Police's zero tolerance a mixed message for drivers

The Automobile Association was "inundated" over the holiday period with calls from drivers confused about the police's zero tolerance stance on speeding.

"Our members were really confused by the campaign," AA general manager of motoring affairs Mike Noon said.

"The police announced there would be a zero tolerance but then more quietly said no, we will enforce it within 4kmh."

Police Minister Michael Woodhouse has announced a review of the campaign but Labour leader Andrew Little is defending police, labelling the review "flakey".

On November 28, police kicked off the campaign by saying anyone exceeding the speed limit over summer could expect to be pulled over. 

There would still be a 4kmh tolerance on fixed speed cameras, they said, but their message that officers would have a zero tolerance to speeding was met with public backlash.

Hours after appearing as a guest on a talk-back radio show yesterday, Woodhouse announced he had asked police to review all of the public messages they put out as part of the 2014/15 summer road safety campaign.

The review will begin after the campaign concludes at the end of this month. 

Noon said a survey of AA members showed 57 per cent of drivers supported holiday campaigns with a 4kmh tolerance to allow for passing, and 90 per cent supported the general 10kmh tolerance to allow for passing on motorways. 

"There's an issue here of people building that tolerance into their speed limit. We don't endorse that. The speed limit isn't a target," he said. 

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He said a lower tolerance when roads were busy helped drivers travel at the same speed, which made the journey quicker for everyone.

"But people here felt they were being asked to dance on top of a pin. It just wasn't a clear message. We got a lot of calls from members and it was difficult to clarify their concerns."

For upcoming holidays, Noon would like to see campaigns focussing on more than just speed.

"There are some other messages equally as important on these holiday weekends: Take breaks, increase your following distance, don't bother passing because there's going to be another car ahead, don't make promises around arrival time, relax and make the journey part of your holiday."

This morning on Radio NZ, Woodhouse admitted there was widespread confusion about the summer programme. 

"A zero tolerance message did go out but I think the fact was that zero tolerance was for very poor driving behaviour that would lead to death and injury on our roads.

"Police maintained a discretion. The speed cameras had a 4kmh discretion. But I accept there may have been some confusion in the mind of the New Zealand public around what those discretions were."

The use of the term zero tolerance had led people to believe there would be no discretion on the speed limit whatsoever, he said.

'FLAKEY' REVIEW

Labour leader Andrew Little labelled the review "flakey".

Police needed time to investigate the circumstances of each accident, before leaping to any conclusions, he said. 

"[For Woodhouse] to go onto a talk-back show and get roasted and decide you are going to do something then it looks, frankly, just a little bit flakey to me," Little said.

"If there is a debate about whether there should be a more varied range of speed limits - some open roads can accommodate 110km per hour and some can't - that is a separate debate and we should have that at some point.

"But I am a little bit uncomfortable about this climbing into the police for enforcing the speed limits."

Little backed police, saying he saw no problem in  "sending a signal when you know that there are peak travel times, saying that you are going to strictly enforce the law."

He challenged how much Woodhouse knew about the campaign before it kicked off.

"I can't imagine the police would have announced a zero tolerance policy without the minister having giving, at least, his blessing. So, to now come in and say he wants a full review and wants explanations? Well, the time to ask for that was when he knew it was going to happen in the first place."

NZ First MP Ron Mark also criticised Woodhouse for throwing police "under the bus." And he says drivers ticketed within the tolerance limits should now have the penalty cancelled.

Frontline officers were instructed to adopt zero tolerance "by senior commanders, with the minister's agreement," he claimed.

"The buck stops at the guy who is being paid the big bucks for running the show," he added.

Mark said the campaign was "flawed and discredited" and Woodhouse should never have signed it off.

Last week, critics labelled the campaign a failure as the holiday road toll topped 17, more than double last year's.

Woodhouse described the toll as a "disappointing exception to a general trend of reducing death and injury on the roads". 

Last summer, police reduced the speed tolerance to 4kmh.

The move increased revenue by $5 million, but Woodhouse "utterly rejected" the notion a lower speed tolerance was a money-gathering strategy.

"The police are not measured on that basis, it doesn't affect the budget police have to discharge their duties."

He said he wanted the review to be completed in time for any changes to be made before the Easter holiday period.

 - Stuff

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