Nanny state on the roads

Written By: - Date published: 7:20 am, June 8th, 2010 - 70 comments
Categories: dpf, law, transport - Tags: , ,

One of the big “nanny state” hot button topics is road safety and enforcement. Too many armchair experts think that they’re qualified to pass judgement on what is and isn’t safe driving. See for example the reactions to the government’s recent ban on cell phone use while driving, raising the driving age, or the proposal for a zero alcohol tolerance for drivers under 20.

Last Queen’s Birthday 10 people died on the roads, 32 were seriously injured. Last Easter another 12 dead, the highest toll in 18 years. This Queen’s Birthday police announced a crackdown on speeding. Police Commissioner Howard Broad said:

… We will be out in strength this weekend doing everything within our powers to stop you making poor and dangerous driving decisions. Sometimes we will be obvious sometimes we won’t be. We make no apology for this. If you dismiss it as revenue gathering then you are shrugging off your responsibility of care, and saying it is acceptable for you and other drivers to put you and your family at risk. … Police don’t want to spend another holiday weekend dealing with carnage on the roads, so please help us in our goal of saving lives.

Pretty sensible in context right? Stop speeding and save lives? But there is no idea so sensible that some opinionated idiot won’t complain. Just as Broad anticipated, DPF dismissed this initiative as:

Naked revenue gathering

How many road deaths are caused by people driving at 56 km/hr in a 50 zone? Or 106 kmhr on a multi-lane motorway? This is naked revenue gathering, which will see thousands of people fined for driving just over the speed limit, unaware that the tolerance has been lowered. … I can guarantee you the number of accidents caused by people driving 5 km/hr over the speed limit on straight roads is minimal.

Armchair “experts” who pontificate on topics that they know nothing about annoy me, particularly where safety is involved. DPF and any others like him who were critical of police tactics have been proven very wrong by events. At time of writing (late Monday night) the Weekend road toll stands at 1. Not 12 dead, or 10 dead, but 1, the lowest toll in 54 years. Police are “trumpeting their zero tolerance approach to speeding as a factor”.

Let’s get some sanity back into the “nanny state” arguments. Yes we the people need to keep a wary eye on the powers of government, and hold them to account. But in many cases (such as sensible proposals relating to public safety or conservation) individual freedoms that might be constrained have to be weighed in the balance with much greater collective freedoms that are gained – in this case the collective freedom of increased safety on the roads. Those who demand the individual right to exceed the speed limit, how many lives is that right worth?

70 comments on “Nanny state on the roads”

  1. really 1

    “Armchair “experts’ who pontificate on topics that they know nothing about annoy me”, but that is precisely what both you and dpf are doing rob.

    • r0b 1.1

      Oh really, it’s true that I’m not an expert on road safety. Nor, unlike the police, do I get to spend parts of my working life cutting mangled bodies out of wrecked cars. However, I do understand two things that DPF apparently does not: (1) Force increases as the square of speed, and (2) Not all our roads are straight.

      • really 1.1.1

        I’m not saying the Police are wrong just that it is wrong for this aspect of Policing to be somehow claimed by Labour (using r0b as a proxy) as their own by way of tricky nanny state arguments.

        • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.1

          Um, what?

          Where did r0b claim the tactics of the police as a victory for Labour?

          • really 1.1.1.1.1

            By aligning the right with anti-nanny state sentiment. I guess it was too tricky for some to recognise eh Draco.

            • Lew 1.1.1.1.1.1

              Has the right not aligned itself with anti-nanny-state sentiments?

              If you think not, then I suggest you review the last three years of NZ current events.

              L

              • Jim Nald

                The Right has been spinning so much that it has forgotten where it was facing at first.
                Deceptive Right to Dizzy Right.

                • really

                  Oh dear. I was making a valid observation perhaps you could refrain from playing the man when I explain the reasoning behind the observation, it would make things much cosier.

                  • Lew

                    I’m not playing the man. I’m playing the assertion.

                    Just answer the question. If you answer “yes, I suppose they have” then your allegation that r0b is making this a partisan issue is somewhat bogus. If you think otherwise, then I’m sure there are a few folks who could provide hundreds of examples to help fill the obvious and gaping hole in your knowledge of current and recent NZ political events.

