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Duynhoven: NZ Automobile Association Conference

Hon Harry Duynhoven
Speech to NZ Automobile Association Conference
Speaking Points
Occasion: New Zealand Automobile Association National Conference
Date and time of speech: Friday 28 March, 12.25pm

Good afternoon everyone and thank you for inviting me to speak today. It’s always a pleasure to meet with you and discuss areas of mutual interest.

I recall when I spoke to your National Council last year that I referred to the positive, constructive and good relationship that the Ministry of Transport, and other government departments, enjoy with your organisation – and this continues.

I believe that the Automobile Association is a smart and effective lobby group. It represents its members well because it takes a proactive approach to dealing with issues. It works constructively with government agencies. And having such a good relationship means that greater progress can be made by both parties.

Before I move on, I wish to echo my colleague Annette King’s comments on the spectacular venue you have chosen for your conference this year. As she said, it is particularly fitting that we are in the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre Theatre – named after an extraordinary man, who became the most famous New Zealander of our time. Being in the mountains he loved, I know he is still in our thoughts.

I would now like to outline what I will talk about today – I want to address the challenges facing all of us in road safety and look at how we are addressing them; I want to update you on the many initiatives we are working on in the transport safety sector; and I will look at how we can all continue to work together to make New Zealand roads safer.

Frequently on weekends and often during the week, I am called on by the media to comment on a fatal road crash. I’m sure we would all agree that road safety certainly ‘makes news’.

Sadly, these fatal crashes often involve young and novice drivers – sometimes the cause is speed, sometimes alcohol, often it is inexperience.

The fact is that drivers in the 15 to 19 year-old age group are six times more likely to crash than those in the 45 to 49 age bracket.
Often a variety of laws have been broken, but commonly it is conditions of the graduated licensing system – a fundamentally excellent system that is regarded as a world leader. Too many young people have been breaking the conditions of this system and killing or injuring themselves, and others.

As you know, the issues of young and novice drivers generated a lot of discussion and debate during the ‘See You There…Safe As’ workshops held in 2006. Many people identified a need for better education and training for young and novice drivers as part of the Graduated Driver Licensing System or GDLS.

It was this public feedback that drove many of the initiatives that the Transport Minister and I announced late last year, when we launched a package of proposals as part of the implementation of the Road Safety to 2010 strategy.

These proposals target young drivers and recidivists – with the focus on creating the right incentives and on improving the amount and type of training. I know your organisation is ‘hot’ on young drivers, and these proposals aim to cut the high number of young drivers dying unnecessarily on our roads.

The measures propose extending the minimum period under 25-year-olds spend on a learner licence from six months to 12 months and placing a stronger focus on the current demerit points system.

A greater use of demerit points instead of fines is seen as a core part of the package, as demerit points are now seen as a far more effective deterrent. These proposals will make it tougher for young drivers who repeatedly break the rules while on their graduated licences.

I now want to talk to motorcycle safety, a further component of the 2010 strategy. I am pleased to take this opportunity today to announce a range of measures to reduce the high number of motorcycle casualties on New Zealand roads.

Since 2001, there has been a 28 percent increase in licensed motorcycles, and this figure is expected to grow with predicted rising fuel costs. But over the same period, there’s been a staggering 80 percent increase in motorcycle casualties.

The proposals I’m announcing today aim to cut the high crash risk of novice riders, particularly those in the over-30 age group who feature prominently in our motorcycle crash statistics.

The initiatives include restrictions on the use of powerful motorcycles by novice riders, changes to the Graduated Driver Licensing System to encourage riders to take up more motorcycle-specific training and the introduction of safer motorcycling practices.

There will be an opportunity to comment on these proposed changes towards the middle of this year as part of the Land Transport Rules consultation process and I will, of course, welcome your feedback.

The Government has not made a decision to legislate against using cell phones while driving. Despite the current debate swirling around texting and driving, you may be interested to know that in 2006, cell phone use was identified as a factor in less than one percent of vehicle crashes.

Driver distraction generally – whether talking to passengers, eating and drinking, changing a CD or looking at advertising billboards – was identified as a contributing factor in eight percent of all fatal crashes and 11 percent of all reported injury crashes in 2006. What this says is that we need to be looking at the issue of distraction in its broader context. This is why I’m pleased that an awareness campaign highlighting the danger of all types of driver distraction will be rolled out this year.

Driver fatigue is an issue that has long been identified as the cause and contributor to road crashes. It is not only people on long journeys who fall asleep at the wheel – tired people on short trips can also nod off.

In 2006, fatigue contributed to the deaths of more than 40 people and the injury of nearly 1000 in road crashes. Again, I was pleased to announce a cross-agency Driver Fatigue Strategy late last year which has an action plan to help address the road safety risks posed by driver fatigue.

You may have caught the very effective television advertisements aimed at showing drivers the deadly consequences of driving while tired. These ran over the summer holidays, and again most recently in the lead up to Easter.

Included in the Strategy, as you know, is the subject of the installation of audio tactile markings – or rumble strips.

Rumble strips, as you’re well aware, are used to alert fatigued drivers and stop them from running off the road. Transit has an annual programme of safety retro-fitting the existing network, and these road markings are one of the tools in the toolbox for dealing with state highway lengths which have a high rate of ‘run-off-road’ crashes.

Road markings play an important part in road safety in that they explain the road environment and help drivers react accordingly. Road markings are also improving, so they are more easily seen in all weather and light conditions, and last longer.

But the challenge of finding a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to the right road marking product continues, and this is where the current research into road markings by Transport Engineering Research New Zealand is proving invaluable.

I’ve talked about awareness campaigns on driver fatigue and driver distraction – and the key to these is ‘education’. The word education is often the first to come up in discussions on transport safety and I want to pay tribute to your organisation, and others, that run road safety education programmes.

