Witty messages on the back of a vehicle can be amusing for fellow commuters or travellers. Not so, however, those displayed on the paintwork of the campervan company Wicked Campers.

Its messages, of the kind reported in yesterday's Herald on Sunday, are the kind of thing that appeal only to immature or misogynistic minds and are unlikely to be amusing to most people in a following car. They are simply offensive.


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Among women who find it so are Cabinet members Paula Bennett, an Associate Minister of Tourism; Louise Upston, Minister for Women; and Maggie Barry, whose Conservation portfolio includes camps where these lurid vans with their juvenile humour pollute a pleasant environment.

These women are well placed to do something about it, and they should. (To suggest, however, that only women find the messages appalling is wrong.)

Ms Bennett says she has suggested to Justice Minister Amy Adams the Advertising Standards Authority be given added powers to control this sort of car signage.

Blenheim's Wendy Palmer was so angry about
Blenheim's Wendy Palmer was so angry about "A big legged woman ain't got no soul" she complained to the Advertising Standards Authority. Photo / Supplied

The ASA has already upheld numerous complaints against Wicked Campers, but the ASA is funded by the advertising industry to provide the public with a means of redress against responsible advertisers who care what people think of them and undertake to abide by its rulings.

The founder of Wicked Campers, Australian panelbeater John Webb, appears not to care. The company does not respond to complaints to the ASA, let alone accept its decisions.

Rather than turn advertising's voluntary regulating body into a law enforcement agency, the Government would do better to use agencies already equipped to enforce laws against behaviour that deliberately causes offence.

Instant fines could be issued by police road patrols, though applying the laws of offensive behaviour to words on a car would leave a great deal to the discretion of individual officers; some of Wicked Campers' vans simply challenge public health protocols, against smoking and drinking for example.

They may be breaking laws restricting the advertising of these things, but unless the owner or hirer of the van is using it to sell them, a fine would not seem justified.

Wicked Campers may find its vans banned from public camping grounds if ministers have their way. Photo / Supplied
Wicked Campers may find its vans banned from public camping grounds if ministers have their way. Photo / Supplied

Sometimes laws have to be left to the discretion of enforcers. The difficulties usually exist more in argument than reality. Just about everybody would agree the references to women and sex on these vans is offensive, including the owners and hirers of them. They want them to be offensive.

It is often said in the name of free speech that people have a right to be offensive and nobody has a right not to be offended.

But it depends on the situation. People who go out of their way to be offended have no grounds for complaint, but travellers on our roads have a right not to find themselves confronted by a grossly crude message on a car in front.

One manager of campgrounds in Queenstown has banned the vans unless they cover their repellent bodywork.

The Conservation Department should do the same at its camps. Out on the roads, instant fines could be refundable when the vehicle is presented with the offending message painted over. That might cause this company to grow up.

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