There is a strip of State Highway One between Hamilton and Auckland with a number of white crosses on the side of the road. Each cross represents someone who died in a road accident. The number of crosses on that stretch is in the dozens. Every time I go up that stretch of road I feel depressed at the number of lives lost and the lives turned upside down. But it also makes me wonder whether the police focus as they strive to reduce the death toll is on the right things.
For the last two decades the death toll has been in decline, down from nearly 900 per annum in 1972, with 294 people dying in 2014. However with still two weeks left in 2015, the death toll has exceeded 300 and in the last week alone there was a period where seven people died in a 48 hour period. And as the families of the dead mourn the loss of their loved ones, perhaps it is time to look at how the police war on bad driving is going and whether it needs to be refocussed.
Certainly there are some good things happening. In all honesty I think there is definitely a case for having a focus on drunk/drug driving, with advertisements playing during peak time television viewing showing people how to identify a driver on drugs. I applaud the Police for trying tackle the drug driving aspect in the last two years. There have been some horrible accidents caused by people who were on drugs and/or alcohol which grossly impaired their judgement and innocent people paid for their lives as a result.
A combination of better roads, better policing and legislative changes have helped reduce the death toll. However whilst speed, alcohol and fatigue are major drivers of crashes involving injuries and fatalities, what about the lesser, more common crashes? How many can be attributed to any one or more of the following:
- Failure to follow road code signage
- Non roadworthy vehicles
- Medical issues
All of those who drive regularly have their share of stories about incidents involving people with one or more of these problems. How much could a bigger focus on these issues help the overall picture and change the impression that the Police are focussing too heavily on drunk driving and speed? Most importantly how many 111 calls would a greater emphasis on these things prevent?
I ask because a student I went to intermediate school with was on life support for two days before it was turned off after being struck by a car whose driver was changing the C.D. when she went around a bend at speed. I ask because I am quite confident that one of these days given the behaviour of people in Christchurch at intersections that I am going to be having to pull up in a rush and dial 111 – especially when sometimes 2-3 cars will go through an intersection after their light has gone red.
I ask, because I am concerned that whilst the focus remains so heavily on alcohol and speed, this will be as good as the death toll gets and that it might even start creeping back up.