'No control': Blenheim woman's vehicle stopped remotely by boss

A Blenheim woman says she was driving a company vehicle when suddenly it was stopped remotely by her boss, raising alarms about the technology. 

The unnamed woman, who spoke to RNZ, said she was left feeling "highly compromised" when it happened, and all she could do was wave her hands out the window when the vehicle came to a stop.  

The woman said she was too afraid to take the matter further as she feared losing her job at the vineyard. She also claims the same thing has happened to one of her colleagues.

Engine immobilisation technology allows car-owners to avenge thieves by rendering a vehicle useless once it's been nicked, but the technology is highly dangerous. 

There are various ways in which the technology can be used, including the ability to remotely prevent a car's engine from starting, which can reduce opportunistic car theft by stopping thieves in the act. 

But it gets complicated when it's harnessed to stop a vehicle while it's in motion using a GPS tracker immobiliser. This particular technology isn't officially regulated by the police, Ministry of Transport nor New Zealand Transport Agency. 

A New Zealand Transport Association (NZTA) spokesperson told Newshub there are standards for vehicle immobilisers in Australia and New Zealand, and said it's "not clear why any employer would wish to immobilise their employee's work vehicle remotely while the employee is driving." 

"Responsible employers should be developing their own policies for safe use of company vehicles, and those policies should make it clear this kind of unsafe practice (remotely disabling an engine while the vehicle is in use) is not acceptable."

Obsessive Vehicle Security owner and installer Julian Dunster, based in Wellington, said engine immobilisation technology is "quite affordable these days," telling Newshub he assumes the vehicle the woman drove was part of a fleet, and that her boss wanted the ability to track staff. 

He criticised New Zealand for not having specific transport legislation governing the use of GPS engine immobilisers. But NZTA says the fitting of engine immobilisers is "not mandatory", therefore no official legislation has been issued. 

"It is a vehicle owner's choice to fit an immobiliser or purchase a car which has one fitted as standard equipment," the spokesperson said. "Note that in either case these are designed, in the main, to immobilise the engine unless a legitimate key is present or being used in the ignition."

A GPS immobiliser can be fitted to the starter motor, the fuel pump, or the ignition, and when activated remotely, can immobilise a vehicle. It can be controlled via an app, text message or a PC, depending on what system has been installed.  

Mr Dunster said only a vehicle's starter motor should be able to be immobilised, that way if a vehicle has been stolen, it won't be able to restart, and that way it's not going to cause an accident. 

The amount of customers who have approached him for the contentious technology is "definitely in the double figures", Mr Dunster said. But to those who request a GPS tracker to immobilise a vehicle whilst it's running, the answer he gives them is a "very firm no". 

"The reality is that the driver no longer has control of the car and there is a risk of the vehicle becoming involved in an accident. It's not just the thief who could be hurt, there is also the risk that an innocent third party may get caught up and seriously hurt or even killed."

Should a crash result from GPS immobilisation technology being used, Mr Dunster said the blame would fall on the product manufacturer, re-seller and installer. 

"Most trackers come with a disclaimer stating that the immobiliser function is only designed to be wired up to the starter motor for this very reason," he said. 

New Zealand Police had no comment on the issue.