21 Oct 2015

Harsher penalties for fleeing drivers introduced

4:54 pm on 21 October 2015

Drivers who flee the police will face tougher penalties and could even have their cars confiscated.

Police Minister Michael Woodhouse announced the new measures at the annual Police Association conference in Wellington today.

Mr Woodhouse said fleeing drivers were a serious problem for police, with about 2300 incidents every year.

"Failure to stop when required by a police officer represents a calculated and deliberate attempt by offenders to evade punishment. They deliberately put the public at risk and too often their actions result in serious consequences," he said.

He said many of those resulted in crashes and put the public in danger, so stronger and more targeted penalties were needed.

Mr Woodhouse said changes would be made to the Land Transport Act and Sentencing Act, increasing disqualification periods to six months for a first offence, 12 months for a second, and 24 months for a third.

Vehicle confiscation for second and subsequent failure to stop offences within a four-year period would also be introduced, and courts would be able to confiscate an offender's vehicle for any first offences.

"Increasing these penalties enhances the deterrent affect and sends a strong message from government that failing to stop is a dangerous action that puts public safety at risk and will not be tolerated."

Mr Woodhouse said offenders did not believe they would be caught because they knew police had to abandon pursuits once there were public safety concerns.

There would also be tougher penalties for those who kept information from police or provided false information about fleeing drivers, and police would be able to impound vehicles used to flee for up to 28 days if the vehicle owner withheld or provided false information about who was driving.

"Police often record the licence plate and details of a vehicle before being forced to abandon a chase but there are currently few penalties for those that do not co-operate with police to identify the driver after the fact."

Mr Woodhouse said he believed the new measures would reduce the number of drivers who fled.

Most offenders were in their 20s or younger and feared losing their licence or their car more than other penalties.

"Because of what we did some years ago with the boy racer legislation, the fear of having their car confiscated and crushed and loss of licence for an extended period of time, seriously moderated their behaviour," he said.

"I'm confident that the same thing is possible with fleeing drivers."

Fleeing drivers posed a serious and sometimes deadly problem, with 29 fleeing drivers killed in five years, Mr Woodhouse said.