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New Zealand’s 'Third World' Roads Claim More Innocent Lives

The police and government are pushing discredited road safety strategies, says the car review website dogandlemon.com.

Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson, who is an outspoken road safety campaigner, says:

“For years we’ve been told that lowering speeds and a heavy enforcement of speed limits would lower the annual road toll. This has proved to be untrue."

Matthew-Wilson gave the example of Saturday’s tragic head-in collision that killed three members of the same family.

“The simple fact is: if there had been a median barrier on that stretch of road, this accident could not have occurred. As I’ve been saying for years, New Zealand’s roads are like a staircase without a handrail: you make a mistake, you’re probably going to get hurt.”

Matthew-Wilson adds that the police anti-speed messaging is consistently based on doubtful science.

“If the police ‘speed kills’ theory were true, then one of the fastest legal roads in the country: the Waikato Expressway (110km/h), would also be the most dangerous. In fact, the opposite is true: the Waikato Expressway is one of the safest roads in the country.”

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“Road safety science tells us two things: safe roads protect people from their own mistakes, and that speed, by itself, is not the problem.

“As a matter of scientific fact, few ordinary motorists cause speed-related fatalities. Almost all speed-related fatalities are caused by a small group of yobbos and reckless motorcyclists, and they’re often blotto when they crash. Yobbos and blotto drivers don’t read speed signs, rarely think of consequences and are effectively immune to road safety messages.”

“The government has repeatedly promised to fix our Third World roads but has failed miserably. Now the government is attempting to lower the road toll by lowering speed limits yet again, despite the fact that the widespread lowering of speed limits has not reduced the annual road toll.”

Matthew-Wilson has some good news:

“The overall road toll is actually not as bad as people think. The road toll last year was close to a third of the annual road toll in 1973.”

“While any road deaths are a tragedy, the overall road toll has been trending downwards since the 1980s. In 1973 the New Zealand population was around three million, but the road toll was 843. In 2021, the population was round five million but the road toll was 319.”

“Drivers have not improved. The big improvements have been in the cars, roads and the medical system.”

“I’d like to say enforcement has also improved, but the police simply aren’t doing their job in many cases. In country areas, drinking and driving are often normal, and the locals generally get away with it. The police have also failed to effectively enforce seatbelt laws or laws against the use of cellphones while driving. However, the police are very good at issuing millions of speeding tickets, even though 85% of the road toll occurs below the speed limit.”

“Despite the overall downward trend, the annual highs and lows of the road toll tend to follow the economy. Right now, there’s a lot of building going on. That means lots of builder’s labourers with money to spend on booze, drugs and fast cars. It means lots of trucks carrying heavy freight down highways. The housing boom has also paid for middle-aged men to buy large motorbikes. This group are killing themselves at a typical rate of about one a week. “

The simple graph that explains the road toll | Scoop

“As the economy dips into recession, the annual road toll will almost certain dip with it. In the meantime, we have national roading system that belongs in the Third World. We also have a trail of broken promises from the government, and a trail of disproved theories from the police.”

“Let’s be clear, one a tiny group of motorists causing most road speed-related deaths, and this tiny group tends to drive at insane speeds. But this tiny group is not the average driver. Ticketing a family for going 3km/h over the speed limit does nothing to lower road toll, but it alienates ordinary motorists.”

"I appreciate that the police are totally sincere in wanting to save lives. However, they need to accept that the current police and government strategies are clearly not working. It’s time for both the police and government to take a deep breath and change the direction of our national road safety strategy.”

Matthew-Wilson is also frustrated that both the police and the government ignore simple, affordable and effective ways of substantially reducing the road toll.

Cars with Daytime Running Lights on are up to 25% less likely to end up in fatal daytime collisions, yet this simple lifesaving technology isn’t even on the government’s agenda. What’s gone wrong with our government?”


• Clive Matthew-Wilson has been actively campaigning on road safety and consumer issues for 25 years. Mentored by engineer Chris Coxon (former technical chair and founding member of the Australian New Car Assessment Program – ANCAP), Matthew-Wilson was the first person to publish crash test results in New Zealand. His research into seatbelt upgrades was awarded by the Australian Police Journal. Matthew-Wilson is a strong supporter of pedestrians’ and cyclists’ rights and has helped shape many major road safety policies in New Zealand.



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