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Our Year-10 Road-Safety Report Card: A Fatal Fail

Our Year-10 Road-Safety Report Card: A Fatal Fail

Ten years ago the Government approved a target to reduce the death toll on New Zealand’s roads below 300 per annum by 2010, and hospitalisation rates below 4500 a year.

As a nation we’ve made progress but we will fall badly short of that target, where leading nations like Sweden and the UK have achieved equally ambitious targets. New Zealand’s failure is largely attributable to misplaced investment priorities and a lack of political guts.

That’s the view of TRAFINZ (the Traffic Institute of New Zealand) President, and Wellington City Councillor, Andy Foster on the eve of the Institute’s annual conference in Wellington, starting tomorrow (Monday).

Cr Foster says the conference will involve some serious soul-searching. “Hundreds of people continue to be needlessly killed on our roads – and thousands maimed – largely because politicians haven’t had the courage to make some decisions that, on the face of it, might initially be unpopular.

“However we think there’s a lot of support for action. Surely our Government should be valuing us as highly as the leaders of other nations value their citizens. It seems too many are almost comfortable with a certain number of deaths and injuries. 370 people died in the last 12 months, and thousands more were injured badly enough to require hospital treatment.”

Cr Foster says TRAFINZ predicted we would fail to meet the targets as long ago as 2005. “It was obvious the then government was not acting on most of the proposals in the strategy, written in 2000 by the-then Land Transport Safety Authority. The Government knew it too and did a mid term review (by Jeanne Breen) and a wide consultation exercise. (‘See You There - Safe As’). However when presented by their safety agencies (Police, Transfund, ACC etc) with a range of initiatives they essentially ducked the lot.”

Most of the blame for our continuing high road toll has to be borne by the previous Labour-led government – because they had eight years to take action. However while the present National-led government is doing some good things in terms of road safety – it is also showing worrying signs of not being able to make some tough calls to save lives.

“The current Government is starting to take action. We’re starting to see moves made on alcohol, and driver training for example, but too hesitantly - and its road investment programme is a huge opportunity missed. The social cost of crashes sits stubbornly in the $4 – 4.6 billion range. That is far in excess of the cost of congestion to the economy, and yet that (congestion) is where all the resources are going.

“There is much that is good in the new Safer Journeys 2020 Strategy, especially finally adopting the Safe Systems Approach. It is great to see the official recognition that we can’t just keep blaming drivers for making mistakes, however stupid, but that system owners – lawmakers, road authorities, police, vehicle suppliers etc - all have to step up and take responsibility The thought is great – the challenge TRAFINZ poses is that we put the thoughts into action.”

Some obvious current concerns are:

The biggest is the allocation of roading investment money being largely to capacity increase and far too little for safety improvements.

The time being taken to implement announced initiatives such as the left hand turn rule. This should probably be implemented before next year’s Rugby World Cup and the large numbers of international visitors we’re expecting.

While we are pleased with some of the moves on alcohol, TRAFINZ is disappointed the Government is deferring reducing the blood alcohol level from 0.08 to 0.05, when we know it will save at least 35 lives and 1200 injuries every year. Surely most other leading countries can’t be wrong! Now would be the perfect time given all the focus on alcohol abuse.

We have concerns about increasing weights of heavy truck loads and risk posed to other road users.

The time it is taking to allow red light cameras to be widely installed.

The compliance regimes around installing school safety zones.

“We now have a new decade and a new opportunity with the Government’s new Safer Journeys 2010 – 2020 Strategy. We have themed this year’s conference ‘10 Years to Change Our World’. In addition to the new Road Safety Strategy this decade is also widely recognised as the crucial decade in which we need to make some real responses to climate change to forestall even worse problems.

The conference features four international keynote speakers. Tony Bliss, one of the architects of the 2000 Strategy, is now Lead Road-Safety Specialist at the World Bank. He is expected to give his views on our politicians’ performance. Cr Foster predicts the comments won’t be particularly flattering. He says the World Health Organisation has predicted that man-made transportation system failures will be the single greatest taker of human life world wide by 2020. “It seems we are increasingly able to beat disease but not transportation crashes within our own man-made systems.”

Some of the recommendations in the 2000 report included: Reducing the speed limit on most of our open roads to 90 kmh Banning the import of cheap, outdated, second-hand cars with inadequate safety features Installing long stretches of relatively-cheap highway barriers Reducing the drink-drive limit to 50mg/litre of breath More median and edge barriers on our open roads Enhanced training for learner-drivers Raising the minimum driving age

The conference features a superb range of New Zealand and international speakers. Other international keynote speakers are:

Soames Job – (Australia) Director Road Safety, Roads and Traffic Authority – “The Australian Safe Systems Approach”

Eric Howard – (Australia) Consultant and previous CE Victoria Roads – “Changing mindsets now to slash fatalities to 2020 and beyond.”

Javier Sachez-Ferragut Andreu (Spain) President of TISPOL – The European Traffic Police Network – “The European Approach to Road Policing”

We’d also expect particular interest in:

The Minister of Transport – Hon Steven Joyce The Political Panel Discussion (Tuesday 3.30 pm – at Parliament – to arrange access please contact conference organisers in advance)

Chief executives and senior officials from all key government agencies (Police, NZTA, MOT, ACC)

The conference features two workshop sessions concluding with ‘Where to from here?’ focussing on practical responses to both Safer Journeys and Climate Change.

Also of media interest will be the HMI Awards and TRAFINZ Awards at the Conference Dinner on Monday night.

Conference sponsor HMI Technologies has offered two school safety packages worth around $50,000 apiece, one each for the North and South Islands. Proposals are combined efforts between councils and schools. Videos will be on show throughout the conference.

ENDS

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