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John MacDonald: This is where our driver education is failing

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Tue, 2 Apr 2024, 12:31PM
Photo / Stuart Munroe | File
Photo / Stuart Munroe | File

John MacDonald: This is where our driver education is failing

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Tue, 2 Apr 2024, 12:31PM

It was a tragic Easter for some, with seven people dying on the roads - the highest Easter toll in three years, and the second highest in 14. 

The worst was on State Highway 8 at Pukaki. Three people died at the scene and a fourth person died in hospital. 

I know exactly where that crash happened because we drove that stretch of road countless times when the kids were rowing, and we were up and down to Twizel almost every second weekend. 

And I saw some shocking driving on that road. Not just at Pukaki. But in that general area. 

Now I’m not having a go at anyone involved in that crash —or anyone involved in any of the crashes, for that matter— because I don’t know what happened, what caused them, all of that. 

But I do know something, and it has struck me that it is absolutely nuts. And it’s the fact that, whether you are experienced at driving or not, you can drive a car on the open road as soon as you get behind the wheel.  

On a learner licence? As long as you’ve got a licenced driver with you, go for your life. On a restricted licence? You don't even need a licenced driver with you if you drive between 5am and 10pm, and you can do that on the open road at speeds up to 90kph or 100kph.  

Often, when we come back after a long weekend —or even during the holiday periods themselves— we talk about what could or should be done to make our roads safer. 

And most of the time people talk about higher fines for speeding, more cops out on the road. Essentially, the big stick approach. Get tough and people will think twice before they do something crazy behind the wheel. 

Median barriers are another thing we often end up talking about. So, it’s either scare people into driving safer with tougher penalties, or keep them away from each other, as much as possible with median barriers, which I'm a big advocate for.  

But has it ever occurred to you how nuts it is that we train and test new drivers on urban 50kph roads, but don’t do any training to prepare them for driving at high speed on highways and motorways? 

I don't think it’s ever struck me before. But it did after seeing where the Easter road toll was at and hearing the cops say they are exasperated by what’s happening on the roads. Especially by what happened at the weekend. 

Road policing director Superintendent Steve Greally is someone you would expect to be upset. He says he’s “utterly disappointed”. Here’s what he said to media yesterday. 

“It beggars belief. I guess that some people just don’t understand the basics - even though they are really simple. Slow down - we can’t say it any other way. 

"This has blown my mind a little bit, we don’t want anymore. This is enough carnage for people to bear.” 

And who isn’t going to agree with that? I’m not. Are you? 

So, if we’re not going to argue with the cop in charge of road safety, who says enough’s enough, what do we do about it? 

One of the things that Superintendent Steve Greally has been talking about is “red mist”. This is where anger clouds our judgement. And he was saying that, if people get affected by red mist when they’re behind the wheel, they should take an extra day’s leave. 

But, if you’re someone who loses their rag behind the wheel, it’s not going to make any difference whether you drive back home during the holiday weekend or after it. 

I think we should be focusing more on whether we do enough to prepare people for driving on the open road. Because I don’t think we do. In fact, I know we don’t - because we don’t do anything! 

We teach people how to use a vehicle —generally on 50kph roads— we make them learn the road rules, then they sit a test on those road rules, and then we test their driving on the 50kph roads they learnt to drive on. If they do all that, away they go.   

Which is nuts. We can dish out as many speeding tickets as we like but, if we’re going to keep on doing things the way we are now, in terms of preparing people for driving at high speeds on open roads, then Superintendent Steve Greally is going to be just as exasperated in five years time, as he is now. 

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