David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Former MP loses bus lane battle

Dover Samuels says he chose to challenge his fine "as a matter of principle, as a man of principle". Picture / Steven McNicholl
Dover Samuels says he chose to challenge his fine "as a matter of principle, as a man of principle". Picture / Steven McNicholl

Former Cabinet minister Dover Samuels has defended a traffic ticket for driving in a bus lane, claiming country drivers don't know city rules.

The defence failed - and Mr Samuels found his $150 traffic fine inflated by $132.89 court costs.

The former Labour Party politician argued his case in the Auckland District Court, yesterday saying the divide between town and country had led to the fine. He said he could have paid it - but was present "on a matter of principle, as a man of principle".

"When I got notice of this alleged offence, I was quite shocked and surprised. I don't believe I committed an offence."

He said his 60 years of driving - most of it in the Far North - was religiously governed by the road code instruction to drive on the left. Doing otherwise would be a "disaster", he said.

And then, when he came to Auckland, he did exactly the same on Quay St in the central city and was fined $150.

Mr Samuels said it was "chaos" having different rules in Auckland to other parts of the country and blamed revenue gathering for the enforcement strategy. "It is an avenue for fines," he said.

"I'm here on a matter of principle, as a man of principle.

"The principle law of this country is that you drive on the left-hand side of the road," he said. "Are there any signs which tell me, or people who come from up north, that you can't drive on the left-hand side of the road?"

The parking officer's quick response was: "There are signs everywhere. They say 'bus lane begins'."

At the Auckland District Court yesterday, seven parking officers sat on the left-hand side of the court waiting to testify against a range of defendants.

Mr Samuels sat on the right. Other defendants joined him, one looking back toward the parking officers saying: "The enemy sits there". Mr Samuels, like the others who came to object, lost.

Justice of the Peace Wallis Walker summarised the argument of Auckland Transport, explaining it was a "strict liability offence". It meant the case was seen in strict black-and-white terms - all it needed was proof Mr Samuels had driven in a bus lane.

"Unfortunately, Mr Samuels, this being an infringement matter, the court has no authority to recognise your good driving record of 60 years. It it was a more serious matter, we could have taken that into account."

She wished him "good driving in the North".

Mr Samuels, trademark wide-brimmed hat in hand, left the court wishing he could encounter "a judge as pretty as you" on his dealings back home.

Auckland Council yesterday said they had one-time waivers for out-of-town visitors. Mr Samuels had borrowed an Auckland resident's car for the drive, which likely meant he missed out on any automatic waiver because the ticket was sent to an address in the city.

Bus lane fines
$2.1m from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012.
$1.9m from November 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011.

Allowed in bus lanes
Buses with seats for nine or more passengers.
Bicycles.
Motorbikes.
Emergency vehicles.
Cars intending to turn off the road in the next 50m.

- NZ Herald

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