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AA Says Withheld Road Funding Costing Lives

For Immediate Release

29 June 2003

AA Says Withheld Road Funding Costing Lives

The Government has built a surplus of over $150 million in the National Land Transport Fund that could have made our roads safer, the AA alleges. Figures released today by Transfund indicate that $155 million, equivalent to half of the $340 million road construction budget, is being carried over from this year to next.

"We could have had 50% more spent on better, safer roads. How many urgently needed road safety projects could have been completed this year instead of sitting idle in a bank account? People were injured or died this year on known dangerous sites that could have been fixed," says AA Policy Manager Jayne Gale.

Transit and LTSA Road User Satisfaction surveys indicate few drivers in New Zealand feel particularly safe on our roads. At present, funding limitations mean that Transit can only slowly deal with the very worst roads in the country. In the draft State highway programme released in March, so little funds were allocated to safety that to get funding projects had to save six times their cost in terms of injuries and deaths prevented.

“We will be watching with interest to see if this is improved when Transfund and Transit release their final programmes on Monday”, said Ms Gale.

Roads that carry enough traffic to be four-laned in Australia must remain dangerous two lane roads in New Zealand. Four lane roads with median barriers are twice as safe as two lane roads.

“New Zealanders put up with our unsafe two lane roads because we have become used to putting up with the unacceptable for too long. People are not aware that they could and should be better,” said Ms Gale.

Another way to look at the $150 million carry over is that motorists paid 5c/litre more than necessary last year, just to make the Government’s bank balance look good.

“This grates when, on Tuesday, motorists are being stung with another 3c/litre to fund the ACC scheme. It does not make sense to pay more to compensate for injuries than you would have spent preventing the injuries. It is literally six dollars of ambulances at the bottom of the cliff, instead of one dollar of roadside barrier at the top.”

“The problem is, the Government has a lack of urgency about road safety,” says Ms Gale. The Government’s draft Road Safety Strategy, prepared with substantive consultation, estimates that New Zealand needs $200 million per year more spent on road safety engineering. Nearly three years later that strategy has yet to see the light of day.

There might be a shift in its attitude if the road owner, the Government, faced the same safety standards it requires of factory owners. It is no longer acceptable to say that workers should just ‘be careful’ around dangerous machinery. Unsafe factories are shut down, and pay higher ACC rates.

The unfortunate motorist has no such protection. There is no penalty for operating an unsafe road, even one with known hazards that are cheap to fix. A road controlling authority can be grossly negligent of safety. Parts of some roads cannot carry legal weights or sizes. If you happen to be the unlucky one, too bad.

The AA calls for the Government to abide by the same rules as other sectors - to undertake all reasonable steps to make our road system safe, with urgency.

According to the LTSA road trauma causes $3 billion worth of social costs each year.

“Dr Cullen has a $4 billion surplus. Transfund has $150 million. But instead of saving New Zealanders’ lives, they prefer to keep the accounts in surplus, and increase taxes to cover burgeoning ACC costs for preventable accidents.”


ENDS

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