                    L

                    • really

                      Lew, I wasn’t discussing the negative of my own argument, that was your domain so as you have answered your own question I’ll treat it as a rhetorical not requiring an answer. My previous comment was quite clearly (note indentation level) addressed to Jim.

                      Nothwithstanding, my comments were merely asserting that r0b was with some stealth attempting to align positive road safety with the left by questioning the anti nanny state cheerleaders (proxies for the right) level of intelligence, and by extrapolation implying their level of care for the public is lower than the left.

                      Thanks.

                    • Draco T Bastard

                      By aligning the right with anti-nanny state sentiment.

                      As Lew said, the RWNJs did that all by themselves.

                      I guess it was too tricky for some to recognise eh Draco.

                      I recognise that rules are necessary and that they need to be enforced. The police, who’s job it is to enforce the rules, did so. This had nothing to do with Labour or the left. It’s not my fault that the RWNJs think that the rules shouldn’t apply to themselves which really is what DPF is complaining about.

                      and by extrapolation implying their level of care for the public is lower

                      It is lower – this is because they happen to be psychopaths.

          • really 1.1.1.1.2

            In response to this, I don’t quite know how to describe it, perhaps rant or maybe toxic slight?
            +
            Draco T Bastard
            8 June 2010 at 5:25 pm
            By aligning the right with anti-nanny state sentiment.

            As Lew said, the RWNJs did that all by themselves.
            > r0b uses this as a tool to juxtapose the left as caring about roadkill, nice tactic.

            I guess it was too tricky for some to recognise eh Draco.

            I recognise that rules are necessary and that they need to be enforced. The police, who’s job it is to enforce the rules, did so. This had nothing to do with Labour or the left. It’s not my fault that the RWNJs think that the rules shouldn’t apply to themselves which really is what DPF is complaining about.
            > It was in fact about r0b using a road safety campaign to try and score feel good points.

            and by extrapolation implying their level of care for the public is lower

            It is lower this is because they happen to be psychopaths.
            > and why would I need to argue against such brilliance.

      • Rex Widerstrom 1.1.2

        R0B:

        Nor, unlike the police, do I get to spend parts of my working life cutting mangled bodies out of wrecked cars

        By that logic St John Ambulance ought to be telling us what we can and can’t do on the roads. I don’t envy the police that job but nor do I thereby bow to their supposedly superior judgement as to what caused the mess they have to clean up any more than I’d accept the views of a Civil Defence worker on global warming.

        Unfortunately the difference is the Civil Defence worker doesn’t carry a ticket book and a set of handcuffs, so I don’t have to care what they think, I can review the (often conflciting) data and draw my own conclusions.

        And my conclusions about road safety suggest appalling roads, inexperienced young drivers in cars way too powerful for them, recidivist dangerous and/or drunk drivers, and inconsiderate driving leading to “road rage” and recklessness bear far more of the blame than does someone “hurrying to work”.

        Indeed I suspect if we made it illegal for any male under 25 to have a female passenger (and thus no one to impress in the hope of bedding) we’d cut the toll significantly.

        Congestion slows traffic, as does bad weather. But so would a blanket reduction in the open road limit to, say, 70 km/h. Yes we’re talking trading individual freedom for collective freedom, but in this instance we seem prepared to trade away individual freedom at too low a price, and with not nearly enough data.

  2. Lew 2

    Definition of irony: folk who habitually insist that “the law must be enforced” complaining when it is enforced with regard to their own preferred misdemeanours. And, complain as they might, I bet all those hating on the police on Friday slowed down over the weekend. Mission accomplished. I spent half of Saturday and half of Sunday on the roads, and traffic was markedly more cautious and courteous. There was a strong police presence, and despite the awful weather things went pretty smoothly.

    There are two questions, though: whether it’s replicable, and whether it would persist if made permanent. I’d be reluctant to treat this single data point as causation for the low toll — it’s a great result, sure, but it may be an outlier. Second, I’m doubtful whether it would have much effect over the long term due to risk homeostasis. I reckon people (drivers especially) are pretty good at finding stupid things to do.

