaid fines and are refusing to pay. However with demerit points they run the risk of losing their licence if they continue to break the law.

What is the background to these changes?

In 2006, the Ministry of Transport organised a series of nationwide public workshops to get public input into what were the road safety priorities, and how these could be better addressed. The See You There … Safe As! campaign attracted a lot on interest and from this, and other information collected, a draft policy statement was produced last December. Since then, officials have been developing these ideas into the proposals which Cabinet has now approved.

What else has been done to reduce the road toll?

In the past year a significant number of initiatives have been undertaken. These include:

  • a safety campaign to prevent crashes at level crossings;
  • a strategy to combat the issue of driver fatigue; 
  • the development of the ‘Right Car ‘ web site; 
  • the Future Fleet roadshows aimed at alerting fleet buyers to safer and more energy efficient vehicles;
  • new roadside testing of drugged drivers;

the completion of engineering works aimed at making roads safer such as the installation of the median barrier on Centennial Highway, north of Wellington.

What else has been done?

The Minister of Transport and Minister for Transport Safety have spoken about road safety at numerous conferences and events, and also in the media. Issues canvassed include driver distraction and driver fatigue as well as problems such as speed and alcohol.

Will law changes affect the behaviour of motorists?

It is hoped that potential punishments have an effect on behaviour. In the end, people have to obey the law and adopt certain behaviours because they realise that if they don’t, they are putting their lives and the lives of others at risk.

When will the changes occur?

Many of the proposed changes require changes to rules, acts and regulations. Drafting of the provisions will commence early in the New Year.