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Monday, 12 August 2019

Road to Zero - oh really?

The NZ Ministry of Transport has recently released a working document for reducing the national road toll.  This is the publicity video:


Admirable sentiments, but let's dig a little deeper.  In the name of consultation, questionnaires are available on line for the public to make submissions.  Here's one such "tick the box" questionaire:


You'll note that at the top of the list is "Unsafe speeds", whatever they may be.  Seeing this is hardly surprising as every road safety campaign in recent memory is based on the "Speed Kills" mantra.  Sure it does, but it's only one part of the total picture. No-one would argue that enforcement of speed limits is an important tool in any safety campaign but punitive measures are "ambulance at the bottom of the cliff" and taken in isolation, they don't address the root cause.  As a respected Kiwi police officer involved with road safety said a few years ago, "Speed doesn't kill, stupidity kills".  Presumably, that didn't go down well with his political masters.

I'm trying not to be negative about the latest initiative as it does try to take a holistic approach with one notable (and critical) exception.  Regular readers might remember that I was involved with two government departments looking at motorcycle safety on a well-known motorcycling route called the Coromandel Loop.  That post is here: HERE .  You can read it for yourself but in summary, the government departments were a joy to work with and recommendations for roading improvements, signage, sightlines etc were accepted and swiftly implemented.  Since then, there has been a significant reduction in serious harm incidents involving motorcyclists.  There's a significant distinction here between effective public servants and politicians.

An integrated approach to raising motorcycle skills has also been implemented.  It's now much tougher to get a motorcycle licence and applicants have to go through a higher level of training and competence tests before they are granted a full licence.  Post-licence training hasn't been forgotten either with the introduction of the Ride Forever programme.  As you might expect, returning riders pose a particular risk and Ride Forever has achieved a 23% reduction in accidents compared with riders who haven't undertaken post-licence training.  I posted a summary of the programme HERE .  Above that, there's IAM training based on police roadcraft plus numerous commercial programmes.

A dodgy bunch of NZ Central North Island IAM Observers and Examiners

Going back to Road to Zero, can you see an apparent omission in the questionnaire (and detailed material on official websites)?  There is no specific mention of driver or rider upskilling, despite the undeniable success of the initiatives mentioned above.  Why might that be?

Call me cynical but I reckon that any genuine moves covering all road users (as opposed to targeted good initiatives by public service departments - examples above) would be seen as political suicide by whatever government was in power.  Imagine the public outcry if testing standards were raised, or retesting was reintroduced every 5 or 10 years for example.  Perhaps if you accrue a certain number of demerit points for driving offences, you have to attend some form of retraining at your cost?  Hardly likely to win a government votes but until raising skills becomes a visible priority across the board, accident levels (and all the knock-on effects) are unlikely to have a significant dent made in them.

I try not to get too frustrated by trying to ride to the best of my ability and giving time to help others who want to learn through the IAM programme but seeing a lot of public money largely wasted through sheer politics grinds my gears.  I'd imagine that it's even worse for the public servants like those mentioned above who do have a good record with effective initiatives.

Rant over - summer's coming and I'll be out riding rather than hammering out my frustrations on the keyboard!

6 comments:

  1. Well said Geoff and I'm with you on the frustration around the ignoring of the elephant in the room, that of driver/rider training. To cheer myself up I'm attending a Ride Forever Gold course this next weekend in an effort to keep my riding up to scratch.

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  2. Hiya Lee,
    "Elephant in the room" - a perfect description. Expecting any politician to show some guts is probably a bridge too far. Good on you regarding R4EGold. I'm booked for Sept 13th. Any learning is great learning!

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  3. Well written Geoff. It seems the NZ government is following the Australian government down the speed kills, Towards Zero bullshit utopian propaganda line. Its easier to put more police on the road and rake in the revenue rather than actually improve roads and upskill road users which will not be a vote grabber. It will never ever be zero road toll, that implausible.

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    1. Thanks Steve! Both NZ and Aust authorities have close working relationships on all sorts of things - food safety and road-related matters being just two examples that I know something about. In many cases, it makes sense to have close ties with neighbouring countries. However, as I've said, the public servants in NZ who actually do the work are pretty sensible and approachable people from what I've personally seen. It's when politicians with personal agendas start calling the shots when things get murky. One Green Party MP in particular with minimal practical understanding has a lot of influence. That's the downside of coalition governments!

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  4. Hi Geoff, I also believer that river/rider education is the only way to go. Obtaining a license in Germany cost a little fortune (depending on your skill level and learning abilities up to two average monthly paychecks), however it seems to keep the death toll in check, and we still got highways without speed limits. There must be some truth in this.

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    1. Hi Sonja,
      In past posts, I've used Germany as a shining example of a nation that takes its road safety seriously and has effective systems in place to make sure it happens. All it needs is the will to make it happen. We changed our gun laws because of the tragedy at Christchurch mosque, but what about the 300+ road deaths each year?

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