Sending wrong message

Arrowtown resident Glen Wallace and his fine for ``freedom camping'' on Rees St. PHOTO: GUY...
Arrowtown resident Glen Wallace and his fine for ``freedom camping'' on Rees St. PHOTO: GUY WILLIAMS
Arrowtown resident Glen Wallace and Gore man Brayden Hardy have every reason to feel disgruntled with the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

Mr Wallace was given a $200 freedom camping fine after he slept in his ute in central Queenstown in the early hours one morning. Mr Hardy, a designated sober driver, meanwhile, says he pulled over to rest on the 167km drive back to Gore and woke to find a similar infringement notice.

After drinking with friends, Mr Wallace found himself alone and "over the limit" about 4am. Aware he should not drink and drive, he went to sleep. On waking, he found the ticket on his windscreen. He then got a friend to give him a lift home.

Mr Wallace was moderate about the matter, saying in retrospect he would have stumped up $80 for a taxi, or checked into a backpackers. But he thought sleeping in his car was reasonable.

Indeed. The freedom camping law and associated bylaws arose, in large part, because of concerns about a minority of overseas packbackers fouling the countryside. There was also additional pressure from camping ground proprietors about what were seen as freeloaders.

Mr Wallace hardly fits into either of those categories and did the right thing by not drinking and driving.

Sure, he could have booked into accommodation or paid for a taxi. But, as he said, what harm was he doing having a snooze in his truck. He, obviously, was not a freedom camper complete with bedding, cooking paraphernalia and luggage.

Neither was Mr Hardy. In fact, on the information at present available, it would appear the Queenstown Lakes District Council could be contravening both the Freedom Camping Act 2011 and its 2012 bylaw.

Both specially say, in their definitions, that freedom camping does not include "resting or sleeping at the roadside in a caravan or motor vehicle to avoid driver fatigue".

The fines, and in Mr Wallace's case the failure to waive the penalty, send the wrong messages. When people have been drinking, they are prone to bad choices. Every effort should be made to discourage them from drinking and driving, even if there were other feasible options besides sleeping in the vehicle. And when drivers are tired they should rest, even if that is for some hours.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council and other local authorities should use their "freedom camping" bylaws to deal with the issues the Freedom Camping Act was supposed to tackle. That was never envisaged as a local having a snooze in his ute after a hard night out. Furthermore, the bylaw directly makes provisions for roadside rests or sleeps to avoid driver fatigue.


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