    Cue lots of people complaining about how speeding is a victimless crime as long as it doesn’t cause accidents.

    L

    • QoT 2.1

      But Lew! Isn’t it obviously different when it’s horrible international students in their flashy rides Endangering Our Children? Whereas a Good Suburban Mother speeding in her Aspirational Vehicle is clearly surrounded by the phenomenon known in quantum physics as buti’mspecialium which guarantees that things are okay when white middle-class folks do them.

      • comedy 2.1.1

        [deleted – what was the point of that? –r0b]

      • Lew 2.1.2

        Just counting deaths caused by not enforcing the speed limit only counts the cost — not the benefits — of speeding! Imagine, if everyone drove at 10% above the speed limit, there would be a 10% increase in travel productivity for crucial tasks such as “getting to work on time” and “coming home from the pub”. How will we catch up to Australia if we can’t exceed the speed limit by as much as them?*

        L

        * erm…

        • jcuknz 2.1.2.1

          LOL 🙂

        • Clarke 2.1.2.2

          That would rate as today’s funniest comment if it wasn’t for the fact that Steven Joyce is using exactly the same logic to justify his $11 billion “roads of national significance” spend-up. It’s probably just as well that the entire National caucus has had an irony bypass ….

        • JonL 2.1.2.3

          3kph tolerance in Victoria….5-6kph tolerance elsewhere

  3. wyndham 3

    The ‘Nanny State’ brigade would be rabidly against traffic lights had they just been invented.

    • Rex Widerstrom 3.1

      Yeah, when roundabouts (which allow people to make their own decisions according to a set of agreed rules) and “spaghetti junctions” (which remove or reduce the need to stop at all when changing from one road to another) are better alternatives in the majority of cases.

      But then again, most places I’ve travelled in NZ have figured out that co-ordinating traffic lights so that, for instance, all the cross-streets down a long street should go at once, then the lights down the long street should dtay green for long enough to allow someone at one end, travelling at the speed limit, to travel the length of that street (or at least a large portion of it) in one smooth run.

      In many parts of Australia the lights are entirely unconnected, so that your journey is a frustrating series of stop-starts and you can be sitting at a red set of lights while the set ahead are green with no one there to drive through them

      I’ll stop now, I can feel my blood pressure rising.

  4. jcuknz 4

    I suspect that the ‘success’ of this experiment will lead to a permanent reduction in the maximum ‘over the posted’ limit. That doesn’t unduely bother me because it takes some time for my car to warm up and ‘want’ to go faster than 100K … usually it is happy at 90K on short trips. I watch my mirror to let others risking demerits and their licences get past quickly, particularly when I am towing.

    But what I do think is missing from the current police position is tolerance for those overtaking. It makes a lot of sense to permit 110<130 to get the vehicle back into its proper lane quicker. So many times we read the complaint about the slow driver who speeds up at passing lanes and stops the driver obeying the limit from overtaking. A first stage could be to permit a higher limit at passing lanes, then if that doesn't adversely affect the road toll, maybe extend it to the rest of the roads.

    The comment about increased police presence suggests to me that the low toll would have been achieved by that and not the reduction of tolerance from 110 to 105. Attention to driving rather than speed being the important factor. Or maybe it was a sense of resignation "Its going to take longer so what the hell. Let's be courtious" I stayed home and only made town trips over the QBWE.

    Though I have proved to my own satisfaction when towing a trailer compared to without over a distance of around 200K that being limited to 90k with the trailer made the journey not that much longer, fifteen minutes on maybe three hours or so. One needs to ease off from 90K much less than when doing 100K.

    • Lew 4.1

      JC, police presence is that high on every long weekend. This one seemed different.

      L

      • jcuknz 4.1.1

        I imagine it was the hype about the dropping of the tolerance limit and stories about inaccurate speedos on TV3. It would be useful, for me anyway, if the police stationed their ‘speed display’ trailers. out on the open road where we could check our higher speeds. I know from several checks that 50K on my speedo is 48K by the trailer, but I wonder what it is like at open road speeds. Yes I know I could get a garage to check it, if I knew which had the gear, but that would cost.

