Zero Tolerance For Hard Core Driving Offenders

  • Maurice Williamson

The new Land Transport Act 1998 shows the Government has 'zero tolerance' for hardcore driving offenders, Transport Minister Maurice Williamson said today.

The Act introduces tough new sanctions that Police can use at the roadside against drivers who drink or speed excessively. Penalties available to the courts will also be strengthened, and repeat offenders will face higher maximum penalties in future.

Parliament has passed the Land Transport Bill 1998 through all its stages.

"Although the road toll has dropped considerably in the past ten years, New Zealanders cannot afford to be complacent about road safety," the Minister said.

"There are still offenders who persist in high-risk driving behaviour, despite the very successful enforcement and education campaigns that have been introduced in recent years.

It is these offenders who are the target of the new legislation, which has three central components.

Firstly, it contains a new type of sanction allowing the Police to deal immediately with drivers who are caught with more than twice the legal alcohol limit, or who exceed the speed limit by more than 50 kilometres per hour.

The Act empowers Police to immediately suspend these drivers' licences for 28 days, with no grounds of appeal other than for wrong identification of the driver or incorrect Police procedures. Drivers whose licences are suspended will still face prosecution and further penalties through the courts.

The second group targeted is disqualified and repeat unlicensed drivers. At present, disqualified driving is the second largest type of traffic offence dealt with by the courts each year, resulting in about 11 000 convictions on average each year.

When a disqualified or repeat unlicensed driver is pulled over, the Police can immediately impound the vehicle that they are driving for 28 days, whether they own it or not. The driver will have to pay for towing and storage before the car can be recovered. Prosecution will still follow and once again, hardship will not be grounds for an appeal.

"This ensures that the inconvenience and cost of unacceptable driving behaviour is suffered by the individual responsible and not the taxpayer," said Mr Williamson.

Finally, the Land Transport Act contains several safety-focused modifications to the present licensing regime, including the introduction of photographic licences so the Police can accurately identify the driver of any vehicle they stop.

The changeover to the new licensing system will begin in May 1999. The new licences, which have a ten-year lifespan, will cost less than $30 for people who already have a licence and $48 for people getting their licence for the first time.

"Photographic licences are used in all developed countries. They make it much more difficult for disqualified or unlicensed drivers to give the Police false information, and reassure the majority of law-abiding drivers that no one else is using their licence," the Minister said.

"Over 80 per cent of New Zealanders support having a photographic licence. It is important to see it in the context of the Act's wider safety goals which are aimed at ridding our roads of the hard core offenders.

"We have got to take tough measures to get the road toll down. We have made progress, but not enough. Too many of our people are being killed on the road.

"This legislation is a breakthrough for all New Zealanders," Mr Williamson said.