‘You break it, you pay for it."
This admonition is not uncommon in shops and is accepted by most people as fair and reasonable. But should it apply on our roads?
Apparently it does. Young Hastings driver Romy Goodfellow and her mother were taken aback when they got a $1366 bill from the New Zealand Transport Agency. Romy had lost control of her mother's car while driving to polytech last year and crashed off the road, badly injuring herself in the process. Now she has been billed for the cost of contractors, traffic control and cleanup for the four hours the road was closed after her crash.
Mrs Goodfellow didn't question the fact that the crash was caused by driver error, but was dismayed to be getting a bill. "It's just not right," she said. "I won't pay."
However, Mrs Goodfellow's case has revealed some interesting facts. The NZTA does indeed bill motorists for damage caused in the wake of accidents, and more often than we may have suspected.
Transport Agency highways and network operations group manager Colin Crampton has revealed that in Canterbury alone there had been 55 incidents in which costs had been sought during the past two years. Of those, 41 had been settled for $580,000, with the majority recovered from insurance companies.
A NZTA spokesman said a portion of the motor vehicle registration fee, petrol excises and road user charges went to the National Land Transport Fund, used to pay for state highway maintenance.
"However, wherever possible, the NZTA endeavours to recover the costs of repairing road furniture and equipment damaged in crashes from liable drivers."
There is some justice in this, despite the howls of protest that may emanate from erring motorists. Most road crashes in New Zealand are referred to as "accidents," but few of them really are. Most are the result of driver carelessness, speed, inattention and in too many cases sheer recklessness. So if our bad driving results in extra costs for the taxpayer-funded NZTA, why shouldn't they seek to recover some of their costs?
This may not be good news for Mrs Goodfellow, but it may serve as another warning to careless Kiwi motorists. "You break it, you pay for it."
- The Marlborough Express