Friday, November 18, 2011

The Land of Diminished Responsibility

I have recently been involved in a motor vehicle accident. As a result I have formulated the view that New Zealand has developed a culture of Diminished Responsibility.

I was not at fault in the accident. Another driver drove out of a supermarket carpark into the path of my motorcycle. I saw the driver overshoot where vehicles normally stop when exiting the carpark, and so was wary. As I watched, I waited for him to look in my direction (it was broad daylight and my headlight was on and I had a full view of his car and could see his face), but instead he drove out across two lanes and into my path. When I realised that he was not going to look I started braking. Unfortunately I braked too heavily with the rear brake and I lost control of the bike and was thrown off it. I had worked out my stopping distance perfectly - the bike stopped one bike length from his car, but I was on the ground. Sure - I could have done better on my part in controlling the stop or in looking for other escape routes, but that is all with hindsight.

Costs and Inconvenience
The nett result of this episode was a dislocated shoulder that had to be reduced under general anaesthetic and a broken foot. My motorbike is being repaired, at the other driver's insurer's expense. My treatment, for the most part, has been covered by ACC.

But what steams me is that there are innumerable costs for which I am not compensated, nor can I recover them from anyone. It also annoys me that the other party has never contacted me and has got away very lightly in contrast to me.

As I write my motorcycle has been off the road for over six weeks. My rehabilitation from the dislocated shoulder has been quite speedy, and I could have been riding it from about 2 weeks ago if it had been ready. Registration of a motorcycle costs over $500 per year, as good as $10/week. That means that every week it is off the road is costing me $10. I checked with NZ Transport Agency, and there is no way to have my registration period extended to compensate for this.

My long-suffering wife and daughter have acted as taxi drivers (getting me to work and to medical appointments) in the first couple of weeks after the accident until I had enough movement to be able to operate a vehicle. My injuries have required extra journeys to hospital and to physiotherapy. These are costly in both the travel and in the time involved and I am not being compensated for either. And there are surcharges for physiotherapy, even though other costs are covered by ACC.

Then there is the fact that I am having to travel by car. One of the main reasons for having a motorcycle is that they are less expensive to run than a car. Mine is not a weekend hobby bike but a daily commuter. I was riding it to work in winter at -3°C. So when I have to "fork out" for filling the car it hurts.

I only took two days off from my day job and put it down as sick leave. So my employer and ACC have not had to pick up any costs there. But, due to my incapacity, I have not been able to carry out jobs around my lifestyle block/hobby farm. As a consequence, we have had to call out a vet to an animal which, had I been fully fit, would not have been necessary.

But What About the Other Party?
Meanwhile, old what's-his-name, has paid his insurance excess and paid his fine and is getting on with playing dodgems around town.

I doubt he has learned a thing. The Police Officer caught me at a weak moment and put up a case about how the other driver had a very sick wife and was very worried that he would lose his license. Apparently, because there were no broken bones "Careless driving causing injury" was not an appropriate charge - Oh yeah! - it was a week after the accident I requested x-rays on my swollen and bruised foot which had 3 fractures. So I got convinced that "Failure to give way" was an appropriate charge.

This Is Not Justice
In a jurisdiction where there was justice the other driver should have been made to realise and pay the cost of his inattention and negligence. Our wonderful ACC system, which we are told is the "envy of the world" has caused "Diminished Responsibility". Instead of crowing about it, we should be dismantling it.

While the victim does not have to pay the full cost of their treatment, the unintended consequence is that the negligent can get on with life without having to face their responsibilities. It's a bit like crashing a car in "Need for Speed" and pressing the reset - except this was an elderly person who has lived all their life without the need to face up to responsibilities.

This is not about being vindictive or unscrupulous ambulance chasing lawyers fabricating cases against hapless individuals to enrich "victims". It is about making people responsible for their actions.

ACC Should Recover Costs from the Negligent
One immediate change I think should be made to ACC is the recovery of costs from those responsible for harm to others. Without the expectation of having to face the costs of one's actions we are breeding a "careless" society.

How many fools would stop driving like idiots with their mates in their car if there was the possibility that if they injured them or a bystander they could face the costs of treatment? Oh, I hear people saying, they wouldn't be in a fit state to make such a decision or "young people think they are 10 feet tall and bullet proof". No excuse. A couple of "test cases" and word would get out.

I strongly believe in personal responsibility. I am a bit old fashioned like that. But I reason that many incidents that occur, many of the tragedies we read about in the news, do so because New Zealanders have bred into them Diminished Responsibility.

Other Examples
One incident that brought this home to me was a recent visit to a park. Since I wasn't as mobile as I should have been I wasn't trailing our 3 year old closely enough. He disappeared from sight for a minute or so and by the time I went to investigate he was heading towards me, soaked from head to toe. He had fallen into a pond. Fortunately he was able to gain his footing and extract himself.

How many people would have been on the phone the next day to the Council making a "song and dance" about the need to fence of the pond? Too many.

