Politicians ‘cowards’ over road safety, says campaigner

The road toll will continue to rise until politicians address the real causes of accidents, says the car review website dogandlemon.com.

Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson, who has been campaigning for safer roads and cars for over 20 years, says the public is being deliberately misinformed for political gain.

“Speeding is one of those issues the police and the government use to explain the road toll, yet the facts don’t support this view. In fact, other groups than speeders are a higher risk, yet the police take almost no action.”


Distracted driving demands police attention

The American National Safety Council estimates 26% of all traffic crashes involve drivers using cellphones.

Matthew-Wilson is concerned that the police pay little attention to drivers using cellphones.

“In a recent study, 31% of New Zealand parents admitted having had an accident or a near miss (or knowing someone who has) due to distracted driving, with mobile phone use a major factor. Yet, the police barely enforce the law banning the use of handheld cellphones in cars. Contrast this with the rigid police 5km/h enforcement of the speed limits. It simply doesn’t make sense.”


Boy racers: political fodder

Matthew-Wilson says the reason the police and politicians target groups such as boy racers, while largely ignoring cellphone use, was simply politics.

“It’s quite simple: mobile phone users are more likely to be voters, while boy racers are not.”

Matthew-Wilson says the boy racer phenomenon in the early twenty-first century, which gave rise to legislation allowing the government to crush the cars of offenders, was a classic example of politicians using road safety issues for political gain.

“The simple facts are: in their worst year (2007), boy racers were responsible for nine deaths, and 91 injuries. By comparison, in 2014, senior road users (75 years and over) accounted for 32 deaths and 478 injuries.”

“The government gained a huge number of votes by targeting boy racers, a group that wasn’t actually a major cause of road deaths. Worse, the government conveniently ignored groups that were a far higher risk. The public was deliberately misinformed.”



“If you ask the average voter the major cause of road deaths, they’d probably say: ‘illegal speeding’. In fact, the reverse is true. About 80% of the road toll occurs below, not above, the speed limit. Of the 20% of accidents that occur above the speed limit, almost all are caused by either yobbos, impaired drivers or outlaw motorcyclists.”

A 2009 AA analysis of fatal accidents stated:

“government advertising suggests you should be grateful to receive a speeding ticket because it will save your life. In fact, exceeding speed limits aren’t a major issue. Police surveying has found that even the top 15% of open-road speeders average under the 110km/h ticketing threshold.”   

Matthew-Wilson  adds:

“The government and the police deliberately misrepresent reality by defining speeding as: ‘driving too fast for the conditions’. So, any accident where someone loses control is defined almost automatically as a speeding accident, even though the driver may have been driving cautiously and be well below the speed limit.”


Trucks pose danger

Matthew-Wilson says the endless publicity about speeding takes the attention away from other major causes of road deaths.

“For example,  20% of the road toll involves trucks. According to the government’s own studies, many of these trucks don’t need to be driving our main roads. Trucks are there because the government’s transport policy is effectively run by the trucking industry. That’s why the government is so quick to build new truck-friendly roads and so slow to fund rail. The facts state that rail is both vastly more efficient and vastly better from a road safety perspective.”

“The government is predicting that freight across New Zealand's roads is going to increase by 78% in the next 25 years, This, inevitably, will mean even more fatal crashes.”

Matthew-Wilson says the government’s truck-friendly policies also hold up urgent roading upgrades.

“Many fatalities involve a driver either colliding with an oncoming vehicle, or running off the road. A study by Monash University of the effectiveness of roadside fencing and median barriers concluded that: “reductions of up to 90% in death and serious injury can be achieved, with no evidence of increased road trauma for motorcyclists.”

“Truck drivers are often under heavy pressure from management to deliver loads on time, even though this forces them to work long hours and to drive in a potentially unsafe manner. When a safety improvement slows down truck drivers, their industry leaders complain bitterly to the government, and the government listens. That's why the government would often rather build a new, wider road than fix an existing road, even though the existing road could often be fixed for a fraction of the price.” 

 “Funding the rail network on the same basis as the state highways would enable Kiwirail – and other companies – to utilise rail to move non-perishable goods speedily and cheaply, as well as reducing the number of trucks on the road.


Older bikers a major risk

Matthew-Wilson believes older bikers should face far tougher license tests.

“In both 2015 (52) and 2016 (50), over 50 motorcyclists were killed on the country's roads. A large majority of those killed were aged between 40-59.

Matthew-Wilson is also concerned that the government has spent $3.5 million on motorcycle training, when it is widely accepted internationally that advanced training for motorcyclists has little or no effect on the number of crashes.

“This has been demonstrated in study after study, and the road toll speaks for itself.”


Seatbelts & cellphones major issues

Matthew-Wilson says that, rather than focusing mainly on speed, the police should instead refocus on critical issues, such drivers using cellphones and people not wearing seatbelts.

Matthew-Wilson says scary ad campaigns are useless.

“Let me be perfectly clear: almost every credible study ever done has concluded that road safety ads don’t work.”

Instead of fining drivers who use handheld cellphones, Matthew-Wilson believes the police should have the power to permanently seize cellphones being used by drivers while a vehicle is in motion.

 “The police already have the power to seize vehicles that are being used dangerously; why not cellphones as well?”


Matthew-Wilson is equally concerned at the number of people not wearing seatbelts.

“100 of the people who died on our roads last year were not wearing seatbelts. That’s just insane. Rather than fining drivers, which doesn't work with the highest risk offenders, the police should first issue several warnings to people not wearing seatbelts. After several warnings, the police should have the power to temporarily impound vehicles where seatbelts are not in use. This would modify behaviour very quickly, I think.”