Attitude change to Police pursuits needed


On Saturday 3 people were killed when the car they were in ran over Police spikes, crashed into a tree and went up in a ball of flames. They were in a car that was the subject of an abandoned Police chase when it went over spikes that punctured the tyres, causing immediate and catastrophic loss of control. As families of the dead prepare to mourn the loss of their loved ones, it is time to have a look at why so many people are making the really silly mistake of running from the Police.

A Police chase starts because it is an offence to evade law enforcement. If the Police see someone has noticed their presence and is trying to evade, it is an offence to harbour or otherwise assist them in their evasion.

Despite this there is a long and sad litany of people who have or killed/injured others as a result of running away from Police chases.

  1. A pregnant woman and fleeing driver are killed in a two car collision.
  2. A vehicle in Lower Hutt flees the Police, flips, injuring 3
  3. An underage driver and passenger killed in a crash fleeing Police

I personally believe that the ability to stop a chase from happening before it starts lies solely in the hands of the person that the Police want to talk to. Simply stopping for the Police will save lives, money, and resources.

However that attitude change is not going to happen unless there is an effective deterrent. It needs to be something that is grave enough to make someone contemplating a pursuit think twice, such as a week or a month in jail for simply evading arrest. Few, if any will want an instant jail rap on their criminal record. The potential impact it would have on ones employment prospects and ability to obtain things like a passport or go overseas because they had committed an offence for which they would receive a jail sentence, is something the sentencing judge should consider remarking on – crime has consequences and often the longer term aspects such as loss of certain liberties could be better highlighted.

For their part though, Police might want to look at the case of Queensland, Australia where officers are only permitted to chase if there is an immediate danger to life or have good reason to believe a serious crime has just been committed. The same applies in the state of Victoria. In South Australia incident controllers can terminate a chase at any time. That said, a lot of chases in New Zealand only last a couple of minutes or even seconds, because Police see that the danger of continuing the pursuit is too hazardous and stop.

But it is all too late for three boys aged 13, 13 and 16 who are now dead, and devastated families wondering how it came to this.

Tasks for Julie Anne Genter on return to work


Associate Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter, who has been on maternity leave after giving birth to her first child, is back at work this week. Whilst she has been away there has been much going on on our roads, some of it good and some of it quite appalling.

As a result there are number of significant issues sitting on her desk:

  1. Action is needed on our soaring road toll, which is the highest in nearly a decade, having levelled with the 2009 total road toll with five weeks still left in the calendar year
  2. Requiring all road vehicles to have headlights that come on automatically – it is compulsory in Canada and was done to reduce the number of collisions caused in poor visibility
  3. A promise was made to invest $300 million into Christchurch transport as part of the rebuild programme following the earthquakes – let us set priorities for that spending and get on with it
  4. Investigate getting bulk material such as petroleum onto suitable railway carriages and reduce the number of large tankers and such vehicles on roads that are not designed for them.

Whilst these are all good things to be tackling some bigger beasts need to be tackled as well. One of them is reforming the New Zealand Transport Authority from one that is heavily road oriented, into one that works for all modes of transport and their users instead of a lucky chosen few. This is essential work to be done because N.Z.T.A. put little emphasis on rail and the merchant marine, which are better able to move large volumes of material, goods or fuel and are not likely to have to stop as frequently to refuel themselves.

Another one is addressing our carbon challenge. With the Government having announced an impending – even if it is some decades away from fully implementing – ban on oil and gas, we need to significantly up the efforts to develop sustainable, carbon neutral alternatives, which is something that is currently not happening.

It might seem strange to be putting so much emphasis on an Associate Minister, but Ms Genter is the true force in the Transport portfolio, and I think it is only a matter of time before she takes it off Minister Phil Twyford. It is important to note that Ms Genter did her postgraduate research in transport planning and has been the Green Party spokesperson for it since she entered Parliament. Mr Twyford has so far been underwhelming in his ministerial portfolio’s and Transport has not been an exception.

So, I welcome Ms Genter back. The time has come to do some serious policy lifting and before the 2020 election I am expecting to see some significant announcements come from the office of Ms Genter including maybe that she has taken over the portfolio.

Prohibitive road toll demands decisive action


This afternoon on their Facebook Page, New Zealand Police made an unusually blunt and direct statement.

Listen up New Zealand. 

We’re losing far too many people on our roads. 12 in the past week, 336 this year.

Road safety is everybody’s responsibility and your behaviour behind the wheel could change a family forever. Could you live with that?

I am sure the Police were probably quietly itching to put up a much stronger worded statement than that. Maybe a pic or two to jolt people. I would not have blamed them.