A number of excellent programmes exist. One example is your experienced drivers’ programme, an initiative aimed at giving experienced drivers an education top-up. We all know that complacency can be a killer, so these courses are a great way to tune up rusty driving skills.

There are a host of other smart tools and guides to improve road safety – including:

‘Your Safe Driving Policy’, a guide developed by Land Transport New Zealand and the Accident Compensation Corporation, with the assistance of the Department of Labour, to help organisations write and implement safe driving policies; ‘Rightcar’, a website which provides comprehensive, searchable information to car buyers on how different makes and models rate for safety and sustainability; and ‘Future Fleet’, a road show and website that encourages fleet buyers to purchase safe and sustainable vehicles.
And, of course, there’s KiwiRAP, the road assessment programme the AA launched in January in partnership with government transport agencies. This is an excellent road safety tool which has received good media coverage throughout the country. I congratulate you on the great work you are doing with it.

I also want to congratulate the AA Driver Education Foundation on the proactive work it is doing, particularly around work-related road safety. I attended one the Foundation’s seminars a couple of weeks ago, and I was impressed at the line-up and the issues covered.

It was good to see the emphasis on the research work done by Dr Will Murray around work-related driver safety. He is an expert in this area, and those who attended the seminars would have found his knowledge invaluable.

There are other initiatives still in the pipeline, such as the yet-to-be reported pilot frontal lobe project undertaken by the University of Waikato. This is innovative and may give us insight into an approach to driver education that could have value.

If this type of frontal lobe training was shown to have a worthwhile and lasting effect on young driver risk-taking, it would be a useful addition to our portfolio of road safety measures.

I look forward to hearing the results of this when it becomes available.

The road toll has been trending down over the last 20 years and it would appear that the majority of drivers are getting the message about speed and alcohol. In 2006, the road toll was the lowest for nearly 50 years, which was great news. But last year, this trend was reversed, we had an 8% increase and 423 people lost their lives on our road.

This was heartbreaking for the families and friends of the victims – and a tragic way to end 2007.

Sadly 2008 hasn’t started well. We are already tracking ahead of last year’s road toll with the number of deaths up by more than a dozen on the same period in 2007. Last weekend, eight people lost their lives on our roads, up from six the previous Easter.

This is a big setback, given the resources that are being put into road safety.

What you see, and the nation hears about most weekends, is the disturbing trend of young and novice drivers being over-represented in the road toll. The so-called ‘boy racer’ cult is growing and so are the fatalities resulting from some lawless and anti social behaviour that seems to be part of this cult. Youth have always loved cars and that’s fine – I do too. But a minority of young people don’t seem to get the message that they’re not immortal.

Having raised the subject of ‘boy racers’, I want to talk about this issue which is getting its fair share of headlines at the moment.

Over the last few years, the noise created by ‘boy racers’ – particularly those with modified exhausts on their cars – has become a major headache for communities around New Zealand. Society has had enough, which is why the Government has put in places rules which will outlaw these noisy modified exhaust systems.

From the beginning of June, owners of vehicles with modified noisy exhausts will have to repair their exhaust or pay for a metered noise test to ensure that the exhaust isn’t louder than 95 decibels. If it fails the metered test, the exhaust will need fixing to meet or better that limit, and only then will the vehicle get a warrant of fitness.

Last month I announced government plans to introduce a series of further changes to speed up the introduction of quieter vehicles, and to penalise those who refuse to comply with the controls coming in on 1 June.

Included in these proposals is the green light for Police to be able to direct a noisy vehicle to undergo a metered test. If the exhaust is louder than 95 decibels, it will need fixing to meet a stricter limit of 90 decibels before the vehicle’s allowed back on the road.

These new measures, which show the Government really wants to tackle this problem, will be consulted on as part of the normal process, and could be in place by mid-2009.

Some groups will say the 1 June Rule doesn’t go far enough, while others will say it goes too far. I say the Government has steered a middle course by setting a noise limit that won’t penalise a large group of vehicle owners who do not cause problems, while getting cars deliberately modified to be noisy off our streets.

Another issue I want to raise is the question of compulsory third party vehicle insurance.

The insurance industry estimates that the cost of uninsured motorists is between 53 and 85 million dollars a year. At the moment, more than a quarter of the vehicles in New Zealand are not insured, and the insurance industry says a large number of the uninsured drivers are known to be high-risk drivers.

I believe that compulsory third party vehicle insurance is a key element in getting people to take greater responsibility for their driving behaviour, especially younger drivers. As far as I can establish we are the only developed country that has no compulsory insurance regime for motor vehicles.

In most countries that have it, young and novice drivers and drivers with a poor claims record have a loading on their premiums. As the premiums for high performance vehicles will be more expensive, these may also act as an encouragement for drivers to purchase less powerful vehicles.
I expect to be releasing a discussion document on this issue shortly and will, of course, welcome your feedback.

I want to finish by saying the Government is well aware it has set an ambitious target of reducing the number of fatalities on our roads to 300 by the 2010. This is a challenge, but it’s not for lack of effort on the part of politicians, policy makers, engineers and enforcement agencies.

You know that there are no simple answers to the issues I have mentioned this afternoon. We can only make so many laws, we have a limited number of people to enforce them and an official cannot be there every time someone looks like making a bad decision.

While the Government has a key role to play in road safety, the community must also play its part. There’s a need to educate people to recognise the limits of their experience, and to know that not all roads are equal and that they need to drive to the conditions.

Above all, people need to take responsibility for their actions.

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today – I look forward to continuing the positive relationship that I enjoy with your organisation, and I’m now happy to take any questions.


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