Lowering speed limit might not save lives


Yesterday, the Government acknowledged it was looking at lowering the speed limit to 70km/h on some roads. Whilst delighting road safety campaigners, the usual critics have sprung up. Some of their points are valid, but some are simply attacking a Government with an apparently bold plan for N.Z. transport.

There are a range of reasons why lowering the speed limit will not save lives:

  1. A lot of crashes happen as a result of bad decisions – such as turning in front of an on coming car; failing to give way; running red lights
  2. Crashes also happen because people too often do not drive to the conditions and ignore the rules set down in the road code – a person is supposed to be 2 seconds driving time behind the person in front, which becomes 4 seconds in foggy or wet conditions; fail to use lights appropriately in dark, or otherwise poor visibility
  3. Still too many people electing to drive drunk despite common public awareness of the problem and the strong negative reaction to anyone being caught drunk – how many of you have had to stop a person from driving drunk?
  4. Driver attitudes are a major concern – a failure to wear seatbelts; drivers running from cops; letting minors or unlicenced people behind the wheel – and need to change

As a mate at the pub said awhile back, “you cannot fix stupid, Rob”. It was not a reference to the road toll, but people have to accept responsibility for a significant portion of the crashes that happen. Some, such as an elderly driver perhaps backing into someones fence will be purely accidental – they would not have meant to do it and might well have confused the gears or hit the accelerator instead of the brake.

Where in the preceding four reasons did I mention the word “speed”, or the phrases “driving too fast” and “speed limit”?

I deliberately do no mention speed in the reasons, because although it is definitely an issue and one that contributes its share to the road toll, it is a well publicized one. Regular campaigns by the Police aimed at slowing people down feature graphic ads. Speed cameras catch a lot of people, but it is meaningless unless the payment of the fines is better enforced than it currently is.

But do they actually save lives or are they a revenue making gimmick for an underfunded Police force? I believe there is a bit of both. I also believe though that if the Police have a crack down, it should not be announced – it defeats the purpose and the offenders that they want to catch in the act, behave well for the duration and then go back to their normal routines as soon as it is over.

Perhaps there is merit in reducing speed limits on semi rural road, but this will only work if the limit is rigorously enforced. It will only work if human attitudes change. Whilst attitudes remain what they are, a lower death toll will remain being something to dream about.

Labour Government releases transport spending priorities


Yesterday marked a significant step forward for New Zealand’s economy and transport. After years being campaigned for by the Greens, Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter announced that the Government was ready to release a draft Government Policy Statement on transport.

The key highlights of this major announcement are:

  • $11.7 billion for public transport
  • $1.1 billion for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure
  • $6.1 billion for regional and local roads

This is a great start to addressing the waylaid priorities of New Zealand’s transport needs. I look forward to the opportunity in the next few weeks to lay down more formal thoughts in a submission to the draft Government Policy Statement that has been released by Ms Genter, and her New Zealand and Labour colleagues Shane Jones and Phil Twyford.

For years I have been pushing for a much bigger investment in railways, the merchant marine and to a bit lesser extent, public transport. Many of the points on which I campaigned look like they will be addressed in this.

There is however one significant question. For all the great announcements that come out of this draft Government Policy Statement release, I have one niggling question:

What sort of investment is going to happen around merchant marine? We are a maritime nation. It is saying something that one of the major modes of transport is not being given the due investment that is needed to reduece congestion on our roads and help take some of the pressure off the easter South Island where quake damage is still being fixed.

No one should be surprised that there is a fuel tax coming. Especially seeing as the Government did not make specific tax announcements at the election, where people were expecting something to happen. Not surprisingly, the right are out in force talking about how no one can afford the proposed petrol tax. This is the same right that spent $12 billion of N.Z. taxpayer money funding “Roads of National Significance”, which were in several cases completely meaningless¬† and more about appeasing the trucking and private users lobby.

 

How to deter people from fleeing the Police


Mike Yardley, a columnist for The Press wrote a column that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the newspaper. In it he questioned whether people stopped by the cops would run from armed Police. Mr Yardley’s article was provocative. It got me thinking about how to reduce the number of car chases involving the Police, the number of fatalities that occur as a result of these chases.

