Jared Savage

Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

City motorists part of trial of police warnings

Auckland motorists will be given written warnings for low-level traffic offences over th next six months. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Auckland motorists will be given written warnings for low-level traffic offences over th next six months. Photo / Geoff Sloan

Auckland motorists will be given written warnings for low-level traffic offences over the next six months - rather than prosecuted or fined - to help cut the number of minor cases clogging courtrooms.

From today the decision to issue a formal written warning will be at the discretion of police officers for any driver stopped for traffic offences for which prison terms are not a penalty, including careless driving and unsafe lane changes.

Verbal warnings are to be scrapped in the six-month trial and the new warning will be recorded into the police system at the scene with handheld smart devices.

The policy will be tested across the wider Auckland region, including the North Shore, Waitakere and Counties Manukau, at a time when the new give way rules come into force on Sunday week.

Superintendent Bill Searle, the Waitemata district commander, believes the Auckland project is a world first and will become national if successful.

He stressed the decision to give a written warning, rather than a fine or prosecution, is "not letting someone off".

"This is for minor offences and about education. The whole reasoning is to change their behaviour. If somebody doesn't want to offend again, that's all well and good. If they do, a record of previous warnings are on the system and they're unlikely to get another warning," said Mr Searle.

"It's not a let-off. For many people, being stopped by a police officer and given a written warning will be enough."

Careless driving, failing to keep left, unsafe lane changes and failing to give way are among the offences eligible for a warning.

Any offences which could be punished by imprisonment are not. These include drink-driving or drug-driving, reckless or dangerous driving, driving while disqualified, or boy racing.

"All the road policing staff have these devices to do it electronically. Put in the details, print out the warning, ticket issued on the spot."

But minor offences would not automatically be given a written warning, said Mr Searle, but rather left to the discretion of the police officer.

Any decision relating to a crash accident must be referred to a supervisor and drivers could be warned more than once. "It's up to the discretion of the officer. I'd be surprised if someone got a second warning for the same offence in a short space of time."

The most common offence in an earlier trial in Wellington last year was careless driving.

Mr Searle said the new give way rules came into consideration for the timing of the pilot and may be an "appropriate option" for when the rules were broken.

The written traffic warnings are the next stage in the police alternative resolutions programme and come after the pre-charge warnings, to replace prosecutions of minor criminal offences.

Nearly 14,000 pre-charge warnings were given last year, each saving one hour of police officer time and a case diverted from the courts.

Last year there was a nationwide 8 per cent reduction in minor cases being dealt with in court.

ON NOTICE

* Possible written warning:
* Careless driving
* Failing to keep left
* Unsafe changing of lanes
* Failing to give way
* Operating a moving vehicle with insecure load

No warning:

* Drink-driving and drug-driving
* Reckless or dangerous driving
* Careless driving causing injury or death
* Racing, exhibition of speed and sustained loss of traction offences (boy racer offences)
* Driving while disqualified, suspended, revoked or contrary to limited licence.

- NZ Herald

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