Plans by the Far North District Council to issue fines for cars without a warrant of fitness or registration will hit the poor and Māori hardest according to the co-ordinator of a marae-based driver licensing scheme.
From July 1 the council's parking warden began checking cars for warrants and registration. For the first month they will issue reminder notices, but from August 1 those in breach will receive $200 fines (which may be waived if the owner can prove a genuine effort to make the vehicle road-legal within 28 days).
Other councils, including Auckland and Whangārei, already issue fines, but in the Far North it's a job that has in the past been left to the police.
Waikare woman Vicky Lawson said the move would have a disproportionate effect on Māori and the poor, especially in rural areas.
Māori already had to deal with ''systemic issues'' that made it harder for them to participate in the driver licensing system, and many lived in rural areas with bad roads, so faced higher costs to keep their cars warranted, despite lower incomes.
People in Waikare, for example, had to drive long distances on a rough, unsealed road, so faced significant bills for windscreen repairs, wheel realignments and general wear and tear.
Māori were often first drawn into the justice system for driving-related offences, and once in the system they could end up in a spiral to ever harsher penalties.
''You get pulled up without a licence, you can't pay so you go to court, then you get community work, and eventually you end up in jail," she said.
She feared the same could happen with registration and WOF fines, which, at $200 each, could quickly add up.
Māori and rural dwellers were already disadvantaged when it came to getting road-legal. People in her area, for example, had to drive more than an hour to the closest testing centre in Kerikeri to get their learner's licences. Someone to drive them there, and, if they were working, both had to take a day off.
Lawson runs a marae-based driver licensing programme for Te Rūnanga o Taumārere ki Rākaumangamanga, which strives to get drivers legal and prevent them being drawn into the justice system. So far about 50 people from Waikare, Rāwhiti and Russell had been helped to get their learner's licences.
The programme paid the test fees, provided a four-day course with a driving instructor, then transported the learners to Kerikeri as a group to take their test.
Until a new AA agency opened recently in Kaikohe, South Hokianga residents had to travel even further, to the testing centre in Kerikeri.
Instead of penalising people who struggled to afford WOF and registration, the council could reduce their vehicle maintenance costs by improving the state of rural roads, Lawson added.
''And they need consider the effects on Māori, rural and low socio-economic people before making decisions. You'd think the council would have learnt from SNAs (Significant Natural Areas). This hurts the poor and Māori. It's almost like it's targeted at this particular group," she said.
The Ministry of Social Development offered help, in the form of loans, to beneficiaries struggling to pay for vehicle registration or WOFs, but that didn't help working people who were just getting by.
Lawson said she and other Te Tai Tokerau representatives had been trying to raise their concerns with Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, but Northland had been sidelined from a recent driver licensing review. Waka Kotahi officials had now agreed to visit Northland to hear from driver licensing providers, however.
The Far North District Council said the new policy of carrying out WOF and registration checks was part of a wider drive to reduce deaths and serious injuries by making sure all vehicles were roadworthy.