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Guest Opinion: A Tangled Web Of Transportation Law

A Tangled Web Of Transportation Law
By Graeme Trass - Taupo

A group of young men in a car are apprehended by a police officer at Te Kauwhata, near Huntley. Brandishing a screwdriver the driver smashes the patrol car’s windscreen. The eagle helicopter lands and rescues the officer.

On a grey winter’s day in Rotorua’s Old Taupo road I witness a single young male motorist pulled over by two officers. A short while later he yells out “f….ng take it then” and smashes the windscreen of his dilapidated car from inside with his bare hands.

He is immediately arrested, handcuffed and taken away. Within minutes a tow truck arrives to remove his car. The process is efficient and sanitised.

A recent Taupo court sitting I attended was illuminating. 80% of the cases heard were young people, 25 years and under, charged for driving without a license.

As the first step in this infringement policy is being ‘forbidden to drive’ they were all by default, repeat offenders. The cost of around $300 (not counting lessons) is an insurmountable barrier for most of these defendants.

The Taupo bench studiously ignored this reality and pride didn’t allow defendants to own up. The court was disingenuous with the Justices carrying out what amounted to a mass bribing exercise. Defendants were invariably told they would not be fined if they reappeared on 14 August with proof of having obtained a license.

In effect because of the three-stage graduated system they could only pass one component in the allotted time. Talk of obtaining a ‘license’ under these circumstances is gratuitous. The best to be hoped for was to obtain an entry-level learner permit. It is not a license.

One youngster around 22 years old informed the court he had no intention of ever getting a license. This show of bravado was revealing, specially coupled with the courts studied ignorance of his comments. Another girl was on her fifth charge for this same offence.

Unbelievably both were told to report back in August with a license in order to be let off.. The actions of the court reminded me of an animal transfixed by oncoming headlights.

Officials simply don’t listen as criminals are created right before their eyes. Youth learn contempt for the court in the face of apparent judicial powerlessness and leave feeling bullet proof.

Another concern is the way unlicensed drivers use old worthless vehicles, often unwarranted and unregistered, so there is no real loss when the vehicle is inevitably confiscated for 28 days. These vehicles are rarely uplifted as tow operators will attest.

Combined with inexperienced and unlicensed drivers it is a recipe for nightmare fatalities on our roads.

This problem has been caused through the greed and stubbornness of authorities. Cost is the catalyst as many low-income families simply cannot afford these outrageous fees.

Talk of raising the age for obtaining a license and of making the test harder (read more expensive) will make an awful situation unbearable.

The authorities never seem to learn and we all suffer as a result. In a country like New Zealand a license is essential. Scarce or non-existent public transport plus employment requirements often make a license vital.

The process must be inclusive and it is better to get these youngsters catalogued and documented as well as getting them through the testing process without unnecessary obstacles. Possession of driver licenses must be a qualified right, like a passport. Not a privilege as some would have us believe.

Once young drivers are in the system reasonable controls are easier to implement. If they are kept out of the system monitoring is difficult and only random in the best circumstances. This is one situation where a user pays philosophy fails badly.

So far policies targeting youth driving have caused more problems than they have solved. Truly this cure is worse than the affliction.

Our Courts are losing respect through attrition as their role and peoples perspectives of them alter and often they have only themselves to blame. Increasingly police are seen as ticket sellers while Court officials assume the role of fee collectors. It can be likened to a weird random tax with all the attendant unfairness. Citizens who appear before the court are increasingly cynical. Penalties draw a sardonic acceptance.

Drunk drivers licenses are disqualified and later reissued endorsed as work licenses. All this is done for a fee of course. Currently around $1500 the charge is apportioned between lawyers and the court.

Vehicles can be impounded for a variety of traffic offences. There is virtually no right of appeal and private operators store vehicles for a mandatory 28 days.

Owners recover vehicles after paying storage and towing fees, usually in cash. No court oversees this process and storage companies have wide powers to sell vehicles if fees are not paid.

In effect the 28 days is an extra-judicial forfeit. The storage fee is a form of extortion because the car cannot be uplifted earlier by law and the money goes to the Storage Company.

The vehicle is only kept in ‘storage’ to attract further financial punishment, a ‘rose by another name’.

Towing companies are now in the used car market but are conveniently exempt from applicable codes of conduct. This should be a concern to dealers but incredibly has been accepted with out a whimper. Appropriating citizens’ private property and allowing its retention by private enterprise is a slippery slope.


Sources: NZ Herald, Personal witnessing, Taupo Courthouse attendance 26/06/02

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