Mike's Minute: What are we actually doing about our road toll?

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 18 June 2019, 9:33AM

I think we have enough information to suggest that the speed call - that is the lowering of limits to 80km/h and 60km/h - to help solve our road toll is yet another headline-grabbing sop.

It's designed to make people look like they might be doing something, apart from just sitting around fretting.

The road toll, of course, is bad. But it has been worse. And the road toll gets a lot of attention, and increasingly so, not because we are determined to lower it, but because we haven't been able to lower it, and thus we've become fixated with it. Therefore, we come up with increasingly irrational answers.

So in just the past week we've been delivered a few facts. It's not like these facts haven't been available, it's just we don't pay attention to them until we have another bad weekend on the roads, the media pumps out yet another headline, and the road lobby groups leap on board.

There have been no deaths on the new multi-lane 110km/h roads with median strips. None. Conclusion? Quality roads reduce the death toll.

At the weekend, North Canterbury police picked up 16 drunks in two hours. Conclusion? No matter what the fines and warnings, there are some people who can't help themselves.

We are too soft on drunk drivers, but when you take that North Canterbury number, and look at the death and injury toll through drink and drugs, it is an alarming contribution.

And now, the quality of cars. Our fleet is old - the last time I checked about 14 years old. As a comparison, my understanding is that in Australia it's 10 years. What makes this worrisome is that second-hand cars are cheaper than Australia. So why aren't we buying better cars?

The opening up of the used Japanese market revolutionised car buying here. It made cars genuinely accessible. Unfortunately, we like cheap, and cheap is trouble. Dangerous cars with low safety ratings add to our injury and death rate.

And not to excuse the death or injury rate, but what most of us forget each time we angst publicly about it, is we have more people on the roads and we have never had more cars. More cars means more crashes.

So if we were to be honest about all this, there are things we can do. Build better roads, and get better cars.

And I'm not against Greg Murphy's idea of retesting people. How many accidents happen because people aren't awake or alert? They fundamentally treat driving as a lark, and do stupid things? How many of us would fail a test if we re-sat one after 30 years behind the wheel? How many crashes happen because a kid got a cooked-up engine because they're cheap, and drove like an idiot?

And we want to blame the speed limit? It's not the speed limit; it's what you do with speed. Many would agree 100km/h is fine if the road is straight, the day is fine, the traffic is clear, and your car is modern. It's not if it's round a tight bend you didn't see coming because you're stoned.

Myriad circumstances collectively make up the picture.

Our obsession with an ideologically driven grab-bag of headline solutions is a problem. We're all talk, no action.


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