PANZ Calls For Restraint By Recreational 4WDers
Four-wheel-drive users do not have an absolute right to use and to damage backcountry roads.
Recreational rights advocate Public Access New Zealand was commenting on concerns by the Central Otago District Council and the Dunedin City Council about severe damage being inflicted on the historic Dunstan Road and other high country roads in Otago. There are reports of ruts up to 60cm deep spread across road surfaces.
PANZ is a staunch supporter of public rights of use over public roads as these provide essential rights of access for everyone. However spokesman and researcher Bruce Mason says that the common law right of unhindered passage at all times is not absolute. "My delving into English common law, which applies to New Zealand, reveals that in exercising passage if damage results to a road surface to the extent that normal passage by other users is adversely affected, then a public nuisance is created. This opens the damaging party up to a liability to be sued". Administering councils, other road users, or adjoining land occupiers could take action.
PANZ takes issue with assertions that it is 4WD clubs alone that are responsible for damage to roads. Club members comprise a very small proportion of the 12 percent of new vehicle registrations nationally. "There has been the phenomenal growth in 4WD sales in recent years, up 4 percent in the last 4 years. That is responsible for the upsurge in damage. I have seen this myself with individual "Remuera limousines" tearing through bogs on the Serpentine Road in very wet conditions that had me pushing my mountain bike around".
Councils have a real problem on their hands. They can close roads temporally to protect the road surface, but only for classes of vehicle and not classes of user. They cannot lawfully lock gates. They cannot lawfully discriminate against recreational users and in favour of adjoining farmers. Problems have occurred in the past where councils have attempted this and become legally unstuck.
PANZ believes that councils must remain scrupulous in their dealings with the community by being even-handed.
Greater awareness among 4WD owners of their rights and limitations to those rights may help alleviate the problem. The 'tread lightly' ethic promoted by most clubs needs greater recognition in practice. There has to be general cognizance that when a road is clearly unsuitable for wheeled traffic, use is not a right it is an abuse. There is no God-given right to drive everywhere regardless of the damage inflicted.
PANZ advises that in wet conditions on soft, unmetalled roads susceptible to rutting, recreational users should park their vehicles and use their legs, or defer their trip until there are dry conditions.
If the temptations of throbbing horsepower and creature-comfort mobility continue to inflict a heavy toll on high country roads, perhaps a prosecution or two for creating a public nuisance may provide a persuasive influence on driver behaviour, Mr Mason concluded.
Media Contact: Bruce Mason 025 358 311
Bruce Mason Researcher & Co-Spokesman Public Access New Zealand R D 1 Omakau 9182 Central Otago New Zealand
Phone & fax: 64-3-447-3554 Mobile phone:025 358 311 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.publicaccessnewzealand.org