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Next steps needed to further reduce road trauma

Next steps needed to further reduce road trauma

New Zealand must keep moving forward with new road safety measures in order to save more lives and prevent more injuries in the years ahead, says the country's highest level road safety advisory panel.

While significant gains have been made in reducing deaths and injuries over the past decade, the National Road Safety Committee (NRSC) says the progress will not continue without new measures. The NRSC is comprised of Police Commissioner Rob Robinson, Director of Land Transport Safety David Wright, Transit New Zealand Chief Executive Robin Dunlop, ACC Chief Executive Garry Wilson, Secretary for Transport Alastair Bisley, Transfund New Zealand Chief Executive Wayne Donnelly and Local Government New Zealand Acting CEO Kinsley Sampson.

The NRSC is currently preparing a package of recommendations for the Minister of Transport aimed at helping Government reach its road safety goals of no more than 300 deaths and 4,500 hospitalisations per year by 2010.

NRSC Chairman David Wright said that while the hard work of the last decade had paid off, new measures were needed to continue driving road deaths and injuries down.

"New Zealand's road fatality rate is down nearly 50 percent since 1990, in spite of significant increases in population, on-road vehicles and kilometres driven. These gains haven't come on their own - they're the result of new enforcement measures, engineering works, road safety education and advertising, vehicle safety advances and community programmes.

NRSC statement two of three

"Had these measures not been introduced, and had fatality rates remained at 1990 levels, traffic growth would have pushed annual deaths up from 729 in 1990 to an estimated 900 last year, instead of the record low of 404.

"Just as new measures were needed years ago to get us where we are today, new measures are needed now to take us where we want to be in 2010. We simply cannot move forward without taking new steps."

The NRSC's recommendations for reaching the 2010 road safety goals will include proposals for new measures in the areas of education, engineering and enforcement.

New novice driver education programmes are currently being trialled by ACC and the Land Transport Safety Authority, which could be expanded if proved successful. New education campaigns targeting all road users are also being explored.

Options in the road engineering field include programmes aimed at eliminating dangerous roadside hazards, the creation of "clear zones", more passing lanes and more median barriers to separate traffic flows, and an accelerated programme for improving crash blackspots.

Transit New Zealand is developing and trialling a roadside hazard management programme to decrease the chance of injury when vehicles leave the highway. A trial of median cable barriers on two lane highways is also underway, aimed at reducing the incidence of deadly head-on crashes. Minor works like resurfacing roads, clearing vegetation, improving road markings, signage and visibility at intersections can also have a major impact on safety. There is also an increased focus on providing a safer road environment for cyclists and pedestrians.

Mr Wright said new enforcement measures are also needed to target speed and drink-driving - still the top two contributing factors to road deaths and injuries.

"Impaired drivers and speeding drivers are a plague on this country's roads, and if we're serious about reducing road deaths and injuries we must do more to change their behaviour."

NRSC statement three of three

The NRSC will be recommending that the Minister look closely at new interventions targeting recidivist drink-drivers, as well as the benefits of a lower legal alcohol limit as a deterrent to drink-driving. The Committee will also be urging the Minister to consider an expanded role for speed cameras in order to drive home the message that speeding is dangerous, unacceptable behaviour which will not go unpunished.

A review conducted by the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) last year found that New Zealand's speed camera programme has been effective in reducing speeds and road trauma. The review can be viewed on-line at www.oag.govt.nz.

The OAG review also found that a trial of hidden speed cameras conducted in the former Midland Police Region (covering Waikato, Bay of Plenty and the East Coast) from 1997 to 2000 resulted in a 19 percent drop in open road casualties. The most recent estimates suggest that the introduction of hidden speed cameras throughout New Zealand would result in an annual reduction of 20 road deaths and 170 injuries.

While critics of speed cameras complain that their objective is to collect revenue, the Auditor-General's report concluded that there is no evidence to substantiate these claims.

One of the options the NRSC will be including in its package of recommendations is alternative penalties to monetary fines for some speed camera offences, such as demerit points.

While there is no "magic bullet" which will achieve the Government's goals for 2010 on its own, the NRSC believes that together with new driver education and road safety engineering programmes, speed and alcohol enforcement must form part of a balanced approach to reducing deaths and injuries on New Zealand roads in the years ahead.

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