Peter Dunne outlines what a truly effective road safety strategy needs to focus on

Peter Dunne outlines what a truly effective road safety strategy needs to focus on

By Peter Dunne*

The Government's new plans to improve road safety are certainly controversial.

They include a variety of measures from greater emphasis on public transport, to lowering speed limits and increasing fuel excise taxes to pay for it all.

Leaving aside the issue of whether raising fuel excise taxes breaks the Government's "no new taxes" promise (although the Prime Minister's explanation that fuel excise is not a tax but a duty is unbelievably cute and further evidence of an earnest naiveté that worryingly she evinces all too readily these days) the question is whether the new strategy will address our increasing road toll and promote better road safety.

Over the recent Easter holiday weekend, I did a lot of driving - from Wellington to Auckland and back, and a few other places in-between - so had the opportunity to observe closely what is going on on our roads. Here are my observations.

Most New Zealanders drive pretty responsibly and carefully, but the ones who do not, are extremely bad and dangerous. Frankly, they should not be allowed on the roads at all because of the threat they pose.

Over the weekend, I saw overtaking on blind corners; ridiculous speed just for the sake of it; drivers pulling out from rural side roads into oncoming traffic and then proceeding as they were on a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive; other slow drivers unwilling to pull over to let the mounting queue of motorists behind them, of whom they were obviously oblivious, pass safely.

We have some very good stretches of main highway where driving is a pleasure. But there are significant parts of our main highways that are little more than rickety tar-sealed goat tracks, with unreasonably tight corners, poor vision and inadequate or absent warning signage.

Straightening these roads from the days when they were old coach routes and eliminating the most dangerous aspects of them surely has to be a road safety priority. Indeed, we ought to be aiming to four-lane as much of State Highway One as possible to improve both traffic safety and traffic flow.

Some of the most problematic driving I saw was from long-distance truck and trailer units. I realise that truck drivers are highly skilled, and generally have much better vision from their cabs than the average motorist. But I doubt that I saw any of them complying with the 90 kmh speed limit, nor did I see any Police stopping them. Incredibly, I did see big rigs passing each other on passing lanes, holding up much traffic behind them, then speeding up to avoid being passed.

Surprisingly, despite the egregiously sanctimonious advertisement on television at present, I saw very few Police.

There was a handful of speed cameras, but a physical Police presence seemed noticeably absent. Where they were visible, Police invariably seemed to be stationed at the start and end, or, even worse, the middle, of passing lanes, presumably because that is where the speeding infringement pickings are best.

I realise that the Police do not really like doing road safety, because they do not regard it as "real" Police work, but their lazy and mistaken belief that good road policing is all about speeding infringements (no, I was not caught speeding over the weekend!) rather than promoting good driving behaviours is simplistic and short-sighted. When, for example, have you ever seen the Police pull over the unreasonably slow driver, or the one with the precariously overloaded trailer or ute? No, the speeding motorist is the far easier prey.

A truly effective road safety strategy needs to focus on the following issues: better roading engineering and improved road conditions; getting the serially dangerous drivers off the roads altogether, whatever their age or circumstances; stricter policing of long-distance trucking; and, a change in the Police attitude to a more positive approach to road safety, rather than a continuation of its current infringement centred fixation.

Addressing these issues are specific positive steps to improving road safety and lowering the road toll. Yet none of them seems to feature in this week's Government announcements. So, as you pay your extra fuel taxes in the years to come, you be the judge of whether we really care about road safety in this country.

*Peter Dunne is the former leader of UnitedFuture, an ex-Labour Party MP, and a former cabinet minister. This article first ran here and is used with permission.

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Fascinating - starts with "leaving aside..." the issue of increased taxation - but ends with a dig at the issue of increased taxation.

Once a politician, always a politician.

I agree about 4 laneing as much of SH1 as possible.Travelled to Tokoroa few weeks ago,the hold up at Tirau was unbelievable.
Can't wait for Huntly to be bypassed either.

4 laning is great for moving people, but it’s so expensive that other safety improvements on other roads doesn’t get done hence why the road toll has gone up so much under national

What deferred road safety improvements are you referring to that has an impact on the road toll only over 9 years?

The road toll has been increasing because people turn into complete morons on the road. It’s simple as that. Nothing to do with the roads. Everything to do with an abundance of over inflated egos zooming around thinking they’re experts at pressing pedals/turning a steering wheel and raging about how everyone else going 95 - 99 is a slow driver that should be ticketed.

I don't normally agree with Mr Dunne but in this instance I think he is correct.
A big one for me is how bumpy the state highways are now given the hammering the huge big rigs impose on them.

Get freight off the roads and onto rail. Roads will then be safer and easier to maintain for car users.

I think "we" will be the judge at the next election about this Government efforts. The optics by them (Genter included) are already clearly that they are authentically proactive about taking safety and deaths serious. Thank God the status quo politicians are burning off the scene. Our country needs to move. Enough damage done.


Same old crap getting thrown around, and the real issues getting avoided. How about reducing the number of immigrants so that there is less volume, and less pressure, on our roads. Just another infrastructure cost being ignored to keep the neoliberal ideology afloat as long as possible.

Something that also needs to be looked at is the relationship between LTNZ, ACC, and the Police. My understanding is these organisations provide funding to the Police for road safety, so expect results to be delivered. The only results that can be seen in the short term are tickets, and time sheet entries.