  5. Sanctuary 5

    Isn’t anyone else bothered though by the way the police increasingly appear to arbitrarily make up the law to suit themselves these days? Last Thursday they decreed the speed limit was 110km/h; on Saturday they decided it would be 104km/h, and they were going to basically make overtaking illegal. I heard tell on the radio a South Waikato police chief planned to cone off passing lanes he thought unsafe to stop people using them. If this true, under what law does he do this? By what statute does this policeman claim the right to blithely close sections of our public highways? The police ARE increasingly using their powers in arbitrary fashions in order to regulate social behaviour to that which they think it should be.

    I spent a fair bit of time on the roads this past weekend and there can be no doubt that by banning passing the police achieved their mission. Drivers seemed petrified of heavy handed policing. But repressive policing hasn’t modified basic behaviour and to my observation most drivers were operating under unnatural levels of restraint and patience. My drive, which normally takes four and three quarter hours took just over six, including being stuck in two crawling convoys behind some poor drivers who drove at 80km/h – maddening when our state highways are winding dual carriageways and overtaking has been forbidden. When people were able to pass I observed a level of honking and abuse levelled at the slow pokes that indicates basic behaviour hasn’t changed. I have no doubt that sooner or later public patience will snap and resentment at the police will bubble over.

    • MikeG 5.1

      err, the Police don’t make the law – the speed limit is 100km/h on the open road – the Police decide what is an appropriate level to start enforcing the law. imho, the Police made a good call this weekend.

      Unfortunately it is not always those doing the speeding that get killed and injured – speeding is far from a victimless crime.

    • Passing lanes are coned off in a bunch of places around the country on holidays. Heading out of Wellington, north of Otaki etc. there were several closed off . I’m not sure whether it was a safety thing, or just a realisation that passing lanes will slow traffic if there’s enough of it, but the South Waikato won’t have been the only place this occurred. I’d assume it was transit, rather than the police, however, but could be wrong.

      • Lew 5.2.1

        I also believe this is a Transit decision. The reasoning is that passing lanes in heavy traffic are great until you have to merge back into one lane, but when the merge happens, they’re counterproductive; and also that they encourage drivers to eb more aggressive. I’m not sure I buy it — it’s somewhat counterintuitive — but then, those chaps at Transit know more about traffic dynamics than I do, so …

        L

        • Anita 5.2.1.1

          Once upon a time a long time ago I knew a traffic engineer. She explained to me (I vaguely remember) that at a certain density the traffic becomes smoothed (like a string of sausages I think she said) so the vehicles might as well be bound nose-to-tail. The slower vehicles (which usually need overtaking) actually speed up and the faster slow down. The means there’s a smoother flow, fewer accidents and actually less frustration.

          I’m guessing that allowed that smoothed flow to split apart (as passing lanes do) acts against the benefits.

          • Clarke 5.2.1.1.1

            I think this article here covers the dynamic you’re talking about – apparently if everyone pursues the selfish strategy of trying to get ahead at all costs, it disrupts the flow and the carrying density on the network decreases.

            Of course the same mathematical models demonstrate that removing capacity in roading networks can counter-intutitively improve travel times, which is something that NZ’s traffic engineers definitely don’t want to hear!

      • infused 5.2.2

        They close the lanes to help traffic move a bit faster. So there’s no ‘merging’ at bottlenecks, ie otaki

    • Kevin Welsh 5.3

      Overtaking is a not a free licence to go what ever speed you feel like. Even when overtaking you are supposed to stay within the speed limit applicable to that part of the road.

  6. Horse 6

    I get the need to reflexively disagree with anything DPF says, but surely some common sense applied here would suggest that 1 road death vs 10 over a single measurement period is merely a statistical anomaly and the Police attributing credit to their “crackdown” is a perfect example of a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

    • r0b 6.1

      I get the need to reflexively disagree with anything DPF says

      No, that would be a full time job for ten bloggers. I’m just picking on some of the egregious stupidities.

      but surely some common sense applied here would suggest that 1 road death vs 10 over a single measurement period is merely a statistical anomaly

      I might have agreed with you if it was even remotely close. But it isn’t. Lowest QB Weekend road toll in 54 years, and that in the face of ever increasing traffic? I’m not going to look it all up and do the stats, but if that’s an anomaly it’s a pretty amazing one.

