This is a guide to what you must and should do if you:
It also notes driver licence requirements.
If you are the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident, directly or indirectly, and whether you are in the right or in the wrong, you must:
1. Stop, get out and look to see if anyone is injured and assist any injured person. Remember to look inside any other vehicle for injured people. Keep calm and, where appropriate, seek help from emergency services or bystanders. Your actions may help save a life. Failure to stop, look or assist is a serious offence. If you don’t have a reasonable excuse you can be jailed for up to three months or fined up to $4,500. There is also a six-month minimum disqualification.
2. If a person is injured or killed, you must report the accident to the police as soon as practicable and not more than 24 hours after the accident, unless you are incapable of doing so because of injuries you have sustained in the accident.
3. If there is damage to another vehicle or property (such as fences, power poles or traffic signs) you must either notify the owner of the vehicle or property within 48 hours or report the accident to the police within 60 hours of the accident.
You should also:
It is best not to admit liability for any accident, especially at the scene. It could affect your insurance cover. Causes can be less simple than at first appear and more than one driver can contribute to an accident.
If you are injured in an accident, you should:
If you are the owner of property damaged in an accident, you should try to obtain the name and address of the driver and owner of any vehicle involved, together with registration numbers and insurance companies.
If you are insured, report the accident to your insurance company promptly. Make sure you answer all questions on the insurance form fully and truthfully – particularly those about drinking alcohol before the accident. An untruthful or incorrect answer may mean that the insurance company does not have to pay under your policy.
A lawyer can assist you to make an insurance claim and recover any uninsured loss (such as hiring an alternative vehicle or paying an excess).
Under the Land Transport Act:
You do not need to say anything more or supply any further information to a police officer. However, you may be asked to explain your driving behaviour and it may be in your interests to do so. Make a note of what you say to a police officer.
You may be arrested for several matters associated with driving, including:
If you have a complaint about a police officer, it is important to act quickly. You can:
Find out the name or number of the police officer involved and write this down as soon as possible, together with a description of what happened in the incident you want to complain about (including the time and the place). If your complaint is serious, you will want a lawyer to help you and this statement will be important and valuable. See a lawyer as soon as you can.
For more detail, see our guide You and the police.
You may be required to undergo tests authorised by the Land Transport Act to find out your breath or blood alcohol levels. These include:
You have to speak into a device that detects the presence of alcohol. If the result is positive, you may be asked to undergo a breath screening test, which registers the presence of alcohol in the breath rather than measuring its level.
You are required to breathe into a device to provide a sample of breath for analysis. If the test is negative, you are usually allowed to go. However, an officer who thinks you are incapable of driving may still forbid you to do so. They can also arrest you for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If the breath screening test is positive or if you refuse or fail to take it, the police officer will require you to undergo an evidential breath test, a blood test or both. It is at this stage that you should be advised of your rights to consult and instruct a lawyer (see below).
A police officer can require you to go with them to have an evidential breath test if:
An evidential breath test can be used against you in court. The test will be given at the police station or in a police testing vehicle.
You can refuse to have an evidential breath test; however, it is an offence if you don’t go to the testing place, or you don’t stay there once you’ve arrived, or you don’t stay until the result is known.
The evidential breath test uses an electronic device to measure the alcohol in your breath. If the test shows a level of 250 micrograms per litre of breath or less, and you are aged 20 or over, the test is considered negative. However, you may still be considered incapable of driving and may be forbidden to do so.
If the test shows that the level of alcohol in your breath is 251 to 400 micrograms per litre of breath, you will be issued with an infringement notice for a fee of $200 plus 50 demerit points. You are also likely to be forbidden to drive for up to 12 hours.
If the result shows over 400 micrograms per litre of breath, it is considered positive and can be used as evidence in court. If the result is positive you will be allowed 10 minutes to decide whether to request a blood test. If you think the evidential breath test is wrong, phone a lawyer. You will be liable for the costs of the blood test and the police are required to inform drivers of their liability for blood test costs.
If your breath alcohol result is over 800 micrograms per litre of breath, or you have a previous conviction for drink driving in the past five years, you will be sentenced to an alcohol interlock licence, which means you cannot drive a vehicle unless it has been fitted with an alcohol interlock device. The device will prevent your vehicle from starting until you blow into the device. You must have no alcohol in your breath before the vehicle will start.
If you are under 20 years of age, there is a zero-alcohol limit. It is an infringement offence for someone under 20 to drive with a breath alcohol content greater than 0 but not exceeding 150 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath. The fee is $200 and there are 50 demerit points. It is a criminal offence for a person younger than 20 to drive with a breath alcohol level between 151 – 400 micrograms per litre of breath. You will be disqualified from driving for at least three months. If you are under 20 and you drive with breath alcohol level more than 400 micrograms per litre of breath (the adult limit), you will be disqualified for at least six months.