There was a ten year strategic plan in 2000 to lower to road toll to under 300. It failed, apart from a short period when a high oil price kept traffic off the road and made it look good. If you repeat past failures, you will fail again.

Agree on the immigration. National lost the election on that issue alone but won’t admit it. Sadly, Labour has never exactly been the party of restricting immigration, so no hope there either. The reality is that most people will be driving here and not use public transport, so spending on road safety is critical. There are many proven strategies such as better median separations, road design, etc, which can significantly reduce road deaths. This must be a high priority.

Spending the increased petrol tax on light rail and trams in Auckland will obviously reduce the road toll in provincial NZ. Any idiot ought to be able to see that.

Strikes me the road toll has been increasing for about the same amount of time that we have had annual WOFs.

Is your name Greg Murphy?

In my dreams maybe

It will be interesting to see if the Police can do anything about the motorcyclist that wheelied across the Harbour Bridge today, based on the video. If they can, then does that open the way up for everyone with suitable video evidence to assist the Police in getting these muppets off the road? Maybe even incentivise the dobber with a cut of the fine.

Just ban human drivers unless they pass rigorous physics exams under time pressure similar to those experienced when driving into a crash. If they can not even express with workings the physics involved they have no business driving on our roads and endangering human lives.

Just ban humans from using internet banking until they can describe every field of a TCP header, calculate subnet addresses and broadcast addresses on the fly and whistle up a 33kbps modem connection.. (It makes about as much sense as your proposal)

Unfortunately the AI drivers are even more incapable than humans. Bit of a bugger in the actual environment & roads not matching the designed test environment and AI fail more often when unexpected things happen. Fly by wire in planes is an example AI are great right up until they fail and fail due to perceived design conditions by the engineer. Sometimes even engineers & the AI they develop have road accidents. Even when they are in a plane.

"A truly effective road safety strategy needs to focus on the following issues:
better roading engineering and improved road conditions" - it's all a matter of money (excise tax) how quickly it can be done.

"getting the serially dangerous drivers off the roads altogether" - drivers should not be able to reregister a vehicle without having paid their fines. For dangerous driving offences, impound the cars, even if the minimum impoundment is a week upwards.

"whatever their age or circumstances; stricter policing of long-distance trucking;" - NZ has failed to roll out many speed cameras at all - there is never enough police to do the enforcement. Trucks have GPS units or can be made to have them so they can be logged. Companies can then be fined for speeding truck drivers. Also trucks should be banned from using the right lane of a pair of passing lanes.

"and, a change in the Police attitude to a more positive approach to road safety, rather than a continuation of its current infringement centred fixation." - roll out the speed cameras, there will never be enough police, but otherwise I agree. Police need a policy to target the worst offenders, not just pulling over everyone that commits an offence - this may require a law change (or a blind eye).

And, as for four laning SH1 - yes, but it requires an increase in excise tax

Added technology easy to implement.

Average speed camera’s and camera’s on traffic lights for starters. That can provide revenue along with charging new immigrants for tough NZ Driving Test rather than being approved from other jurisdictions.

Drivers dashcam footage should also be allowed to prosecute bad driving.

Also undertaking is dangerous and should be banned as it is in a lot of Europe.

Undertaking is only possible when the driver being undertaken is a complete f-wit that fails to use the left hand lane and is obstructing the flow of traffic.. No need to ban it until the police vigorously enforce those two rules first.

I would put a vote in for a big increase in the number of red light cameras in Auckland. Red light running has gotten to a ridiculous level over the last couple of years. And for some reason, hybrid Toyotas seem to have a blanket exemption to red lights.

As I wrote before, let's have the ability to expand police capability with private video evidence. I'd happily dob in the muppets I see breaking the laws. Heck, give me a cut of the fines and I might make a business out of it.

What would then happen is a spike in mobile use & distraction in vehicles,... sure you can say it is hands free but when you are focusing on a screen or getting good footage and not on driving it is not the distraction of the hands that we should be worried about. It is the guy who needs to capture a good video or picture but takes focus away from the ongoing risks. Even the 555 system is already fraught with false reports, not enough staff to respond to calls, and people trying to capture & get good footage of incidents often becoming distracted. At best 555 is the call if you want to hear the hold music number.

Its all very well calling for slow traffic to pull over , but for long stretches of road it is virtually impossible to do so safely. there needs to be a tarsealed slow bay every few k.m, along with a sign advising its there in advance.,

Sydney's M1 is beautiful, multiple lanes, slow bays, rest stops, truck stops, truck weigh stations, oncoming lane separation, edging alerts & wide safe gaps outside of the road to pull into, large amounts of signage & update alerts, even an alternate route in case of an extreme natural hazard takes out all lanes (plus an alternate train routes for public transport and freight). Even with major road works there are still 6 lanes in operation & lane separation makes it far more safer. Just a shame we have such a limited and highly fragile road system that is not even resilient enough to have one lane go out of operation (or suffer an iffy storm without cutting of entire swathes of the country and leave residents to beg for supplies). There are several other good example roadways but I was driving the M1 just last week and even with Easter traffic & on the road for hours it was beautiful, well engineered, pleasant to drive, & as safe as a low traffic residential street in comparison to NZ's SH1. I remember driving up north and it had washed out and only 1 lane was left on the SH1, for traffic going both directions.