      • insider 6.1.1

        The awful weather may have had a bit to do with it – keeping people inside not on the road.

        • Lew 6.1.1.1

          Awful weather also increases accident risk. Six of one, I reckon.

          L

        • lprent 6.1.1.2

          Well it was noticeable in Auckland that it was a lot more busy than usual for Queens Birthday weekend. I usually like long weekends as the crowds go to Tauranga or wherever, and the city becomes more habitable….

          But not this weekend.

  7. vto 7

    I reckon it was great, the lower allowed speed. Given that we tootle along usually just under the 100 limit it meant that there were fewer arseholes up the arsehole.

    The safety increase is amazing. Doing 95-100 allows pulling to a stop so much more quickly and safely than 105-110. And apparently the chances of surviving a crash at 140 is zero.

    it’s a no-brainer. good job. dying in a car crash has to be the absolute dumbest thing on the planet.

    • r0b 7.1

      dying in a car crash has to be the absolute dumbest thing on the planet.

      And dying in someone else’s crash is among the most tragic.

    • felix 7.2

      vto, me too.

      I usually drive around 90 – 95 which means I’m not always jumping between the brakes and the gas. Safer, cheaper, less mechanical stress and far more relaxing for me. Seem to get to my destinations on time too so what’s the hurry?

      No-brainer for sure.

      • vto 7.2.1

        ha ha, I never pictured you as a nana. Maybe there more of us out here than we realise ………

  8. A Nonny Moose 8

    I think that this campaign is proof that having more police plus a positive campaign would get things done, in any area. Imagine if we had these sort of numbers investigating burglaries or rapes.

    Chew on that, Nanny State decriers.

  9. Mike 9

    Horse has it – statistical point of no certain relevance.
    The data is lumpy anyway, and the weather was not overly enticing.

    • felix 9.1

      Yeah, because bad weather leads to fewer accidents. *headdesk

      • Mike 9.1.1

        i.e. stays at home

        • felix 9.1.1.1

          Oh I know you meant that, it’s just that reality disagrees with you.

          Bad weather almost always means more accidents, not fewer, regardless of who stays home.

  10. millsy 10

    It goes to show that things like more strictly enforcing the law already on the books would go further towards lessening the road toll that bringing in a whole lot of other new laws that would snag good drivers while the bad will just get around them.

  11. well, well, well (3 holes in the ground) 11

    The ones that complain most about speed-limits – are they the ones that have big gas-guzzling cars and/or like going real fast?

    The difference was noticeable on the roads this weekend – It was nice to feel safer than usual.

    I remember a friend of a friend complaining about being ticketed for doing 1km/h over the limit – ‘you were doing 51k?’ ‘Nah 61k – 1k over the limit’. ‘That would be 11k over the limit.’ These folk are legendary for their road-rage too. Nice to know people like that are driving more safely than usual.

  12. ianmac 12

    It may not be just the speed. It seems that the eveness of speed is significant. The race/then slow/race/then slow which causes a problem in my view. If cars travel at a steady 90-100kph as I found in Queensland, traffic seems calmer.

  13. prism 13

    I would like to know the number of serious injuries, not just the deaths. With differences in treatment of an injured person during the ‘golden hour’ the medical treatment affects the number of deaths which is being treated as a statistical marker.

    And it would be interesting to have the overall number of accidents quoted.

  14. Maggie 14

    I drove from Wgtn to HB and back again during QB weekend. It was noticeable how most of the drivers stuck around the 100kph mark.There were also plenty of traffic cops around though not in the areas where there are usually accidents. You were more likely to see them on a straight stretch of road where travelling 106+ does not present any major dangers. I’m sure there was a hint of revenue gathering in the exercise but, hey, it also kept speeds down and made holiday driving a pleasure.

