Slow driving not the safety solution

Friday, April 9, 2021

Truck drivers see it all out on the road every day. They see things they can prevent with quick action, or help with if they get there on time, but they also arrive first at accident scenes that leaving scarring memories.

Driving in New Zealand is a dangerous pastime, as last weekend’s Easter road toll once again illustrated. Eight fatal crashes over the four days. The worst tally for that particular holiday period in a decade.

The government can call for zero road deaths all they want, but from what we see every day, they aren’t going about the solutions the best way possible.

They are fixated on speed and the roading “system”. But people use the roads – on foot, on bikes and scooters, and in cars and trucks of all varieties. While our truck drivers have plenty to say about the roading system, it’s people’s behaviour on the roads and lack of skills to get themselves out of trouble that cause the nightmares.

If we were to fixate on the “system”, roads in many parts of the country are so poor, the only systems-based solution is to have traffic practically crawling. We have now got so many different road speeds in one journey you can be asked to travel at 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 and 100kph. Anyone driving in Wellington and Auckland will attest to the new 30kph speed limit barely registering with drivers. You could walk faster; but that of course, is what they want.

This week, on RNZ Morning Report, the New Zealand Automobile Association called for road maintenance to be a government priority, in light of the appalling Easter road toll. New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom said in an article on Stuff that Taranaki’s roads are reaching a crisis point. In the NZ Herald, AA Northland District Council chairwoman Tracey Rissetto showed a journalist how Northland’s roads are crumbling – the photos with this article say it all.

I guess if the Government were going to really focus on the ‘system’, they’ve got plenty of work to do. We all pay for those roads and we expect them to be in good condition and safe. That is a very different prospect to reducing speed limits all over the land in the hope that if people are going really slowly on those appalling roads when they crash, they won’t die.

At a time when our supply chain is almost broken and our economy needs goods to be flowing freely, slowing everyone down on the road slows the economy down. Journeys cost more. Productivity takes a hit. Costs get passed on down the line to householders. Households spend less money. And round and round it goes in ever smaller circles.

We are well aware you can’t fix stupid. People will get into cars and do stupid things, or walk on highways drunk, or step out under fast moving vehicles, or any manner of foolhardy actions. They will also drive when they are drunk, or on drugs, or both, and when they are tired and distracted and on their phone. The ‘system’ isn’t going to stop that.

What we, and others including New Zealand professional racing car driver Greg Murphy, believe is that you can certainly help stupid. It is well recognised that it is a lot easier to get a driver licence in New Zealand than many other countries. It’s just a piece of paper really.

With that licence needs to come some skills training. New Zealand roads are challenging and you can easily get into trouble driving. But what if you were also taught how to get out of that trouble, like the racing car drivers do? Wouldn’t that make for safer driving?

We believe it would. The road toll statistics aren’t improving. So, let’s take a holistic view of both the system and the people who use it, instead of taking step-by-step to alienate the users in cars and trucks.

By Nick Leggett, CEO RTF