Charging miscreant motorists for road closures might help to improve our driving habits

At first blush, Alf had some sympathy for the mother of a teenager who has been billed by the New Zealand Transport Agency for the cost of closing a road while she was cut free after a road accident.

But that’s because the first para of the report at Stuff (here) mentioned the daughter, Romy Goodfellow, having had a near-death experience, as a consequence of the mishap.

The report proceeded to make much of the young woman’s injuries.

The car went into gravel on the side of Links Rd, flipped and landed on its roof on top of a wall. Romy was cut free, with serious head and neck injuries, and was put in an induced coma. Her mother, Shona, was told to expect the worst.

Romy spent seven weeks in hospital. She has had extensive therapy and still suffers chronic fatigue and other effects.

There was also the possibility someone else had been responsible for the accident.

But no.

Romy Goodfellow, now 19, lost control while driving her mother’s car to polytechnic near Napier on June 18 last year.

And –

Mrs Goodfellow says she does not dispute that the accident was caused by driver error…

No other vehicle was involved.

The NZTA, moreover, was decent enough to wait for a few days after Romy left hospital before it advised Mrs Goodfellow she had a month to pay $1366.20 for the cost of contractors, traffic control and cleanup for the four hours during which the road was closed.

The agency furthermore had the decency to suggest Mrs Goodfellow contact her insurance company about covering the cost.

But Mrs Goodfellow is questioning the rationale for the invoice, saying she believed registration fees and other road taxes should pay for such costs.

But hey.

Look at what she was entailed.

She was told the closure required a vehicle and two people at either end of Links Rd, plus “a senior contractor’s representative”.

Once police had left the scene, contractors “had to remove the detours, and uplift all temporary signs and cones and return to the depot”, she was told.

The NZTA obviously decided to play hardball.

When Mrs Goodfellow had not paid the bill by November, NZTA told her to start paying immediately or the matter would be put in the hands of a debt collection agency.

“With everything else going on with Romy, I just wasn’t in a frame of mind to deal with this . . . I really disagree with being made to pay this.

“In the end, I just said, ‘OK, send me the forms,’ because it was just getting too much. But then I thought about it, and it’s just not right. I won’t pay it.”

Let’s see if the NZTA presses on with its demand for compensation.

And if it does press on, let’s see if the charges are deemed fair.

According to Romy Goodfellow:

“They charged $300 just as a callout fee. And why are two people and a vehicle needed at each end? I think a sign and a few cones would have done it.”
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Maybe this is just something that happens in Hawke’s Bay. A spokeswoman for Mrs Goodfellow’s insurer, AMI, is quoted as saying this is not standard practice, as far as they are aware, or at least it hasn’t been in the past.

But it had happened twice within the past six months, both times in the Hastings and Napier area.

Insurance Council insurance manager John Lucas had never heard of such a charge.

“From discussions I’ve had with insurers, it would appear to be a new practice.”

It would discuss the issue with insurers at a meeting next month, he said.

The NZTA side of the story doesn’t seem too strong.

A spokesman said costs for damaged equipment and signage had been sought for more than a decade.

The spokesman could not say how many invoices had been sent, but said it was up to regional offices to decide whether it was appropriate to seek costs from liable drivers.

The agency tried not to add further stress to families of people killed or critically injured, and costs “would not ordinarily be sought against the estate of a dead person”, he said.

Okay.

But now let’s ask why the people who cause accidents shouldn’t be billed for the mischief they cause.

Sure, Mrs Goodfellow will have been stressed when she received the invoice.

But Alf speaks for all other motorists when he says they are stressed, too, when they find a road has been closed and they have to find an alternative way of getting from Point A to Point B.

Hence he approves of billing the buggers who have caused serious inconvenience to others.

For good measure, he believes this would serve as a powerful incentive to drive carefully.

But invoices must be sent to all motorists who cause accidents that result in road closures. The decisions should not be decided differently from region to region.

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