Ticketing mums and dads won’t lower road toll, say experts.

Three respected experts have strongly criticised the police anti-speed ad campaign.

Criminology professor Greg Newbold, road safety campaigner Clive Matthew-Wilson and marketing expert Dr Terry Macpherson, say:

“This feelgood police anti-speeding ad campaign is clearly aimed at happy holiday families. Unfortunately, the government’s own research shows that happy holiday families rarely cause fatal accidents.”

Matthew-Wilson, who edits the car review website dogandlemon.com, adds:

“As a matter of cold, scientific fact, fatal road accidents are mainly caused by five groups: substance abusers, tired drivers, highly reckless drivers, the very young and the very old. All five of these groups are largely immune to road safety messages because they believe they’re already doing okay.”

“Even the police message that speed kills is not particularly scientific. It would be more accurate to say: ‘Excessive speeding, especially by young working-class males who are tired and possibly blotto, kills.’ ”

A 2009 AA study of 300 fatal crashes found:

“It is apparent that [many speed-based road fatalities] were caused by people who don't care about any kind of rules. These are men who speed, drink, don't wear safety belts, have no valid license or WoF - who are basically renegades. They usually end up wrapped around a tree, but they can also overtake across a yellow line and take out other motorists as well.” Matthew-Wilson says the police tv advertisements are based on equally shoddy science.

According to the 2009 AA report:

“road safety messages on TV are often misleading… For example, 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 [previous] 110km/h ticketing threshold.”

Dr Terry Macpherson, a lecturer in marketing at Massey University, says the government has consistently overstated the role that advertising plays in lowering the road toll.

“Advertising is a great way of getting people to do what they already want to do, such as buy hamburgers. However, ads telling people not to do something generally only work if the person watching the ad is already on your side. An example is anti drug campaigns for teenagers, which have been running for decades. On paper, they make perfect sense. In the real world, most studies show they make little or no difference at all.”

“I suppose the worst thing about the current police campaign is that it perpetuates the myth that mums or dads driving the family away on holiday are a major cause of road deaths.”

Matthew-Wilson is deeply concerned at the cynicism behind the police campaign.

“The police know that their campaign is targeting the wrong people, yet they still run the campaign. Why? Possibly because it's great PR and avoids dealing with the real issues.”

Criminology professor Greg Newbold is equally cynical about the police campaign.

Newbold gave the example of Bevan Shane Marino, a South Auckland gang associate who caused a multiple fatality while drunk and on cannabis. Marino's own 3-year old son, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown through the windscreen of the car. Marino was driving erratically and at high speed. His bald left rear tyre punctured and he lost control, killing two German tourists and two of his passengers.

Newbold asks:

“I’d like to know how ticketing mothers for going 5km over the speed limit can prevent accidents like this.”

Matthew-Wilson adds:

"However much the government tries to massage the figures, the reality is that about 80% of fatalities occur at speeds below the legal limit. Of the 20% of fatal accidents that occur over the speed limit, most involve either motorcyclists, or working-class males on the edge of the criminal community who are often blotto or tired or both. The government’s own studies show this.”

“The police point to lower road tolls over the last five years as proof that their anti-speed strategy is working. Actually, the government’s own figures show that average speeds haven’t dropped significantly in the last five years. The recent drop in the road toll is simply a continuation of a downward trend that started in the late 1980s.”

“Most international studies have shown that the lower road tolls are a combination of safer cars, safer roads and factors like higher fuel costs. Due to higher fuel costs, the highest risk groups tend to make fewer long journeys by car.”

Matthew-Wilson says the major safety benefit of a high police presence over holiday weekends is that it discourages high-risk drivers from using main roads during this time. However, he says, this effect soon wears off.

“Ticketing thousands of otherwise law-abiding motorists will have little effect on the relatively small group of drivers who cause most fatalities.”

“The police should relax their obsession with speed, and instead target high risk behaviour, which includes activities such as unwise overtaking and refusing to let faster motorists overtake.”