US speed-check plan boosts NZ conviction chance

By Mathew Dearnaley

A speed-check plan could start saving lives. Photo / Martin Sykes
A speed-check plan could start saving lives. Photo / Martin Sykes

Speeding motorists involved in crashes will have an increase chance of being caught by incriminating technology under their bonnets as a result of a law change before the United States Senate.

More than 20,000 vehicles on New Zealand roads have recorders on airbag and braking systems, but the American proposal calls for for mandatory stand-alone "black boxes" in all new cars from 2015.

That would have a flow-on effect to New Zealand through imported cars.

Police have used data from recorders to prosecute several drivers, including one who lost an appeal to the High Court after being found guilty of dangerous driving causing injury in 2009.

But with the advent of stand-alone devices, the Motor Industry Association says debate would be needed about the limits of access to data.

Chief executive Perry Kerr said police should need warrants for data about speed and braking rates, and parties such as insurance companies should not have direct access.

"Our view is that it is not up to insurance companies, it is only a police matter," he said. "If they want to release it to insurance companies, that's up to the police."

Police crash investigation national adviser Inspector Mark Stables welcomed the US move, saying it could increase information available about crashes and vehicles.

"Any investigation is like a big jig-saw puzzle - the more pieces you have got, the easier that puzzle is to solve," he said.

He said transport laws already gave police "blanket" powers to examine a vehicle's components after a serious crash.

But police practice was to support that with a search warrant.

Data recorders in New Zealand were initially limited to Holden VE series Commodores, Hummer SUVs and some Chrysler vehicles, but Toyota and Honda had recently added the technology.

Insurance Council chief executive Chris Ryan said that although there seemed to be a "degree of value" in data recorders being likely to encourage safer driving, insurers were not counting on big windfalls.

"They would only establish whether people have acted in a criminal or negligent way," he said.

"But the vast majority of accidents are genuine accidents that have happened and would be covered by insurance companies."

Automobile Association spokesman Mike Noon said the spread of such technology was inevitable and he did not believe it was "necessarily anything people should be fearful of".

As well as helping convictions, it could be used to clear innocent drivers of blame.

Ministry of Transport spokesman John Summer said that although the Government encouraged New Zealanders to adopt vehicle safety technology as it became available, it was not considering making data recorders mandatory, as all new cars were manufactured overseas.

Assistant Privacy Commissioner Katrine Evans said her office needed more information about the technology before commenting on possible privacy issues for Kiwi motorists.

But she said drivers might not know many existing vehicles already contained technology which collected information, and if they were unsure they should ask the manufacturers or dealers.

- NZ Herald

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