The Problem With Janis Powers' Comparison of Her Run-in With Kiwi Police to Sandra Bland's Death

Ms. Powers writes, in her July 24 HuffPost Blog entitled 'He Gave Me A Breathalyzer Test I Couldn't Refuse,' that her run-in with police in the small New Zealand town of Timaru, was an infringement on her civil rights that, "just didn't seem right."

While Ms. Powers expressed her shock at being asked by law enforcement officers to blow into a plastic tube, her article, equating her experience with the death of Sandra Bland in a jail cell in Texas on July 13, has shocked the small country of New Zealand.

As a Huffington Post Blogger and New Zealander, I felt that Ms. Powers article deserved a right of reply.

Ms. Powers was pulled over because she was caught speeding. She was administered a breathalyzer test to determine her blood alcohol level, alcohol being a key factor in many deaths on New Zealand roads, speeding being the other large contributor. In fact, there have been over 300 deaths on New Zealand roads in the last 12 months. According to the New Zealand Ministry of Transport, over 30 percent of road deaths involved alcohol and 28 percent involved speeding. Drivers who have been drinking are 16 times more likely to be involved in a crash. Fatalities where the driver was both speeding and had consumed alcohol amounted to almost 20 percent of all road deaths in New Zealand. Over the past 5 years, 6 percent of all fatal crashes involved an overseas driver, over 50 percent of those involved drivers from Australia, China, Germany, UK and the United States.

All of this data tells us that speeding and alcohol play a large role in fatal road crashes in New Zealand, and that overseas drivers are no exception. Police in New Zealand are very committed to preventing the harm and trauma associated with alcohol on our roads - an approach which has wide public support according to Road Policing Operations Manager, Inspector Peter McKennie. The NZ government has developed and implemented a policy to curb the number of instances involving speed and or alcohol. This involves a proactive approach in patrolling the roads, which requires targeting both speeding and alcohol; as the statistics show, the two are often intricately related.

Unlike the U.S., New Zealand is not a constitutionally based state. Civil rights are contained in a statutory Bill of Rights which enshrines the rights of its citizens and the rights of those visiting the country. Ms. Powers failed to point her readers toward which of her rights she alleges has been breached as she admits that in NZ, "probable cause" is not needed to administer a breath test.

Under New Zealand law, contained in the Land Transport Act 1998, any person driving or attempting to drive a vehicle on a road can be required to undergo a breath test. The law gives police the power to administer a breath test to any person who an officer suspects has breached the Act. While Ms. Powers refers to herself as "an innocent driver," she had in fact broken the law by driving over the speed limit and the officer was acting well within his duty in administering the test.

The link made by Ms. Powers between her experience and the death of Sandra Bland, has understandably outraged many New Zealanders who normally, as Ms. Powers concedes, "are widely considered to be friendly and accommodating." Kiwis have taken to Twitter to express their outrage.

When interviewed by local media about the comments made by Ms. Powers, Mid-South Canterbury area commander Inspector Dave Gaskin confirmed that she was breaking the law and said he "struggled" to see any correlation between Ms. Powers "run-in" and the terrible events that led to the death of Sandra Bland. He made no apology for delaying Ms Powers as she rushed back to her hotel to "enjoy a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc."

It seems that New Zealand's friendliness and accommodating nature does have its limits with many tweets and online comments directing Ms. Powers not to come back for a second holiday. The irony is, her gleeful gloating of the fact that she skipped the country without paying her speeding fine, may negatively impact her future ability to return to New Zealand.

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