National Party petitions for road projects miss point

Last year the New Zealand road toll went up by a bit more than 1 person on average every day. 379 people lost their lives over 365 days. Some were cases of speeding. Some were cases of drunk driving causing death. Some were cases of people being on the wrong side of the road.

Whatever the cause of their deaths, the toll on their families, on New Zealand as a nation and on the police, the fire and ambulance services that had to attend the crashes is dreadful. Someone has to scrap the remains of deceased humans off the road. Someone has to go to the next of kin of the deceased or contact them by phone to say their loved one has died in a road crash. An investigator has to go to wherever the damaged cars were taken to examine the damage to them.

It is playing questionable politics to think that this can be solved by building new roads. Yes it is true that some of our roads are in not that great condition. But it is rather deceiving to be claiming as the Young Nats (the youth wing of the National Party)are doing, that by not pursuing their roading projects, the new Government is missing an opportunity to address the surging road toll.

The simple fact of the matter is, you can spend billions on road projects as National proceeded to do, but great looking roads do not – and will not – fix crap driving decisions. Only the individual driving the car/s involved in a smash can fix poor judgement by learning from their mistakes. If you are driving, you leave a two second driving gap between you and the car in front. If you are driving in wet conditions or visibility is bad, you double the length of time you need to leave between you and the car in front.

None of that is rocket science. None of that is even science.

But it is in the Road Code.

To some extent this is deliberately deceitful in that, the New Zealand Young Nats are not silly. They know full well what their message is saying, but they also know just as well that their message is pulling blue wool down over people’s eyes.

Law changes may help address the road toll, such as a revision of the demerit point scheme which I have described in earlier posts. So will alcohol locks in the cars of convicted drunk drivers that prevent the vehicle from being driven should the locking device detect alcohol.

Law enforcement by Police will also help

Most people know better than to drive drunk. And some of you – including myself – have stopped drunks from driving.

But none of these involve building roads. None of these involve the expenditure of billions of dollars of tax payer money on pet projects that only serve a few, cause considerable environment damage and in the worst case scenario may wind up being a big white elephant.

So spare me the crap about how your roading projects will cut the death toll. Last I looked even the newest and straightest bits of road are capable of having crashes on them because the driver/s involved were not driving to the conditions and/or paying attention.

$22.5 million of well intended, misguided money

A few days ago, Parliament announced $22.5 million to be targeted at roadside kerbing, rumble strips and other measures to remind road users of where they are in relation to road safety. It followed earlier announcements by Minister for Transport Julie Anne Genter of an intention to crack down on the New Zealand road toll – something I tend to refer to as the “Grim Reap”.

Tragically the money is misguided. Yes it will hopefully make those roads a little bit safer than they were and if we are really lucky save a few lives along the way.

But I think New Zealand needs a reality check. This is not even a band aid over a major wound material. It will not in any way stop

I work for a rental car firm on the corner of Orchard and Wairakei Road in northwest Christchurch near the airport. On Saturday 16 December there was a non fatal vehicle collision on that road involving a rental car The occupants all went to hospital and we are waiting to see what exactly happened. None of the measures would have stopped this.

I know Labour intend good and that is great. But there are some things money or compassion or training will never fix. There is no alternative to driving carefully. If someone hits you, that is sad and wrong, but it was NOT your fault.

Without being there yesterday, and based on the previous several crashes there in the space of just a few years – and having been assured of several more that I was not witness to, I want to raise the issue of someone having failed to give way. Giving way is a basic procedure in the New Zealand Road Code. Road Code 101 in other words. You can have the most sophisticated safety measures, but if people do not carry out due diligence and take appropriate care, I think herein probably lies the source of a large portion of the total road toll. Solve it and our road toll will be MUCH lower.

The question that the reader needs to ask is simple:

Are we willing to understand this? IF not WHY not?

The case for foreign drivers being tested

New Zealand First Members of Parliament accepted a petition today from the father of a person who died when they were hit by a foreign driver. As we pass through the busy tourist season where most of New Zealand’s foreign visitors come to our shores, it is a timely reminder of the need to address the safety of non-New Zealanders driving on our roads.

It needs to be said however that New Zealanders are not good drivers on the whole. Statistics show that a crash is as likely to be caused by a local failing to obey the road code as it is by a foreign driver. Simple problems such as lack of patience with slow drivers, failing to give way and running traffic lights are all common causes of crashes.

However, I have a potential solution to the problem:

With buy in from individual rental car companies, it should be possible to set up a common test web page where a person wanting to hire a car can go to complete the test. It would be administered by the Automobile Association of New Zealand. When a person at a rental car website goes to book the car it tells them that they need to take a short driving test, and divert to the page. At the test page, they select their language, nationality and enter their driver license number or equivalent identifier and do the test in that language. If they pass, it gives them a unique code that they enter on the rental car website. At this point they can complete the booking, and the rental car company knows from the outset that they are fit to drive.

I can see the case from both sides. As a vehicle service agent I see a lot of rental cars exiting the service yard of the company I work for, and I or one of my colleagues up at the airport might for all we know be one of the last staff to see a rental car intact – we can only hope once it leaves the airport drop off/pick up area that the car will make it back to the same location intact, but that obviously is not always the case.

On one hand when a customer arrives at a rental car pick up/drop off point, no matter which way they are going, they do not want to be delayed any longer than they absolutely have to be. Thus quite simply, a customer is not going to want to be delayed 20-30 minutes by a driving test. Running the tests, collecting them and marking them are all diverting time from attending to other duties.