You may be required to permit a blood specimen to be taken if:
It is an offence to refuse to have a blood test. For a first or second conviction for refusing to have a blood test taken, you can be jailed for up to three months or fined up to $4,500, and you must be disqualified from driving for at least six months.
A blood test must be taken by a doctor or, in some circumstances, by an authorised nurse. If you are in hospital as a result of a motor vehicle accident, breath tests are not permitted but blood samples may be taken whether you consent or not, or when you are incapable of giving consent (unconscious). Normally the blood sample is divided into two parts and you may subsequently request an independent analysis of one of those samples.
If your blood test shows a result of 51 to 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, you will be issued with an infringement notice. There is an infringement fee of up to $200 plus 50 demerit points.
If your blood test shows a result of 51 to 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, and you failed or refused to undergo evidential breath test when required, you will be issued with an infringement notice. There is an infringement fee of up to $700 plus 50 demerit points.
If your blood test shows a result of over 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, you will face criminal charges.
If your blood alcohol result is over 160 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, or you have a previous conviction for drink driving in the past five years, you will be sentenced to an alcohol interlock licence, which means you cannot drive a vehicle unless it has been fitted with an alcohol interlock device. The device will prevent your vehicle from starting until you blow into the device. You must have no alcohol in your breath before the vehicle will start.
If you are aged under 20 years and your blood alcohol level is 0 to 30 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, you will be issued with an infringement notice. There is an infringement fee of $200 plus 50 demerit points.
If you are aged under 20 years and your blood alcohol level is over 31 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood you will face criminal charges. If you are under 20 and you drive with a blood alcohol level more than 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood (the adult limit), your licence will be disqualified for at least six months.
If you undergo a blood test you will be liable to pay the blood test costs, regardless of the result of the test. Blood test costs include a blood test fee of $109.25 and associated medical expenses.
If you do not comply with the requirements of the Land Transport Act relating to the testing procedures, you may commit an offence and be liable to the same penalties as if your breath or blood alcohol level exceeded the permissible levels. In some instances, this may even lead to indefinite disqualification. You cannot avoid the consequences by refusing to take the tests. The best course at the police station is to consult a lawyer. Otherwise you should:
If you have been arrested or detained, you have the right to consult and instruct a lawyer without delay and in private. The police must tell you about this right. You can either ring your own lawyer or have the police provide you with a list of lawyers and their phone numbers, and the opportunity to call one of them. There is no cost to you at this stage for using a lawyer from this list.
If you are charged with an offence relating to exceeding the permissible levels of alcohol in your breath or blood, you should see a lawyer who can check that the correct testing procedures have been followed. Also, the lawyer can put forward on your behalf any unusual or special circumstances. In some cases, this may result in the court either not disqualifying you or reducing the usual term of disqualification.
Many traffic offences are dealt with by way of infringement notices. The police will send the notice to you. Read the notice carefully and decide whether you want to deny the charge.
If you are not sure, see a lawyer or talk to the Registrar of your local District Court.
Infringement offences are usually dealt with by way of fines and demerit points.
If you are pleading guilty, you can often do this by letter so that you do not have to appear in court. You will then be advised of the penalty by letter.
If you are charged with a minor offence (such as careless driving) or you decide to defend an infringement offence, you will have to appear at a District Court in front of two Justices of the Peace.
Minor traffic offences are usually dealt with by way of fines but can involve disqualification from driving.
If you are pleading guilty, you can often do this by letter so that you do not have to appear in court. You will then be advised of the penalty by letter.
For more serious offences, you will be summoned to the District Court. Such offences usually carry penalties involving:
A District Court may also order you to undertake a defensive driving course.
Drivers caught committing a serious driving offence (drink driving with a breath alcohol concentration of over 650 micrograms per litre of breath, refusing to supply a blood sample or speeding at more than 40kph above the permanent posted speed limit) may have their licence suspended instantly for 28 days.
The police will also seize and impound your car for 28 days in reaction to certain offences. These include street racing, failing to stop for police, driving while disqualified or suspended, and drink driving with two or more similar offences committed within the last four years. Seizure and impoundment of the vehicle can occur whether or not you are the owner of the vehicle.
If you are charged with a more serious offence, a lawyer will be able to help you. They can check whether you have a defence to the charge, assist in the presentation of any defence and explain to the court any unusual or special circumstances that apply to you.
In certain circumstances, it is possible for people who have been disqualified or suspended for demerit points to apply for a limited licence. A lawyer can advise you when these provisions may apply.
The second conviction within four years for certain offences (driving while disqualified, drink driving, driving under the influence of drugs, dangerous or reckless driving and failure to comply with breath or blood testing, amongst others) means the court must consider confiscating the vehicle you were driving whether you own it or not. It would be unwise to go to court on a second offence without having consulted a lawyer.
A third conviction within four years for a “boy racer” offence may result in confiscation and destruction of the vehicle you were driving whether you own it or not. It would be unwise to go to court on such an offence without having consulted a lawyer.
