At what point is it ok to take matters into our own hands?

On Monday there was this article where a member of the public took the keys off a tourist. He believed that the tourist’s driving was a threat to human life and so he took the law into his own hands. At what point do you think it is ok to take the law into your own hands?

Handing over the car keys

Handing over the car keys

Some situations to ponder:

  • A guest in your home is drunk and is intending to drive home. Do you take the keys off them if they refuse to stay the night or take a taxi?
  • You see a stranger in the street, drunk and attempting to open the door of his car to drive home. If he refuses your offer of a drive home or to call a taxi do you take the keys off him?
  • You are drunk and are intending to drive home. A friend takes the keys off you when you refuse to stay the night or to catch a taxi. In the morning are you angry with your friend?
  • You do nothing when a person you know gets into their car drunk and drives off. In the morning you learn that they were involved in a head on smash and three people are now dead. Do you feel in anyway responsible for their deaths?

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  • One_step_beyond

    When people stop doing the right thing because they are not compelled to by law, we are in serious trouble.

    ps. we are in serious trouble!

    • pidge

      Doing the right thing in many cases unfortunately also places you in harm’s way. Been there, done that, got the rib fractures for my troubles. And would probably do it again.

  • Not Clinically Insane

    1 – Yes
    2 – Yes
    3 – Probably at first…. then realise they’re doing the right thing
    4 – Been close enough to this to a near enough situation (serious injury but not death). That influences my answers to 1 & 2

  • Pharmachick

    I did it once – took keys of a friend in a bar to prevent her driving home. Then paid for the taxi – with explicit instructions to her house. She never really talked to me again.
    :-(. I would do it again – she was blasted. If wasted people kill themselves – well: personal choice… its the minivan full of school kids coming in the opposite direction I worry about.

  • Orange

    Is there no cell phone coverage in that area at all? In most places a quick call to *555 can clear up what action needs to happen. Even during the night “disorderly behaviour” isn’t enough for citizens arrest is it. If the punishment would be over 3 years in prison then citizen’s arrest is justified by law (with that night time addition I think)

    • peterwn

      Years ago Woolworths (then a variety store operator) had to pay $15000 damages to an alleged shoplifter for ‘unlawful detention’ after detaining an alleged shoplifter. As I remember the shop had no evidence the person had actually taken anything and the manager refused to discuss the matter prior to the arrival of the police who found no shoplifted items in the person’s possession.

      In the cases mentioned, the person could theoretically be charged with theft of the keys, but could plead ‘necessity’. Even if a judge found the charge ‘proven’ the judge most probably decline to enter a conviction. However the person would have been put to significant inconvenience and would be out of pocket on legal fees. However the way case law on ‘discharge without conviction’ stands the Judge may feel he or she has no option but to enter a conviction. The driver could also theoretically sue for damages for unlawful detention, etc, but hopefully consequences would be minimal in such cases. Anyway common sense seems to have prevailed and the ‘good citizen’ in such cases do not generally seem to have suffered consequences (except that Penrose gun shop employee).

      It would seem inappropriate for the police to make any encouraging noises about taking the law into your own hands – it could backfire on the police.

      The law does not require anyone to be a ‘Good Samaritan’ in the general case, so if you see someone being beaten up you can walk on the other side. However one is expected to render assistance in cases such as driver and knocked down pedestrian, parent and child, police officer and arrested or shot person, prison officer and prisoner or other similar cases, or if a police officer asks for assistance.

      As I understand it, in some countries (eg France) there is a general legal obligation to render assistance to a sick or injured person.

      • Simon Brown

        Couldn’t you use the Waihopai defence? This was what they said: “I acted in order to prevent the commission of an offence which would be
        likely to cause immediate and serious injury to persons or property,”

        • peterwn

          Excellent point. Even more so when the ‘Good Samaritan’ act is spontaneous. The Waihopai damage was premeditated. It has just occurred to me that the ‘Waihopai’ defence would have originated from instances like grabbing car keys, and was stretched (unduly in my view) for Waihopai. This type of defence is ‘necessity’ and the courts have generally set strict bounds on it eg I doubt it would be successful if a mum steals money to feed allegedly starving kids. So it was surprising that it succeeded for Waihopai.

  • RobT

    Depends on the “drunk”….if he or she is fighting, or just melancholy.
    If they are punchy,you can try and reason with them and do whatever you can to persuade them not to drive. However if they are going to punch your lights out or worse..why would you want to endanger yourself and anyone around you. Call the police!

  • corporate refugee

    To be honest, if I stopped to take the keys from every driver I saw in NZ that was a threat to human life I’d never get anywhere.