It is also true that nor are they going to want to stick around longer than they have to when they drop rental car off. The driver will want to get their luggage out of the car, surrender the key and be gone fast, which means if they were in a prang and it caused damage to the car it could be difficult for staff to get their side of the story before they disappear. No staff member at a rental car company wants to hear about a rental car crash involving one of their company’s fleet vehicles any more than the police, the fire or the ambulance staff who have to attend it and pick up the pieces.

No one is ever going to stop all crashes from happening. But by working with the authorities, it is possible to reduce the number and severity of the crashes.

Fixing the New Zealand road menace

New Zealand Police are complaining about how the court fines imposed on drivers are not sufficient to deter them from reoffending. Whilst this is definitely a valid point, the problem menace of our drivers and those from overseas is not one that is going to be solved by fines alone.

It is true that there are definitely non-New Zealanders who have no understanding of the road conditions here. In their defence, aside from having different physical conditions to live with in their native country, how they are taught to view other road users and what passes for a road code, might also differ. So what one ends up with is a potentially very nervous person behind the wheel, not knowing what they have gotten themselves into. Mistakes are a very realistic probability.

It is also true that there are New Zealanders who by virtue of their attitude and conduct, should never be allowed to drive a vehicle of any description for any reason. These are people who are recidivist drunks, speedsters, serious offenders  and/or drug users who may have already caused serious injury or death. It is these people who need to be taken off the roads and never allowed to drive again.

There are ways of cutting down on the road toll and ways of cutting down on other road accidents not causing death. The conventional methods of writing fines do not go far enough and can be ignored, which is why there are people with thousands of dollars in unpaid fines, who have no intention of paying. A short sharp and most probably painfully effective way of dealing with these people would be impounding their car for a calendar month, and selling it to recoup the fines.

The methods used to cut drunken driving however do not all need to come from the law. Bars could have transparent bags that they will put in a safe containing a persons car keys if that person has had too much to drink and can come back and get them in the morning. Bar tenders could be encouraged to ask after a first round, whether the person drinking will be driving. Although that relies on honesty on the drinker’s part it will hopefully make them stop and think before ordering another round.

As young New Zealanders like to travel overseas, one way of getting them to think about their conduct on the road could be to point out the consequences a road accident where they are at fault can impact on their likelihood of passing a Customs check. A drunk driver, convicted in a New Zealand court for example will have a much harder time passing through U.S. Customs than a clean driver because they have committed an offence that is seriously frowned upon in both countries.

The revoking of licences is well and good, but it does not physically stop a person getting behind the wheel if they have access to keys, and driving off. This is where confiscation of keys and – in severe cases – impounding the car can become of significant use. It can be reasonably assumed most people will want their motoring independence back and pay up. Few will be wanting to pay substantial money to buy a new car.

So, in short there is a case for a change in the way we approach the problem of poor driving on New Zealand. Fines are but one tool in the inventory. There are others and we should not be afraid of devising new ones.

New Zealand’s road toll problem

To anyone who has driven down a section of State Highway One in Waikato there are two depressing things that stand out. One is the large number of white crosses, each symbolizing a life taken in a road accident. Some sites have recorded multiple fatal crashes, each one devastating a family and upending lives in ways only the victims and their families will understand.

The causes are often speed, alcohol or some horrible combination of both. A failure to drive according to the conditions and fatigue may also be factors. Officers who have the grisly job of scraping bits of people off the roads and piecing together what happened will also have an equally horrible job of having to tell someone that their loved one is not coming home, ever.

So, why are we – after years of steady progress – going backwards again? This Christmas period, despite having a few days still to run is deadlier than the whole equivalent period in 2015-16. What can we do about it?

The adverts on television regarding the road toll are as blunt as the topic matter is hard. New Zealand has a road toll that is disproportionate for a nation of four million people. There is much emphasis on making sure people do not drive drunk, but not so much about people driving under the influence of narcotics. Making roads safer will only go so far, when there should be stronger emphasis on making people drive to the condition of the road on the day.

One idea could be to overhaul the demerit point system to include residual points that are permanent and the only way to avoid them is not earn them in the first place. The idea behind them would be to assign – I am not by the way trying to make a death simply something with a quantitative value, because there is none that can be realistically assigned – certain types of offences a certain number of demerit points, of which only a portion ever dissolve. An example could look like this:

A person is allowed 1,000 demerit points before they lose their driver license. A fatal accident where murder was the intention might be worth 1,000 demerit points; and manslaughter is 700 points of which 200 dissolve. For the sake of this example we will say a person committed murder using a vehicle as a weapon, thus 1,000 points are initially applied. The demerit points are applied at the end of the sentence handed down, and 200 points will eventually dissolve. However 800 remain and another event involving death – murder or not – will result in the permanent loss of license, thus right to be driving, with any breach being one for which the offender can be arrested.

Another suggestion, which would go some distance towards addressing driver behaviour, could be to institute a “driver insurance”, that anyone holding a New Zealand license is required to obtain. Either that or tipping the balance in the law so that the the onus of responsibility is on the driver in the first instance and individual passengers after that.

There will be about 90-95% compliance, but just as with all laws there will be a select few who think that the law does not apply to them. They will have no remorse or understanding of the consequences or any empathy with the victims. For them jail can be the only option.