Police Minister orders speed-blitz inquiry
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Minister admits to having concerns about ‘confusing’ police message on tolerance
Police Minister Michael Woodhouse has admitted he had concerns over the summer speed enforcement message before it went public, saying it was confusing and ambiguous.
Mr Woodhouse announced last night that he had asked the police to officially review the public messages that underpinned the Christmas and New Year road safety campaign, which has been criticised by the public and other agencies.
The minister said he was also concerned about the number of foreign drivers involved in serious and fatal road crashes.
The police "Reach the Beach" summer road safety campaign, announced on November 28, was the first to come without a 4km/h tolerance in four and a half years.
Seventeen people were killed on the roads over the Christmas-New Year, more than double the 2013-14 toll of seven.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush had urged drivers to forget the old message of a tolerance for driving less than 5km/h above the speed limit.
"Do not drive at anything over the limit."
However, he went on to say individual officers would decide whether to issue tickets for drivers caught driving only a small amount above the limit. "It will depend upon the circumstances and our officers have always had discretion."
Mr Woodhouse said when he was briefed on the campaign last year, he had reservations. "I must admit I had some concerns about whether or not the message would be clear. And that is why I asked for the review," he told Duncan Garner on RadioLive.
He "firmly" supported a zero-speed tolerance for "poor driving behaviour that could lead to death and injury".
But he also backed the 4km/h tolerance and police discretion for people travelling just over a posted speed limit. He conceded that enforcement message was jumbled in the lead-up to the holidays.
"I think some of the messaging has been confusing what I think police were trying to do [which] was to say there is zero tolerance for bad driving behaviour that leads to death and injury on our road. But they always maintained a discretion around speed," he told Garner yesterday.
"I think that the messaging was a bit mixed and for that reason I have asked the commissioner to review the messaging that went with the summer road safety campaign because there was clearly confusion about what sort of speed tolerance would be applied on the roads."
Last week, New Zealand First MP Ron Mark branded the zero-tolerance policy "ridiculous and ineffective".
AA spokesman Mike Noon also questioned whether it was the best strategy to reduce the road toll.
Mr Woodhouse said the feedback he had received - including from officers - was that the enforcement message was confused. "It is necessary to get that much tighter and more clearly articulated."
He has requested that the review be complete and changes implemented "well in advance" of the Easter long weekend so the speeding rules will be transparent.
In a statement, Mr Woodhouse said while speed enforcement strategies were an operational matter for police, he would take a "close interest in ensuring the message about road safety is clear and unambiguous".
"It is important that the police and public work together to ensure our roads are a safe place to be, especially over the summer while there are more people on the road."
Mr Woodhouse said that alongside speeding drivers, foreign motorists also needed to be given a clear message about what was acceptable driving behaviour on New Zealand roads. The number of foreign drivers involved in crashes was concerning.
He said as part of the Safer Journeys project, a test for foreign drivers "will be looked at".
"I think what we will find is that there will be a number of things that can be done both with technology in the car and prompts to make people aware that they should be driving on the left-hand side of the road."
Yesterday in Rotorua, Chinese national Peng Liu, 32, was ordered to pay $20,000 in reparations to a German couple and their 15-year-old son seriously hurt when he crossed the centreline and crashed into them near Wairakei on December 30.
District court judge James Weir ordered that Liu's passport be confiscated and not returned until the money is paid.
"There is no reason at all why an accident should happen on that road [State Highway 5] if someone was paying due care and attention. You were not," Judge Weir said.
"This is just yet another example of people from overseas who come to this country and get involved in serious accidents.
" ... a clear message needs to be sent out to foreign drivers who come into this country who cause this sort of mayhem. It happens more and more on our roads. The papers are full of accidents of this type, particularly over the holiday season."