  • Eiselmann

    1)I would and have stopped a friend from driving drunk
    2)A stranger yes ..I would also call the police if I was unable to get the keys off the driver. With this one I had to think for a moment about my answer because too often doing right can lead to all sorts of complications, use reasonable force and suddenly you find yourself in front of a dud judge for assault or in a hospital room.
    3) Never been in that situation because if theres even a chance I’m driving I simply choose not to drink , however if my keys were taken off me by a friend because I was drunk, then I’d be so grateful.
    4) Tough one I would hate to have to deal with that scenario …t would regret not stopping them , most likely beat myself up over it , yet, ultimately we are all responsible for our own choices in life…they choose to drink with car keys in their pocket they are to blame.

  • KGB

    I have taken keys off people many, may times.

  • Second time around

    You need to be sure of your facts if you do it on the open road. Many of the complaints reported to 555 are imagined rather than real offences, sometimes tainted with a dash of xenophobia. It is a serious matter to stop someone, even more serious to demand their property and they may be legally entitled to use force against you. However it would probably be reasonable to block the vehicle’s path if it was already stopped.

  • Michael

    Re: scenario 4. I think NZers attitude to drunk driving took a big shift on Christmas Day 1992. The previous night, an extremely drunk local told friends at the bar in Dannevirke he wanted to see his ex-wife in Hastings. They drove him home, put him to bed and took his keys away thinking he would sleep it off and have a few aspirin in the morning.

    However, he found his spare keys and took off – soon ploughing into a car carrying 5 young people (early 20s) killing them all and himself. Their families spent Christmas Day arranging funerals for people who should have their whole lives ahead of them.

    If you do take someones keys and they complain to the Police, you have the claim of right defence – that is, you broke the law to prevent serious consequences. You would need to prove that it would be something a reasonable person would do.

  • Tom

    Keys have been known to go ‘missing’ at my place. Can be a good way of saving face. I tend not to have this problem these days as the drunks either sort their idiocy out or don’t get to come back.

  • Whitey

    1) Yes. I’ve done it a few times. However, experience has taught me that confiscating a drunk’s keys is not always easy and can cause a fight, depending on the drunk. I’d try to take the keys, but not at the cost of putting myself or other guests at risk of injury.
    2) No. To me, forcibly taking a stranger’s keys is theft, even if it is done with good intentions.
    3) No.
    4) I wouldn’t feel responsible for their choice to drink and drive, but I would definitely be kicking myself for not trying to stop them.

    • Guest

      Find and take out the fuel pump fuse to immobolise vehicle.

  • STAG

    I have come across this very thing driving south from Queenstown around the lake, car in the middle of the road 30!!!kph with hazards on, Chinese male driving. What to do, try and stop him? *555 Doesn’t work there.

    My wife wouldn’t let me stop him but I really wanted too. Caused an argument between us and a tense trip south.

    They are a danger even when your safely past!!

    • kayaker

      Some of the worst driving I have ever seen was in the Otago area – especially on the Crown Range between Queenstown and Wanaka. This was in the first two weeks of January.

  • armotur

    I bought a Sobercheck Breath analyser. Primarily for my two sons as I choose not to drink and drive.
    It has been well worth the investment, especially with the new lower limit for Drink/drive which in my opinion is simply another revenue stream for the Government.
    It has made my boys more aware of the care they need to take when deciding to drink and possibly drive and I see that as helping them to behave responsibly as they mature.
    It has also been useful when entertaining at home as has been a convincing tool to encourage people not to drive home when over the limit. It is more reliable than simply guessing if a person has had to much to drink to drive.

    Yes, it costs money and requires recalibration once a year, but if this issue is to be taken seriously and considering the potential consequences I believe it is worth the investment.

  • abbaby

    Find and remove the fuel pump fuse to immobolise a vehicle.

  • kehua

    Driving SH16 yesterday following a vehicle going slow/fast/left/right etc, Rang *555 and talked with a young woman who then tracked it with me for 5 minutes and assured me that a Police car was on its` way and eta 7 minutes. I turned off and bid the comms operator a good day. About as close as you can get in the circumstances I guess.

  • Jdogg

    Have been in the exact receiving end of #4.
    Repeat drink driver.
    Hadn’t held a license for 2 years prior -disqualified and was to reapply for license but never did.
    Continued to drive to work.
    Moments before leaving, car was moved to let the driver go home in a borrowed car.
    Driver crashed into ditch. Then drove on.
    Witness sees driver on the wrong side of the road.
    Driver kills 3 people. Almost 3x over the limit. There were no winners.
    Knowing how it feels to live with the loss – I would take the keys every.damn.time.

  • sonya ash pryor

    For example, the UK police say they do not have time to look into missing persons cases. So Its ok for people to do what they can to help.

    Also if you are not allowed a lawyer, and the police do nothing at all. Its ok to do your own research. If you are the victim of a crime, its up to you to gather evidence. Being a journalists helps.

    So many serious crimes, like rape and murder, go un investigated. Saying they dont have time may be just a corrupt excuse.