Friday, July 28, 2006

I'm off to the shops in my .. er .. hearse

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Transport authorities promised swift action Friday after discovering some New Zealanders have listed their cars as hearses to cut their registration fees.

The scam came to light when a Christchurch woman told a local radio station she had paid just $36 US to register her car, instead of the usual $113, by registering it as a "noncommercial hearse" to carry dead animals. The woman's definition of carrying dead animals: taking frozen chickens home from the supermarket.

Other listeners then called in to say they had done the same, NewstalkZB station producer Lesley Murdoch said.

Some 1,500 vehicles are registered under the heading "noncommercial hearse/ambulance," making them exempt from a number of official levies, according to Andy Knackstedt, spokesman for Land Transport New Zealand, the government body responsible for land transport funding.

He was unable to say how many are legitimate hearses being operated by undertakers, how many are noncommercial ambulances and how many might be "fake hearses."

"The dictionary definition of a hearse is a vehicle used to convey coffins, not to convey groceries," he said Friday.

The Transport Registration Centre has already uncovered 40 car owners who falsely changed their registration to that category, Knackstedt said, adding that the agency will be writing to all them.

"People are committing an offence when they do this and could be putting their insurance policy in jeopardy," he said.

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