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How likely is it, do you think, that the people at Waka Kotahi are at work today thinking twice about those stupid road safety ads they’ve been pouring money into?
Do you think any of them arrived at the office this morning, after that absolutely horrific road smash on State Highway 1 yesterday, and sent around an email saying let’s get together later today and think about how we can do this better?
Nope. That won’t be happening today. Despite the fact that we had the worst road accident in the South Island in more than 20 years and one of the deadliest ever in this country.
Seven people dead after a van apparently crossed the centre line and ploughed head-on into a truck, south of Picton. An absolute tragedy. For those killed and injured - but also their wider family who, we understand, had already been dealing with bereavement before yesterday morning.
You will have heard that those involved in the crash yesterday were returning home to the North Island after being in Dunedin for a funeral.
And let’s not forget the truck driver who got away with minor injuries but imagine being that person today. This will stick with them for the rest of their life. And it’s possible, isn’t it, that they’ll never be able to get behind the wheel again. What a traumatic experience.
In the meantime, Waka Kotahi and the Government will press on with their “Road to Zero” campaign, despite the likes of motor racing legend-turned-road safety campaigner Greg Murphy saying today that zero road deaths will never happen. It’s “unachievable’ - that’s the word he used when he spoke with Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB.
This is what he said about Waka Kotahi. Quote: “They’re spending millions of taxpayers money on horrible advertising campaigns that are not making one iota of difference. They’re scared to go down the path of actually providing people with a better base level of understanding, training and awareness to actually understand why it’s so important to pay attention and do the things that we should be doing.”
He says the likes of Waka Kotahi are stuck in the same tunnel vision they’ve been stuck in for decades.
But Greg Murphy will know, like the rest of us, that there isn’t a single answer to all of this. Sure, I get what he’s saying about driver training. I’m not saying drivers don’t have to play their part too but, let’s face it, as long as there are humans behind the wheel, there will always be crashes.
No amount of TV advertising or “Road to Zero” slogans or even driver training will change that. Pretty much everybody will say they have the best intentions whenever they get behind the steering wheel. Who doesn’t?
But as you know, and as I know, we all get distracted. We all do, whether we like to admit or not.
So, because of that, there are other factors that need to be thought about - and I think the state and design of our roads is another thing that needs our attention.
As Greg Murphy himself was saying, State Highway 1 - which is supposed to be the roading equivalent of the main trunk line - it would be a secondary road in other parts of the world.
Narrow. 30km/h corners, 20km/h corners. Cars sharing the road with trucks that are designed in the US and Europe to be used on freeways and motorways and autobahns. Not the toytown roads we have in the country.
So the challenge is trying to do everything we can to stop all these vehicles ploughing into each other. That’s where I think median barriers come into it. In fact, I’ll go further than that - I actually think median barriers are a no-brainer.
I know one commentator has already come out today and said if there was a median barrier where that crash happened yesterday, then chances are seven people wouldn’t have died.
Who knows for sure? But if there had been a median barrier there - then the chances of that car coming into contact with that truck would have been much less.
Which is why I’m convinced that median barriers would make a world of difference. Yes, they would be expensive and, yes, knowing how we do things here in New Zealand - they would be way over-engineered.
But if they stopped head-on crashes, why wouldn’t you install them all the way up and down State Highway One? And that would just be the starting point, if I had my way, if money was no object, I’d like to see median barriers pretty much everywhere.
You think wouldn’t make a difference? Of course they would. Less overtaking, therefore, less head-on smashes. And if a driver gets sleepy or has a medical issue, there’d be something solid between them and the other traffic coming towards them.
It is an absolute no-brainer as far as I’m concerned, an expensive no-brainer, sure, but what price on a life? What price on seven lives? And what price on the impact yesterday’s terrible crash will have on many, many people, for many years to come?