Fixing the New Zealand road menace

New Zealand Police are complaining about how the court fines imposed on drivers are not sufficient to deter them from reoffending. Whilst this is definitely a valid point, the problem menace of our drivers and those from overseas is not one that is going to be solved by fines alone.

It is true that there are definitely non-New Zealanders who have no understanding of the road conditions here. In their defence, aside from having different physical conditions to live with in their native country, how they are taught to view other road users and what passes for a road code, might also differ. So what one ends up with is a potentially very nervous person behind the wheel, not knowing what they have gotten themselves into. Mistakes are a very realistic probability.

It is also true that there are New Zealanders who by virtue of their attitude and conduct, should never be allowed to drive a vehicle of any description for any reason. These are people who are recidivist drunks, speedsters, serious offenders  and/or drug users who may have already caused serious injury or death. It is these people who need to be taken off the roads and never allowed to drive again.

There are ways of cutting down on the road toll and ways of cutting down on other road accidents not causing death. The conventional methods of writing fines do not go far enough and can be ignored, which is why there are people with thousands of dollars in unpaid fines, who have no intention of paying. A short sharp and most probably painfully effective way of dealing with these people would be impounding their car for a calendar month, and selling it to recoup the fines.

The methods used to cut drunken driving however do not all need to come from the law. Bars could have transparent bags that they will put in a safe containing a persons car keys if that person has had too much to drink and can come back and get them in the morning. Bar tenders could be encouraged to ask after a first round, whether the person drinking will be driving. Although that relies on honesty on the drinker’s part it will hopefully make them stop and think before ordering another round.

As young New Zealanders like to travel overseas, one way of getting them to think about their conduct on the road could be to point out the consequences a road accident where they are at fault can impact on their likelihood of passing a Customs check. A drunk driver, convicted in a New Zealand court for example will have a much harder time passing through U.S. Customs than a clean driver because they have committed an offence that is seriously frowned upon in both countries.

The revoking of licences is well and good, but it does not physically stop a person getting behind the wheel if they have access to keys, and driving off. This is where confiscation of keys and – in severe cases – impounding the car can become of significant use. It can be reasonably assumed most people will want their motoring independence back and pay up. Few will be wanting to pay substantial money to buy a new car.

So, in short there is a case for a change in the way we approach the problem of poor driving on New Zealand. Fines are but one tool in the inventory. There are others and we should not be afraid of devising new ones.

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