Speeding fines increase progressively from $30 for speeds less than 10kph over the limit, to a maximum fine of $630 for speeds up to 50kph over the limit.
Demerit points are given for all speeding infringements other than speed camera offences and for a wide range of minor offences. If you get a total of 100 or more within two years, you will be suspended from driving for three months. The number of demerit points ranges from 10 to 50 and depends on the degree to which you exceeded the speed limit.
All drivers on New Zealand roads, even those learning to drive, must be licensed. All drivers must have their driver licence with them whenever they are driving.
Photo driver licences must be renewed by their expiry date. Generally, if a licence is not renewed within 12 months of it expiring, the driver will have to re-sit the theory and practical tests to get a new licence.
Anyone wishing to learn to drive in New Zealand must be aged at least 16 and must first obtain a learner’s licence, for which they must pass a written theory test on New Zealand’s road rules. They must hold this licence for at least six months, be always accompanied by a supervisor who has held a full licence for at least two years and must display “L” signs when driving.
After six months, a learner driver can apply for a restricted licence, which requires passing a practical test. With this licence, they can drive on their own except between 10pm and 5am, when they can drive only with a supervisor who has held a full licence for at least two years. They may not carry passengers other than their spouse and their own or their spouse’s dependents, unless a supervisor is present. Drivers aged 25 or more must hold the restricted licence for at least six months, though this can be reduced to three months on passing an approved advanced driver skills course. Drivers aged under 25 must hold the restricted licence for at least 18 months; this may be reduced to 12 months on passing an approved advanced driver skills course – which they cannot take until they have held the restricted licence for at least six months. If a restricted licence test is taken in a car with automatic transmission, then the driver can drive only automatic cars during the restricted licence period.
Once the restricted licence requirements have been met, drivers need to pass a further practical test to get their full licence. They can then drive without restrictions.
Some extra licence requirements apply to older drivers. Drivers must renew their licence at ages 75, 80 and each two years after that. To do this, they must present a medical certificate indicating fitness to drive. Drivers aged 80 or more will usually no longer have to sit a practical test. However, for any driver aged 75 or more, the doctor providing the medical certificate may recommend licence conditions or restrictions (such as no night driving or a distance restriction) and will be able to refer the driver for an optional on-road safety test if the doctor is uncertain about the driver’s ability to drive safely.
People from overseas can drive in New Zealand on their valid overseas licence for up to 12 months, after which they will need a New Zealand licence. If the licence is not in English, an accurate translation must be carried.
You may be disqualified from driving if you have been convicted of an offence that relates to road safety. You may also be disqualified if you are convicted of other offences where a vehicle was used to facilitate the crime or to avoid detection. Disqualification is also an optional penalty for many driving offences. You may also be disqualified in other situations, for example if you don’t have a current licence and you have accumulated too many demerit points.
If you are caught driving while disqualified, you can be jailed for up to three months or fined up to $4,500. For third or later convictions you can be jailed for up to two years or fined up to $6,000. You will also get an additional disqualification for at least one year.
Disqualification up to a year: You will have to apply to the NZ Transport Agency for a replacement licence.
Disqualification of more than a year: You will have to re-qualify for your licence by sitting the theory and practical driving tests again.
For more information on driver licensing, contact New Zealand Transport Agency call 0800 822 422 or write to Private Bag 6995, Wellington 6141.
Lawyers deal with many personal, family, business and property matters and transactions. No one else has the training and experience to advise you on matters relating to the law. If your lawyer can’t help you with a particular matter, he or she will refer you to another specialist.
Seeing a lawyer before a problem gets too big can save you anxiety and money. Lawyers must follow certain standards of professional behaviour as set out in their rules of conduct and client care.
When you instruct a lawyer, he or she must provide you with certain information, as outlined in our guide Seeing a lawyer – what can you expect?
This includes informing you up front about the basis on which fees will be charged, and how and when they are to be paid. The fee, which must be fair and reasonable, will take into account the time taken and the lawyer’s skill, specialised knowledge and experience. It may also depend on the importance, urgency and complexity of the matter.
There could also be other costs to pay, such as court fees. You should discuss with your lawyer how you will pay for the work and advice if you don’t want to spend more than a certain sum without the lawyer checking with you.
A lawyer is required to tell you if you might be entitled to legal aid. The guide Seeing a lawyer – what can you expect? also outlines how you can help control your legal costs and get best value from your lawyer.
Choose your own lawyer for independent advice. You do not have to use the same lawyer as your partner or anyone else involved in the same legal matter. In fact, sometimes you must each get independent legal advice.
Lawyers must have a practising certificate issued by the New Zealand Law Society. You can call the Law Society on (04) 472 7837 (or at one of the offices listed below) or email email@example.com to see if the person you plan to consult holds a current practising certificate. You can also check this on the register accessible through the website www.lawsociety.org.nz.
If you have a concern about a lawyer, you can talk to the Lawyers Complaints Service, phone 0800 261 801.