Saturday, May 11, 2013

New Zealand: Dutchman Pleads Guilty in Death of Retiree by Driving on Wrong Side of Road

It is always sad and tragic to see any precious life end before their time, particularly when the causation was avoidable or preventable.

Such was the case when Michel Vandenburgt, 38, a Dutch national, killed New Zealander Jacqueline Emmott, 67,  in a head-on collision while he was driving on the wrong side of the road.

Clearly, Ms. Emmott was in full compliance with New Zealand's rules of the road, whereas Vandenburgt never should have been driving to begin with if he was not comfortable in driving on the "left," which was contrary to driving on the "right" in The Netherlands.

COMMENT: Even though the defendant in this case pleaded guilty to causing the death of Ms. Emmott by careless driving, the only loser in this case is Ms. Emmott's family who will never be able to enjoy her company...ever.

Vandenburgt was not jailed for the death of another person and paid only £500 in court costs.

Judge Robert Bartfield said that Vandenburgt fell "not far short" of dangerous driving, yet when a death is claimed in an avoidable "accident," how should it be described?

Considering the dangerous nature of New Zealand's roadways, it seems reasonable for legislators to consider enacting a law prohibiting visitors from "right-hand-drive" nations from renting vehicles. Admittedly, such a law would have economic repercussions, yet how many lives need to be lost to justify profit?

Judge Bartfield suspended Vandenburgt's six-month prison sentence for 12 months, telling him he did not think a few weeks in jail would do "any good," yet is that not sending a strong signal to other drivers that there are few consequences for taking a life on New Zealand's roadways?

Despite the fact that the judge suspended the defendant's driving privileges, it is expected that he will be driving the day he returns home, with no consequences

Mrs. Emmott died at the accident scene from head and abdominal injuries and her husband Tony, who was driving the car last September, is still receiving treatment for his injuries. She had only retired one month earlier.

Although Vanderburgt was using an electronic navigator in his vehicle at the time, it was Judge Bartfield that interjected that use of the device could have "distracted" the defendant, although in most countries prudent drivers safely pull off on the side of the road to use distracting electronics. 

In a victim impact statement, Ms. Emmott's daughter, Josephine, said to Vanderburgt, "You have to accept your responsibility because had you concentrated on what you were doing instead of being distracted by something else, this would not have happened...You will wake up every day and when you open your eyes you will have a recollection of what you have done."

Even a local group criticized the Judge's sentence: "We have to send out the right message to other drivers that if you kill or seriously injure someone through bad driving you can expect really serious consequences, so that members of the public do take their responsibilities as a driver very seriously."

Having followed many serious accidents involving foreign nationals in New Zealand over the years, it is my impression that tourists get a "slap on the hand" regardless of their offense, with the expectation that they will return to the country.