Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Boy racers": the details

So, what's actually in the government's anti-"boy racer" legislation? The bills are now on the web, and here are the key details:

Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Bill

Amends the Land Transport Act 1998 to give councils the power to ban "cruising" and create an ASBO-style enforcement mechanism to punish those violating them. The first interesting point is their definition of "cruising":

cruising means driving repeatedly over the same section of a road in a motor vehicle in a manner that—
(a) draws attention to the power or sound of the engine of the motor vehicle being driven; or
(b) creates a convoy that—
(i) is formed otherwise than in trade; and
(ii) impedes traffic flow
But this doesn't just cover obnoxious boy racers driving round and round the (Palmerston North) Square every Friday night; it also clearly covers "boobs on bikes" parades, as well as any form of motorised protest (for example, the "big rig" protest last year). The wowsers on the Auckland City Council will be rubbing their hands together with glee.

If a car violates the bylaw, the police get to sticker it with a 90-day warning notice. If it violates it again while under such a notice, the police must seize the vehicle. If the driver is not the owner, tough luck - while there is an existing basis for appeal on the grounds that the owner "did not know and could not reasonably be expected to know that the operator of the vehicle" would engage in illegal street racing, there is no amendment updating that to include contravention of an anti-cruising bylaw. The rhetoric from Collins in Parliament today has been about boy racers "escaping punishment" because they are not driving their own vehicles; her solution to that appears to be to punish the innocent.

As a side note, currently the police must impound vehicles only from disqualified drivers or severe repeat drunk drivers. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide whether "cruising" (as defined above) is on a par with such offences.

The bill makes some minor tweaks around licensing laws and suspensions, and prevents suspects whose vehicles are likely to be confiscated as a result of repeat offending (not just boy racing) from selling their vehicles (which is apparently a major frustration for the law). In the process, it also makes another nasty little power grab, amending the current requirement to give details to police officers to include not just your name, address and date of birth, but also your occupation and telephone number. Which is getting awfully close to "papers, please". And if the police don't like your answer - sorry, think it is false or misleading - they get to arrest you (though exactly what the offence justifying that arrest is is unclear - pissing off an authoritarian not technically being a crime in New Zealand). As Charlie Skelton pointed out in the conclusion to his recent series on trying to report on the Bilderberg meeting in Greece, the little things like this - "the power to ask, the obligation to show" - matter. They establish power and force subservience. And we should oppose them whenever they go beyond the bounds of what is strictly necessary for enforcement of the law. A policeman by the side of the road does not need to know what you do for a living, or your phone number. And they certainly shouldn't be able to drag you off to jail for refusing to tell them.

I'll deal with the other bill in another post.

Update: As multiple people have pointed out, the clause "driving repeatedly over the same section of a road" probably protects "boobs on bikes". But the truck protests - which drove round and round Parliament blocking traffic - would be covered, as would any similar action. And at the end of the day, I don't trust our local authorities - dominated as they are by authoritarians and wowsers - not to abuse this law. The definition needs to be amended to make it very clear that it does not cover protest action (and then boy racers will drive round and round The Square with "save the whales" and "fuck the government" plastered all over their cars. And good on them too)