    • Stacktwo 14.1

      The officer in charge of the weekend’s exercise said cops were coming in saying they couldn’t find anyone speeding. She said, “It was great!”

      Not much of a hint of revenue gathering there. My impression was they would love to get to the stage where they never had to write another ticket.

  15. prism 15

    An aid to happy driving would be regular passing lanes every say 20 kms. In areas with lots of hills when following vehicles that slow, then speed again on the flat, vehicles with unpleasant exhausts, vehicles that are so large that you can’t see round them or through them, it would be good to know that the road planners have added this aid at regular intervals.

  16. felix 16

    DPF is fast becoming the Garth George of the blogosphere.

    • Pascal's bookie 16.1

      heh.

      All he needs is to start arguing in the style of ninety percent of his comment threads.

      Blah blah therefore Jesus. Jesus because that’s why! Also and too, Jesus.

  17. tc 17

    We’d clean our road behaviour up if we adopted alot more of these measures……just shows that the big stick gains the result. Cruise control’s a beautiful device to avoid such fines.

    I’d be in favour of the same rules on speed as victoria has….over 30k beyond the limit, instant 3 month loss of licence no negotiations. There’s more like no child under 8 in the front and mandatory child seats etc etc……very prescriptive regime but the outcomes show it works.

    Try insuring a boy racer car in victoria……curbs that behaviour by hitting the pocket.

  18. Daveosaurus 18

    DPF is at least being consistent, unlike the present Government. It was less than five years ago when said Government, then in Opposition, campaigned against the Police (amongst other targets), describing them as a “revenue gathering team”.

    • Pascal's bookie 18.1

      Funny innit?

      Speaking of consistent however,
      there does,
      from time to time,
      in the course of the discourse,
      arise the proposition;
      ‘Taxes oughta be voluntary’.
      (often in the form. ‘If you don’t want the tax cut, feel free to ring the Revenue and send ’em a cheque’)

      Well. Revenue gathering my arse.

      You can’t get fined for following the rode rules you stupid fucks, so just don’t speed.

      But the not doing seems a foreign thing, the speeding thing, a necessary. Perhaps they are always late. Or like Slartibartfast’s famous threat, wish others to be so. Who cares?

      Or perhaps it’s just the compensation thing.
      If so, then still, just don’t speed
      You’ll spite the government’s evil plan;
      and thusly feel embiggened.

  19. prism 19

    i try to get ahead of erratic or ‘exhausting’ drivers but they sometimes speed
    up as i overtake – i have sometimes found myself over the speed limit then. is this very wrong of me?

  20. vto 20

    I look forward to the day when all vehicles have speed limiters. And speed enforcers. Get everyone moving along consistently. Sort of like a Jetsons approach – slot your car onto the track and from then on it moves at controlled speeds. When you get to your destination simply unslot.

    It also combines the pleasures of private transport with the control and advantages of public transport.

    Voila !

  21. prism 21

    What about chassis or containers on the main trunk line, drive car in and sit in it have lights there but have railcar for amenities. No thousand corners to drive around, no petrol, spartan container wouldn’t need expensive upkeep. Voila! C’est magnifique!
    (Bet it wouldn’t pass Health and Safety for some reason. )

  22. Tony 22

    I’m no armchair expert…I’m a graveside expert.

    My sister died walking on the way home from a bar…she was killed by someone driving 60kmh in a 50kmh zone. She would be alive if the driver had been obeying the law. My family hold no anger towards the driver…but he was in the wrong, and was convicted of dangerous driving causing death.

    I also drive too fast sometimes, but accept any fines with what I hope is grace.

    DPF needs to spend a weekend with the cops slicing open cars full of freedom loving idiots and the people they’ve maimed, or in A&E…either that or the self centred prick can kiss my arse.

    I’m waiting for the Sensible Sentencing Club to call for a 3 strikes law for speeding business execs…but feel I may be waiting a loooooooooong time.

    • r0b 22.1

      Tony – I am sorry. And I agree with every sentiment. My only relative killed was a distant one, but road accidents have taken their toll on my extended family in other ways.

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