It is my responsibility to ensure my child can handle such situations. The best thing I can do for him is:

  • let him experience these situations so he can learn to assess danger for himself, and
  • help him acquire skills to cope (swimming lessons are on the agenda especially as we go into summer).

Those who suffer from Diminished Responsibility see anything adverse as an opportunity to hand over control to the Government or some other authority. Instead of learning a lesson and taking personal responsibility they cede more and more of themselves to the bureaucracy.

There needs to be fresh thinking about the social state. As I have said, it has been a relief to me that so much of my treatment and rehabilitation has been paid for. But we have to be very perceptive to the unintended consequences of these policies that have lead to this state of Diminished Responsibility.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Road Safety

I am tired of hearing people blame the state of New Zealand roads for the rate of accidents in this country. I have driven extensively in the 30+ years I have held a Driver's Licence. My view is that New Zealand roads are adequate for use by a competent driver. New Zealand has too few tax payers to be able to afford to have roads built to the kind of standard some people seem to be expecting if we want to sustain all the other services people want.

My advice to anyone who finds New Zealand roads inadequate is to stay off them and make them even safer for those of us who don't have a problem with them.

In any road accident investigation three factors are considered: the driver, the environment, and the vehicle.

Every vehicle on the road is supposed to be checked regularly. It is quite rare for a properly maintained vehicle that has a current Warrant of Fitness to be at fault in an accident.

The environment is continually being monitored and 'improved'. (sometimes I think some of the road maintenance is of dubious merit). While environment can be a factor in an accident, the prudent and capable driver is able to compensate for this.

What we don't have is a regular reassessment of driver competence. Apart from testing for additional classes of vehicles, I have not had my driving ability reassessed since getting my Passenger Car license at age 15.

I would be quite happy to have less vehicle testing in exchange for increased driver re-testing. Every driver should have to undergo reassessment at regular intervals to prove their competence and courtesy on the road. I don't think just having the ability to shove a vehicle in "D" and point it around a few suburban streets really cuts it. Driver testing should be undertaken in a manual transmission vehicle to ensure the driver is actively involved in the process. I get the impression that there are a lot of people who sit in the driver's seat but they are little more than the passenger with the steering wheel in front of them.

I think this testing would probably weed out about one third of the incompetent, inconsiderate drivers who shouldn't be there in the first place. Once they are gone the road would be a safer place. We could raise the speed limit and let those who possess the skill enjoy the experience.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Stewardship of Public Assets

Wow! I must have been busy on other things. Clearly it has been a long time since my last post.

Have you ever noticed that no one looks after your stuff the way that you do? Have you ever lent something to a friend and it has not come back in the state it left you? Or maybe you have the experience of being a landlord and you have found your property has deteriorated more than it would have had you been the occupier?

I have experienced both of these.

It leads me to the conclusion that if everyone owns it no one cares for it (a nail in the coffin of socialism). It is also my conviction that private ownership leads to good stewardship, lower costs and more efficiency.

Owners of assets steward them. In the instance of my experience as a landlord certain legal restraints did not allow me to exercise the stewardship I would have preferred of those assets, and the rental income I charged did not have the desired effect of engendering in the tenants some sense of responsibility for someone else's possession.

I support the Government's proposed asset sales. But I think there are some smart ways they can unload some of our social burdens and make people more responsible for themselves.

The Government is a landlord. From my observation many of the houses that the taxpayer owns and the Government rents on our behalf are badly stewarded by the tenants. Often the Government is actually paying the tenant to pay the rent, by way of Unemployment Benefit and then Accommodation Supplement.

My proposal would be the following:
1. The Government gifts the house to the current tenant (subject to the house being suitable for the current needs of the tenant i.e. not overcrowded and not uninhabitable)
2. In exchange for the taxpayer's generosity the new owner of the house agrees to never rely on the taxpayer for the provision of accommodation again and agrees on behalf of their offspring (current and future) the same. Two generations will be able to use the taxpayer's gift to ensure they are adequately housed.

The new owner will have a house which they can care for and dispose of or use as they see fit. If their family expands they can borrow against the house to extend it or they can sell it and buy a more suitable home. They could borrow against the house to get their children a tertiary education or to assist them into their own homes.

The Government will no longer have to provide houses. They won't have to maintain their property portfolio and they won't have to collect rent. I would go even further to identify private rentals where the Government is effectively the tenant i.e. by paying the Unemployment Benefit and/or Accommodation Supplement and acquire these properties under the Public Works Act and gift them to the current tenant.

This may seem like a costly proposal. I don't have the resources to cost this and determine whether the Government and taxpayer will be better or worse off under this proposal, but I think there are huge merits to it. An initial investment of some capital could remove a lot of on-going costs from the system that seem perpetually guaranteed to grow.

There is a huge amount of injustice in this too. What about the "battlers" who are scrimping and saving to by their own home to get off the rental treadmill? Well, life is not fair! But maybe this proposal will free up more savings by reducing your taxes allowing you to save faster.