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Hawkins Speech to TRAFINZ Conference

SPEECH TO NZ LOCAL AUTHORITY TRAFFIC INSTITUTE (TRAFINZ) CONFERENCE

HAMILTON

7 AUGUST 2001

HON GEORGE HAWKINS

Greetings and thank you to the organisers for the opportunity to speak this morning.

I see from the programme that you are to be addressed by an impressive range of people on a huge variety of subjects.

I am going to stick to a subject you all know I am passionate about - the dedicated Highway Patrol - where it has come from, how it is doing and where it is going.

HIGHWAY PATROL - BEGINNINGS

The Highway Patrol was borne out of an experiment by the National Government, in the Waikato as it happens, with hidden speed cameras.

In my view there is a lot more value in road safety measures that are high profile and visible, than having motorists snapped by a hidden camera.

Mark Gosche shared that view, and together we pushed hard for a highly visible and dedicated Highway Patrol - we thought that this was the best way to bring speed down, and some of the results I will mention later support that belief we had.

We thought it was important to move away from the dated concept of black and white traffic vehicles, to bright and unmistakably marked vehicles that are now working all over the country and dedicated to traffic safety. The Highway Patrol vehicles are clearly different to other police vehicles.

As soon as we came to government the wheels started turning. A lot of thought went into creating a Highway Patrol that would leave New Zealanders in no doubt - road safety is a priority for this Government.

From December last year Highway Patrol returned traffic cops to our roads eight years after they were scrapped in the merger of the Ministry of Transport's traffic department and the Police.

We could see that there was a need for a dedicated and highly visible team of traffic police and we made it happen.

We knew that to work, to be visible and to be effective the Patrol needed excellent staff, vehicles and equipment. We have not scrimped on this project. I want to throw a few numbers at you now:

- At least $76.5 million will be spent over four years

- 225 staff by the end of this year

- 183 specially equipped vehicles

You can hear that this Government has not shied away from our responsibility to fund, support and develop this key initiative. The Highway Patrol is already helping to make New Zealand's roads and highways safer, and prevent avoidable deaths.

Last year alone, around 460 people died on the roads. This year we are aiming to reduce that to 420 deaths. Of course that is 420 deaths too many in most eyes. But we must start reducing the numbers.

As most of you will know, last month we had the lowest road toll for a July since 1965 - that is great news. The credit is no doubt due to a variety of factors - but I am confident one of those is the Highway Patrol, which police are telling us is really having an effect on the driving habits of New Zealanders.

You heard yesterday from the Police Commissioner, whom I know shares my enthusiasm for potential of the Highway Patrol to make our roads safer, and my respect for the excellent achievements they have already had.

If you speed, if you don't buckle your kids in, or even if you crawl along the motorway too slow, chances are that you will be pulled over. That is great news for everyone on the road, because it is removing some of those ingredients for disaster and death.

HIGH VISIBILITY = DETERRENCE

Just by being there and being visible, traffic police can have an amazing effect on driving habits. We all know the experience, the sudden slowing of traffic until finally you spot the cause - a Highway Patrol vehicle somewhere in the vicinity.

The message is getting through - "watch out for the Highway Patrol!". Police tell me stories of local radio stations warning "here they come" when a convoy of Highway Patrol cars headed towards Ashburton on a training exercise!

SPEED IS DROPPING

Most experts agree that speed is the big killer on our roads. That is why it is so pleasing to hear reports from around the country, backed up by National headquarters, that speeds on our roads are dropping. The presence of patrol cars on the open road seems to be making a real difference to driver behaviour.

Examples of this change are Northland and Waikato, which have registered an impressive 4% drop in the average speed recorded on speeding tickets [more details to come from OOC]. That is an impressive hard fact, and I'm sure there are more to come when the LTSA completes its analysis on average speeds in the next month or so.

And I am told that police in all the areas where the Patrol has been in action for a while are noticing a drop in average speeds - that is fantastic news. Speeds in excess of 120 km/ph, which were commonplace before the Patrol came in at the end of last year, are now pretty rare.

PUBLIC SUPPORT - DESPITE THE TICKETS!

No one likes to be pulled over and warned or ticketed. But even though this is their main task, the Highway Patrol has been reporting strong public support. Generally, members of the public are pleased to see the well-marked highway patrol vehicles on the roads, and that is really making people think about their speed and public behaviour.

SUCCESS STORIES

I have heard many success stories since the Patrol began, even though it is still early days. I want to share a few of those with you.

Christchurch

In Christchurch, I know the Highway Patrol zeroed in on the child restraint message, by issuing instant fines to those who weren't buckling kids in. Zero tolerance means a $150 fine for the first offence, and a charge of careless driving for the second. When education and publicity don’t' succeed, and you still have around 11% of children unrestrained, this is a good example of the kind of focussed work the patrol can do.

Northland - Bringing the Road Toll Down

One of the areas where we have seen outstanding success is in Northland. Between its launch in March, and the end of June, the Patrol stopped over 20 000 vehicles - an average of about 10 vehicles per hour for each member of the Patrol - that is more than three times the national guideline of three contacts per hour. And there was a corresponding drop in the road toll for Northland - at the end of July there had been 17 deaths compared to 30 at the same time last year. Northland has also seen a significant drop in speed - a four km/ph drop in the average speed of those drivers exceeding the speed limit.

Easter Road Toll Down

Over Easter this year the Highway Patrol had outstanding success nationwide, taking speeding drivers off our most dangerous roads. In less than four days over Easter they caught more than 800 drivers exceeding the speed limit.

In the Waikato alone over 1382 drivers were stopped.

And the most impressive statistic to come out of the Easter period was the second lowest road toll for an Easter, for more than 40 years, with just four deaths on the road.

I know that the Land Transport Safety Authority did a lot of advertising and promotion of safe driving and s David Wright [Director of Land Transport Safety] said at the time, the low Easter toll tells us that New Zealanders are listening to the road safety messages, which are working in tandem with greater enforcement and the roll-out of the Highway Patrol.

THE "THREE CONTACTS" GUIDELINE

Recently there has been some debate over the requirement for Highway Patrol members to make three contacts per hour with the public. To the detractors I would say, let's argue about something that actually is a problem - like how to stop intoxicated young men dying on our roads.

I think it is absolutely appropriate that Highway Patrol staff should make contact with the public three times an hour. The Patrol are not just there to issue fines. These men and women see behaviour all the time that they know is eventually going to lead to trouble. I am talking about driving too fast, driving too slow, and driving too close or driving with a precariously balanced load of whiteware and furniture!

So the Patrols are urged to get in there and interact with the driving public. To nip problems in the bud.

These minimum contact guidelines are essential. New Zealanders are coming into contact with the patrols, and realising that yes, someone is watching to make sure that our roads are safe places to be.

The contact guidelines are all about visibility and presence. And that adds up to deterrence. So I think it's fair to say that contact guidelines are here to stay, and I support them wholeheartedly.

CONCLUSION

By the shear number of speakers and topics today you can see that there are many limbs to road safety and there are many individuals and groups putting thought and resources into this key issue.

Most importantly, there is a lot of work happening between key government and non-government agencies and we are all working towards the same critical goal - as few deaths and injuries on our roads as possible.

Thank you again for the opportunity to address the conference today, and best wishes for an interesting and productive conference.


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