After a number of cyclist deaths in New Zealand, cycle advocates and policy makers alike have been pondering issues relating to the penalties imposed on motorists. There have been many press reports lately about stories of cyclist deaths and their bearing on their bereaved families and the subsequent public dismay as to how guilty motorists usually walk off with a mere lenient sentence.
This research thesis is part of the Masters in Law Degree I am pursuing at the University of Waikato, under the supervision of Professor Barry Barton. My prior litigation and law lecturing experience in public, administrative and constitutional matters have kindled my present research inquests and this work contributes to the overall Energy Cultures II Research Programme, headed by Dr. Janet Stephenson.
My research investigates how the cyclist is treated in the legal system when cases of collisions are brought before the courts of NZ. This analysis will be illuminated by general principles and objectives of sentencing in the country.
In the course of my research, I start with the barriers to cycling which are well documented from a social perspective. This mode shift is of most fundamental significance to many countries struck with environmental concerns. Identifying the motivations and barriers is key to the devising of any legislative or policy decision to promote the practice of cycling. However, I am placing particular emphasis on ‘safety’ (both perceived and actual), which many academics think is the most pertinent barrier.
I am looking at whether the legislative and judicial responses are reflective of the extent to which those safety concerns have been addressed. With this aim in mind, I will look into primarily, the different pieces of legislation that address the safety of cyclists and assess how safety legislation is being interpreted by judges, with particular emphasis on sentences related to breaches of the land transport legislation, such as careless or dangerous driving offences. An assessment will be made as to whether the system is failing to keep bad drivers off the road, with particular emphasis on the overall deterring effect on the wider uptake of cycling, and equally on the environmental impact. In order to get a precise picture of the situation, the judicial sentencing will be scrutinized together with the role of other actors on that platform, including the police and the prosecutor. After having gathered sufficient material supporting the existence of inconsistencies in sentencing practice in relation to more or less similar charges and the injustices yielded, I shall conduct a comparative analysis with the legislative regime of cycle friendly countries and common law countries like the UK.
Proper legislative and judicial mechanisms are prerequisites in influencing the decision of people to cycle and hence in encouraging this mode shift. The right conclusions and recommendations will be addressed with a view to reflecting the drive to more sustainable means of transport.
Finally, I address how embedded in the legal framework for transport policy, are factors like road safety and more importantly, energy efficiency and climate change. The modal shift towards cycling as a sustainable transport mode will undoubtedly be achieving the objectives of a good transport policy.
I’d be interested to know your opinion in the comments below.
Vashini Purusram is a Masters Student at the University of Waikato.
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