A Napier judge has sparked a debate about driving laws after a student who drove nearly 70 kilometres over the speed limit escaped with just a fine.
Kingston Webb was caught driving at 148 km/h in an 80 km/h zone in Napier – he was fined but didn’t lose his licence because the judge accepted his lawyer’s argument his driving wasn’t dangerous.
Philip Ross, the defence lawyer in the district court case, said it’s important to understand there are nuances on the word dangerous.
“There’s a specific offence – dangerous driving – and this has certain requirements that have to be met. It’s not a case of yes, it was dangerous, no, it wasn’t dangerous.
“Everybody accepts, in a general sense of the word dangerous, it was dangerous to drive at the speed. It’s just that it did not quite meet the need to fall into the category of dangerous driving.”
Ross said that speed alone is not enough to get a dangerous driving conviction.
“There has to be other factors involved, for instance the presence of traffic that is endangered by the driving, you might have the possibility of things come out of entrances or side-driveways. You might have obscured vision, you might have a road condition that’s somewhat sub-optimal – there’s a whole lot of factors that go into the mix.”
Ross said using a motor vehicle at all has a certain risk attached to it, and while increasing speed increases risk, there would be some countries he would have been able to drive legally at that speed.
He said there was nothing new in the case and he relied on earlier precedents in his arguments.
“There is actually a specific provision for the offence of speeding, so the argument is that sure, he’s guilty of speeding – no question about that – but that doesn’t necessarily bring it into the offence of dangerous driving.”
Motorsport legend and road safety advocate Greg Murphy said it was an interesting case and decision.
“I can understand the argument, and there was a precedent case back in 2008 which has been used here to argue his case.
“The thing that really surprises me in the arguments, from what I did read, was that there was never any reference to the driver’s experience, his competency, his level of ability – that was completely overlooked.”
Murphy said the fact that the driver had only had his full licence for a year should have been taken into account.
“We have this real problem in this country that we assume everyone’s able to drive, and we know that’s not the case.”
He said there needed to be law changes and new penalties to ensure future cases weren’t able to use the established precedent.
“We’re creating a precedent that is going to cause chaos within our judicial system, and that needs to change.”