One thing is clear. Mr Yardley’s suggestion that cops be armed when they check people is flagrant alarmism. New Zealand Police are largely not armed for very good reasons. There is no reason on Earth why we should arm them in a knee jerk fashion without stopping to consider how an already dodgy equation when it comes to being stopped, now suddenly becomes potentially very volatile.

In saying this, I think Mr Yardley might have had another intention in mind. That intention would be to get people thinking about the folly of fleeing the Police, and merely used armed officers as a suggestion because he knew it would get a reaction.

When a Police officer signals for a person to pull over, obviously they should. Most will do so without any problems and co-operate when the officer approaches the car. But there will be a few whose “fight or flight” instincts kick in, and they choose to flee. It could be for any reason or reasons – narcotics, or laundered money might be in the car; the car might be stolen; the car might be sought in relation to another offence; the driver might have someone in it that the Police are looking to arrest.

I have my own solution to the problem. Like Mr Yardley, I was disgusted by the incident that took Mrs Yanko’s life. How to fix the problem? A deterrent needs to be strong enough to make one think twice before engaging in such a silly act. In the end my solution is quite simple. If a person flees from the Police when they are signalled to stop, then – assuming no previous crimes have been committed:

  • Overnight in a cell for a first time offender with a previously clean record and a warning that the next such offence will be a week, plus $1,000 fine
  • For second time offenders a week in the cells plus the $1,000 fine, payable the day they are released
  • For third time offenders, a month in prison plus either $1,000 or 100 hours community service

I should stress – and I do not think I can do this strongly enough – that this is merely dealing with those who flee from the Police. It is not dealing with any other offences outstanding, or which they might be charged for on the day. The punishment for other offences come in on top of this.

It does not matter what sort of stop they were trying to flee from – alcohol/drug check point; search for a criminal or contraband; dangerous driving or otherwise. I wonder how many people would be seriously tempted to flee the Police if they knew that their criminal record – which might, up to that point not exist at all – will get an instant blotch by their name. I wonder how many might have thought of the consequences for their future plans, such as overseas trips and applying for certain types of jobs before they flee the Police

But I think we can agree on one thing now: Running from the Police is a really daft idea that simply is not worth the costs.

The folly of running from the cops


Yesterday a tragedy occurred in Nelson that was completely avoidable. A person in a stolen car made and his companion made the mistake of trying to flee the Police. Unfortunately in doing so, they crossed the centre line at speed in the vehicle and crashed into an oncoming car, killing the innocent driver of the other vehicle as well.

Every year people make the mistake of fleeing from the Police. Sometimes they get away. Sometimes they get caught and sometimes it all ends in tragedy either because the Police continued a chase they later admitted should have been abandoned, or more often, it has been abandoned, but the fleeing vehicle crashes anyway.

So, now, we have three funerals in the early stages of being planned, because one person fled from the Police.

Common sense as well as Police orders require anyone signalled by the Police to stop, to do so. Police admitted last year that about 300 fleeing driver incidents happened a month or about 10 a day; 3650 a year.

I believe that a few potential causes for such behaviour exist and that they need to be acted on:

  • Under funding the traffic cops to monitor peoples behaviour on the roads. The division of the Police dedicated to the roads was wound up under the National led Government of Prime Minister Jim Bolger.
  • The absence of an effective deterrent may make people think that all they will be given is the equivalent of a wet bus ticket slapped on their wrist with no consequences
  • Parental responsibility needs more legal emphasis on it – parents need to make sure their youngsters understand that running from the cops is just going to make it worse for them when they get caught

There are steps that can be taken. Every person undertaking driving instruction should at some point be made to attend a defensive driving course and as a part of that, sit a test that demonstrates knowledge of defensive driving. As part of that course, a Police officer should talk to the participants and explain to them their legal responsibilities and what will happen if they are not upheld.

Another step is radically tightening the deterrent. I suggest automatic loss of their driver licence for a year or one month in jail. Given the gravity with which society views people who have done jail time and/or lost their licence for traffic offences, the decline of their social status, this will – if made clear to all New Zealanders – make the vast majority think twice before committing such a daft act. Those that don’t are the ones the proverbial book should be thrown at.

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.