Police should be given the power to remove drivers deemed
incompetent from New Zealand roads, Queenstown's top police
Senior Sergeant John Fookes made the comment yesterday during
an inquest in Queenstown before designated Coroner Richard
McElrea into the deaths of Grant John Roberts (43), of
Timaru, and Dennis Michael Pederson (54), of Tauranga.
Snr Sgt Fookes said his personal and professional view was if
police had the ability to forbid drivers and seize their
licences, it would ''significantly ... contribute towards the
safety of road users''.
The two men were killed on November 26, 2012, after their
motorcycles collided with a rental vehicle driven by a
Chinese national on State Highway 8, about 20km north of
Investigations found the driver, Kejia Zheng (20), had
''negligible'' independent driving experience; had never
operated a right-hand-drive car; had never driven on the left
side of the road; and was unlikely to have ever driven faster
than 40kmh, the speed limit on undivided Chinese highways.
Snr Sgt Fookes told Mr McElrea yesterday the number of
Chinese drivers on roads in the Queenstown Lakes had
''noticeably'' increased - along with the number of reported
crashes and complaints involving Chinese drivers.
A common factor appeared to be ''the inability of a
proportion of these drivers to have proper control of their
hired motor vehicle''.
''It's at the point where my staff will comment to me, quite
frankly ... they are far more wary than they used to be.
''They are no longer surprised at all in stopping a rental
car ... to find a Chinese national driving it, or indeed an
Queenstown police responded to complaints ''daily, usually
several times a day'' relating to driving behaviour on State
Highway 6 between the Remarkables Ski Area access road and
His staff patrolled that stretch as a ''high priority'' and
were directed to assess whether problem drivers were capable
of having proper control of the vehicle.
Those deemed incapable often had their contracts with rental
companies cancelled, but nothing prevented a driver getting a
car from another company.
Snr Sgt Fookes said that until recently, his staff had used
sections 21 and 121 of the Land Transport Act to forbid an
individual from driving.
''The legal implications of this are currently under review
and this is not an option at present.''
Section 21 related to hazards being removed from a road,
while section 121 related to the ability of a driver to
exercise proper control.
''We linked those two sections together ... [to] remove
people from the road.
''Certain legal opinion is that we were not able to do that.
''That would appear to be where a significant [gap] exists.''
At present, police could only forbid an individual from
driving by arresting them for a qualifying offence, such as
dangerous driving, and imposing a bail condition.
If a driver was incompetent but had not reached the threshold
to be charged, police had ''no power'' to forbid them to
''Practically day in, day out, staff would find it far easier
to be effective ... if they were able to forbid that person
from driving until such time as there was independent
examination of their ability to drive.''
After yesterday's inquest, acting area commander Inspector
Andrew Burns told the Otago Daily Times the New
Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) was in the ''early stages''
of a project to address the issues raised.
The project would focus on the West Coast and popular tourist
routes in the southern South Island.
''Enforcement [of problem drivers] on its own won't work.''
Insp Burns said the project would probably look at several
options, including further education at the point of hire.
NZTA Transport Officers manager Dermot Harris, of Dunedin,
told Mr McElrea the project would consider crash analysis
about tourist drivers, information about vehicle types, and
the risk visiting drivers posed.
''There will be no quick fix,'' Mr Harris said.
''We want visitors to have the freedom to explore our
country, but to do so in a safe way.''
This week, NZTA and Tourism New Zealand launched driving
video footage on inbound Air New Zealand flights from China.
It is also available on TNZ's Chinese-language consumer
website and other Chinese websites, in the hope of reaching
tourists planning and booking trips online.