Tourist in­fringe­ment en­force­ment short­falls

For our own safety, some­one needs to lift their game!

New Zealand Classic Car - - Price On -

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.

Un­paid fines

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.

Vic­tims

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.

Re­spon­si­bil­ity

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!”

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