Government unveils new law change targeting drivers who flee from police

Motorists who flee from police should be "prepared to lose your car", the Justice Minister says.

The Government is increasing penalties for motorists who fail to stop for police or refuse to help officers with identifying the driver of a fleeing vehicle. It believes the new enforcement tools will help police deal with dangerous and reckless driving on New Zealand roads. 

Under the package unveiled on Thursday:

  • The maximum driver licence disqualification period for a second office of failing to stop or remain stopped will increase from 12 months to between 12 months and 24 months
  • A vehicle can be permanently removed from a driver on a conviction of failing to stop and they would not get any proceeds from the sale back
  • Police can impound a vehicle for 28 dails if the owner fails, refuses or provides false or misleading information about the identity of a driver from a fleeing driver event

"While no law can ever stop an offender from choosing to flee, evidence indicates that the changes most likely to influence offender behaviour are those that create a greater likelihood of getting caught and then losing access to their vehicle," Justice Minister Kiri Allan said.

"Put simply, if you choose to flee from Police then be prepared to lose your car."

The minister said there is a safeguard for law-abiding vehicle owners who can prove their car was stolen when it was impounded. There will also be appeal provisions so vehicles can be released from police. 

Police Minister Chris Hipkins said the changes will give police more power to "deal with the sort of behaviour that can lead to death and injury on our roads". 

"It's never okay to flee from Police and put others' lives at risk. Police have told us these changes will help discourage people from fleeing, because they're now likely to lose the vehicle for longer or for good. It also removes the protection currently afforded to the owners of the vehicle if the offender is driving someone else's car."

The Government package follows an announcement by Police Commissioner Andrew Coster on Tuesday that the police fleeing driver framework will be amended. 

Coster said since changes were made two years ago, there has been a significant increase in fleeing driver events and a significant decrease in the proportion of offenders identified. The number of people who were killed during the incidents has decreased, however. 

"We know there is a desire for change and a perception that offenders are more brazen and more willing to take risks with their driving behaviour," Coster said.

"The revisions will bring us back to a more balanced position, while still prioritising the safety of officers and the public."

More information will be provided about the revised framework next year, but it will provide clarity for officers on when a pursuit may be justified, including the weight given to the threat of further harm if the offenders are not apprehended immediately.

The new measures announced on Thursday aren't the first the Government has made this year allowing vehicles to be taken away from their owners.

Earlier this year, Allan and Hipkins announced the offences for which police can seize or impound vehicles would be expanded

Under the proposal, police could seize cars for up to 28 days where there are reasonable grounds the vehicle has been used to drive dangerously or recklessly - even if there is no injury or death - or was driven with aggravated carelessness causing injury or death.

The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act is also being amended so that if associates of organised crime groups can't prove they legally purchased an asset - including luxury cars and boats - it can be seized.