Tourist infringement enforcement shortfalls
For our own safety, someone needs to lift their game!
Iwas tidying up my filing system recently (what filing system?), and I came across an old article on a 2015 North Island car smash involving a classic car that was returning home from a major event. The car was a late 1930s Chevrolet coupe, and it was pretty much totalled by a tourist-driven camper van that had crossed onto the incorrect side of the road. Fortunately, the couple in the Chevrolet coupe survived (just!) to cruise another day, but, obviously, it will have to be in some other vehicle in the interim. I cannot recall what happened to the driver of the camper van, but, from memory, it was the usual slapped hand, as there would seem to be a policy of not upsetting tourists in play. Just recently, another tourist, but this time in the South Island, killed a motorcyclist when their rental vehicle crossed the double yellow centre line and hit the motorcyclist head on.
Leaving aside for a moment the problems with abysmal tourist driving (and not just the ones in camper vans, either), there is also the issue of freedom campers and the problems associated with them. While I have yet to be convinced of any value these particular tourist types might bring to New Zealand, it would seem that many of them have the attitude that the word ‘freedom’ also applies to their fines, which reportedly go largely unpaid. Such fines include those imposed by various councils for illiterate visitors who do not understand what ‘no camping’ actually means. At the beginning of April, local authorities were reportedly complaining that there was approximately $1.5M in unpaid fines left by tourists who had received tickets but since left New Zealand.
The solution sought by some of the affected councils is for the rental companies to recoup money from the tourists via their credit cards. At present, rental companies simply provide the renter’s details to councils, rather than deducting the outstanding fines from the renter’s credit card. As I understand rental-vehicle agreements (and I have rented vehicles in several overseas jurisdictions, including Europe, the US, and Australia), the rental companies would not only charge your credit card for any infringements, but (in one case in Australia) would add a further ‘administration fee’ of $150! Now, for me, anyway, this is a really good incentive not to get any speeding or parking infringement fines, or leave any road-toll accounts unpaid. This then begs the question, why not here? Well, it would seem that no one (government included) wants to be seen as ‘the bad guy’ as far as overseas visitors are concerned. For example, the CEO of the Rental Vehicle Association New Zealand reportedly said that speed-camera fines and freedom camping infringements often did not come through until after the visitors left the country. Really? Since when has that been a problem for overseas rental companies? For example, I had returned from one overseas trip, and it was almost 12 months later that a debit appeared on my credit card for an unpaid road toll in Australia. Fortunately, it was not the rental company that intended to add the $150 administration fee! However, my point is simply this: if overseas rental companies can charge a credit card up to (in my case) 12 months after the event, why can’t New Zealand companies do the same? To not pursue these infringement fines is sending out the wrong message, in much the same way that refraining from imposing lengthy jail time on those tourists who kill and maim people while in this country does.
As I understand it, the North Island couple I mentioned earlier are rebuilding their Chevrolet coupé, with assistance from other car club members (as you would expect with a quality car club!), but at least they are still alive, albeit injured. Not so with many other victims of tourist drivers, who have had their lives taken in much the same way as the tourists have taken photos — seemingly without any qualms and certainly without any meaningful consequences. Crying in the dock in front of the judge? Please! Most of the time the remorse shown is more about the fact that they were caught, not about the fact that lives were lost.
Remember that young fella down south whose dad (together with another motorcyclist) was killed by a young tourist who had been in the country less than 24 hours? The one who organized a petition to Parliament asking for more stringent tests for tourist drivers before they were let loose on the road? Well, he is still minus his dad, and the tourist industry is still raking in the big bucks, having done little, if anything, to improve matters!
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I believe we are over-valuing the benefit of some tourism. Someone involved in the camper-van rental business previously alerted me to a German website that advises visitors to New Zealand (in German) how to avoid paying their camper-van rental fees upon their return at the end of their tiki tour around New Zealand! It would seem that there are also similar websites that advise freedom campers how to avoid paying the hut fees on some of our fabulous walking tracks, and where to camp for nothing with minimum (if any) opposition from local authorities. My deep philosophical question is, are these the sorts of tourists we actually want to encourage to our shores? I’m convinced that it is these sorts of attitudes that are often also reflected in their driving.
In the meantime, we have a government that is not prepared to force rental companies to lift their game and deduct infringements from renters’ credit cards, and we have a tourism industry that lacks the intestinal fortitude to push for the same. It would seem that the main issue preventing change is that as registered vehicle owners — according to statements attributed to the Rental Vehicle Association CEO — rental companies have to complete a statutory declaration, certified by a Justice of the Peace, to shift the legal liability of an offence to the person who was driving the vehicle at the time. And this is where I have a big problem — according to the NZTA, we do not have ‘registered owners of vehicles’ in New Zealand anymore. We now have ‘registered persons responsible for said vehicles’. Therefore, my argument would be that the barrier facing rental companies (as to a vehicle’s owner) is no longer there. If someone gets a speeding ticket in a vehicle that I am the ‘registered person responsible for’, unless I provide the authorities with the details of the person driving at the time of the offence, then I’m liable for that infringement. So, why are we not making the rental companies responsible for the unpaid infringements? Bet that would start making them pursue the renters! And, at the same time, what about making the rental companies at least partially responsible for the deaths and injuries caused by the drivers of their vehicles? That might bring about some change, perhaps? Probably not, because, as I have said before, with tourism being the numberone industry export earner, having displaced dairying, a few fatalities would seem to be a small price to pay (no pun intended!) for that.
My new bumper sticker reads, “Tourist Drivers! Taking the fun out of Classic Motoring!”