Pound rules

NZPA | Tue May 1st, 2018

Each week, huge numbers of vehicles are being impounded by police around the country.

Impounded vehicles 1

Police doesn’t keep a national tally of impounded vehicles, but some districts collate their own figures.

In Canterbury, in the past year, 1953 vehicles were seized, and in Waikato, about 40 impounded vehicles are disposed of or destroyed every month. In Southland, so far this year, 83 vehicles have been impounded, 68 of them over a two-month period. In Eastern District, the figures are around 100-plus a month, with up to 40 per cent of those being disposed of.

Road policing bosses say the numbers are normal for their areas.

One of the reasons is that it doesn’t take much to get your motor confiscated, and there is little discretion given to police under the law (see sidebar). Even if you’re not the owner, it will be taken off you.

Peter McKennie, Police manager: operations, road policing, says that in almost all cases, vehicles are impounded because the legislation requires it. “It relates to offences and/or offenders posing significant road safety risks to themselves and others on the roads, so it’s beneficial in terms of keeping people safe,” he says.

So, on a pretty regular basis, police are separating drivers from their vehicles, handing out impoundment notices and calling tow trucks to remove the seized vehicles, usually to a storage facility owned by the towing company.

The impound period is 28 days, after which owners have up to 10 days to claim their vehicles back – once they have paid the towing and storage fees, which can be up to $400.

Although most impounded vehicles are collected, many hundreds will be abandoned, either because they are not worth salvaging or the owners can’t pay the fees.

One towage company, Parks, in Christchurch, says up to 20 per cent of the vehicles are not claimed by their owners.

When that happens, the tow company can apply to Police for approval to take over the vehicle registration (making it the tow company’s property) or apply for a destruction order.

Despite the hype around the so-called “Crusher” Collins’ boy-racer car-crushing legislation introduced in 2009, there have been only three vehicles destroyed as a result of a court order, which can come into effect only after three offences within five years.

However, plenty of unclaimed vehicles do end up scrapped or crushed. If their owners don’t want them, it’s unlikely anyone else will either.

If your vehicle was impounded because you were involved in illegal street racing or doing street car stunts, you must get a new warrant of fitness (WOF) before it can be driven again. That means you have to take the vehicle straight from the storage facility to a garage or testing station for a WOF inspection.

Impounded Vehicles 3

Boy racers

Last month in Western Bay of Plenty, police impounded 12 cars in one night during a gathering of about 200 boy racers in Paengaroa, near Te Puke.

The last thing young “car enthusiasts” want is to lose their four-wheel pride and joy.

Young men, and some young women, love their cars. They represent freedom, status and good times. But it can all go horribly wrong when their love affair with the automobile starts impinging on other people.

It’s called being an “antisocial road user”, although they are better known as boy racers, and if they don’t stick to the rules, they risk losing their vehicles, albeit temporarily if they can pay the release fees.

Road policing teams around the country monitor and control the activities of these boy racer posses, which, over the years, have been particularly bothersome in Waikato and Canterbury.

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Above: Christchurch strategic traffic manager Inspector Al Stewart, left, and Constable Clay Penrose are part of the road policing team in Christchurch impounding almost 2000 cars a year.

Constable Clay Penrose, from the Canterbury antisocial road user team, has been doing the job for seven years. He puts the presence of boy racers in Canterbury down to the fact that the district is “flat and affluent”.

Antisocial road user behaviour continues to flare up, but, Clay says, there have been positive changes in recent years.

“Seven years ago, the boy racers were at loggerheads with police. Now, it’s toned down and the relationship is in a good place,” he says.

Some groups even text local police to let them know where and when they are planning to hold their meetups.

The threat of impoundment is also a strong incentive to stay within the law.

“They are car enthusiasts who have spent a lot of money on their cars and are very proud of them,” Clay says.

“They want to show them off. We support that, but not when they cause damage to roads by doing burnouts or leaving rubbish behind. We know they get a thrill out of what they do, but we also talk to them about their behaviour.

“Vehicle quality has improved over the years, plus they are all licensed and most don’t drink, but sometimes they don’t wear their seatbelts.”

It’s not just one community, either, he says. There are several clubs and they don’t all get along.

As police and local councils have moved to successfully restrict antisocial road activity, including drag racing, the car owners inevitably look elsewhere for places to gather and strut their stuff.

The back of industrial complexes and semi-rural areas are popular, but there’s still the opportunity for trouble. A few years ago, boy racers doing burnouts near Christchurch’s Orana Wildlife Park were blamed for frightening the animals and creating a fire risk in tinder-dry conditions.

In Hamilton, a night-time vehicle curfew (9am to 4am), covering several streets in industrial areas, is being introduced this year.

Clay says he has noticed that by the age of about 23, the boy racers “tend to move on”, developing interests outside of modified exhausts and sustained loss of traction.

Boy racer meet

Above: So-called "boy racers" like to gather in large groups to show off their cars, but can end up creating a public nuisance. Photo: STUFF.

Your car must be impounded if you:

• Are a disqualified driver or your licence has been suspended or revoked

• Commit a drink-drive offence and have had two previous drink drive convictions in the previous four years

• Are caught drag racing, performing street car stunts (eg, burnouts) or you’ve broken a bylaw that prohibits “cruising”

• Have failed to stop when requested by police

• Have an alcohol interlock licence and the vehicle doesn’t have an alcohol interlock device fitted

Blue sticker offences: If a vehicle is placed under a Blue Sticker notification, it means correct ownership details have not been lodged with NZTA. The driver/owner is given 24 hours to change the ownership information or the vehicle can be impounded for 10 days.

Dunedin road policing manager supervisor Sergeant Geoff Sutherland says there is a process to appeal an impound order, if, for example, the owner did not know the driver was disqualified, or did not know or could not have expected the driver was going to commit such offending (for street racing offences), or the vehicle had been unlawfully converted or stolen.

An appeal will be considered by an area road policing manager or other senior sergeant. If it is not granted, it can be heard by the courts.

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