The causes of death for these twelve people over the last week will range. Some died from careless driving. Others died from alcohol related incidents. Others died in accidents where too much speed was involved. The results were the same. Several families torn apart. Friends and family wondering how it all came to this.

Cleaning up the remains of human beings from accident sites must be a horrendous job. No ambulance crew, police officer or firefighter looks forward to such events. And each day where they have had such an experience they must surely go home wondering who the people whose lives they literally picked off the road were.

Gavin Hawthorn is a man you do not want to meet on New Zealand roads. But when a man who is on his eleventh (11th) driving charge and has ended the lives of four people across his prior convictions appears in court for his twelfth (12th), clearly not able or willing to learn from his mistakes, there is a responsibility to remove the ability of such people to drive. But not only is there a responsibility to remove their ability to drive, there is also a responsibility to remove their ability to be a threat to the public, which this man clearly is.

It is also time to address our problem with Police chases. Far too many are ending badly. And I think that the problem has a very simple answer. People think that if they can get away from the cops, they will be fine, and so they try to take off inducing a chase. But when the chase comes to an abrupt end in someones fence, crashed or simply caught the Police are going to have much less sympathy for one than if they had simply pulled over when the blue and red lights were flashed. So too will the public, especially if it endangers people or causes a crash or other adverse outcomes that would have been completely avoided had the driver stopped when signalled.

Unfortunately the courts seem to be entirely out of sync with the public, with the Police who bring cases to the courts and prosecute, with society in general. Too much political correctness is coming into decisions. Too often the judge is siding with defendants because they don’t want their careers jeopardized or the “darling little Jimmy (or Jane)” does not normally behave like this.

I don’t honestly care what darling little Jimmy’s behaviour is like. He committed an offence, he can pay the price just like you or I would have had we been in that position. I do not care if someone’s career is going to be jeopardized when they got behind the wheel pissed because when they started drinking, fully sober, they would have known full well then that if they are driving they should not be drunk.

Cut the crap. If judges are not prepared to use the full range of sentences they can hand down appropriately, maybe it is time to consider a career change.

Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Transport – Part 2


Continued on from Part 1. This part looks at the logistical issues of owning a vehicle in densely populated European centres, and the advantages of bikes in these locations.

Whilst it is certainly true that the European cities I visited have their share of cars, it is also true that urban planning rules have limited where the cars can go. I visited the old quarters in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Amsterdam and Brussels during my time in Europe. Each city had its own way of dealing with private vehicles.

Some places like Stockholm restricted the vehicular access to emergency and service vehicles. This is understandable. Many of the streets in their old quarter are very narrow and not suited to larger vehicles and would impede foot and cycle traffic. Also to maintain the old city ambiance and not damage the cobbled roads which have been in place since the old city was built.

The old city quarters in Stockholm. (R. GLENNIE)

I also visited Ypres and Brugge in Belgium. These are two towns in rural Belgium in/near the area popularly known as Flanders Field. Here I was able to see other measures that were used to control the number of vehicles in the towns.

One measure, which I understand was in place for Brugge, is that if people live in the old part of town, they cannot bring their vehicle into the old town except for purposes such as dropping off shopping or visitors. On one hand this seemed rather awkward in terms of freedom of movement. On the other it was simply necessary. The streets of the old town were built hundreds of years before motor vehicles were even a remote possibility and therefore without tearing down large tracts of the old town, it is simply not practical or proper to park ones vehicle or vehicles outside their home, for the street frontage might be only a few metres of a house or apartment that is 2-3 stories high. The vehicle, even if parked right up on the footpath would then pose an immediate impediment to the considerable foot and bicycle traffic passing through.

Just a small portion of the bicycles in the vicinity of Amsterdam railway station. (R. GLENNIE)

Bikes are a very popular transport mode in European cities. Their ease of use, low cost in maintaining – a kit for punctured wheels, a lock, working brakes and maybe a helmet (they appeared to be optional, or maybe authorities had given up trying to police any rules) – and one is “away laughing”. Mass bike locks were present in Amsterdam. The ratio of cyclists to other road users was far higher than I have ever seen in New Zealand – or am probably likely to see – and for the most part they were far politer than their New Zealand counterparts.

Cycle ways clearly denoted where the cyclist was allowed to go. There was occasional confusion about what was allowed in the cycle way as motorized scooters sometimes mingled with them as well. Cycle lock up facilities exist in central parts of these urban areas, where the cycle is locked up in a large area with other cycles. But it was just as common to see them locked to lamp posts, canal railings, or simply parked outside buildings.

So, these are just a few observations made of transport on my trip to Europe. Feel free to comment.

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.