Concern that people may think new give-way rules were an April Fool's Day joke led to an eleventh-hour date change – despite plans for a $1.2 million education campaign.
Just hours before Transport Minister Steven Joyce was due to lodge a Cabinet paper outlining the changes to the give-way rule, he questioned the planned April 1 start date, saying people may think it was a joke.
Despite advice that April 1 would be more memorable, the date was changed to March 25.
The rule change includes dropping the give-way-to-the-right rule in favour of giving way to the left.
In a series of emails from August 17, disclosed to The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act, Mr Joyce's private secretary, Monique Waayer, raised concerns about the April 1 date.
The first email was at 8.45am and read: "In relation to the in-force date for the new give way rules the minister has asked `Are we confident that April Fool's Day is the right date? I'm thinking March or May'. Can we get some advice ASAP please? The paper is due to be lodged at 10am today."
The response advised that April 1 had already been widely reported as the start date for the law change, and advertising campaigns would persuade people it wasn't a joke.
"From a [communications]-advertising perspective 1 April is better and much more memorable, even if there are negative connotations around that date," senior adviser Paul Fistonich said in an email.
In further emails Ms Waayer said Mr Joyce was "not happy" with April 1 and suggested April 8.
That date was rejected because it was Easter; March 25 was settled on.
Yesterday, a spokeswoman for Mr Joyce said he did not want to run the risk of people not taking the rule change seriously.
"This is a serious issue and we don't want to see that kind of confusion."
It was not uncommon to make last-minute changes to Cabinet papers, she said.
New Zealand Transport Agency spokesman Andy Knackstedt said major changes to legislation were commonly implemented at the start of financial quarters, which would have been part of why April 1 was chosen.
But, it was important to make the transition as easy as possible. "When it's something as high-profile as this you don't want people to think it's an April Fool's joke."
Plans for a $1.2m advertising campaign were already under way, he said.
The campaign would be run largely in the 10 days leading up to the rule change to ensure people did not get confused and start changing their habits early.
- The Dominion Post