Time to get serious about road safety

The police should have the power to temporarily impound vehicles for seatbelt violations and permanently seize cellphones used by drivers in moving vehicles, says the car review website dogandlemon.com.


Dogandlemon.com editor Clive Matthew Wilson, who is an outspoken road safety campaigner, is horrified by the recent road toll. He says New Zealand should follow the Swedish strategy and make road safety a higher priority than transport efficiency.


“In New Zealand, the roads are treated like pipes; the more vehicles down the pipe the better. The end result of this strategy is lots of unnecessary road deaths.”


 “Many New Zealand roads are like a staircase without a handrail: you make a mistake, you’re probably going to get hurt.”


“We also need to make it harder for bad drivers to get behind the wheel of a car.”


Matthew-Wilson believes the road toll could be halved in five years if his fourteen-step plan was put into action.


1.      Installing median barriers and roadside fencing should be a top priority on all major highways.

Separating opposing lanes of traffic almost always reduces the number of road deaths, even though it makes no difference to the number of bad drivers on the road.


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.”


Matthew-Wilson says the government currently only installs median barriers in places where trucks won’t be forced to slow down due to a narrower road. As a result, he says, many of the most dangerous roads, such as State Highway 2 in the Bay of Plenty, remain without this vital road safety technology.


"The government has to choose between keeping trucks moving fast or keeping ordinary motorists alive."


2.     Install rumble strips at the edges of road lanes

Rumble strips, which warn drivers when they are drifting out of their lane, are a proven road safety measure that costs comparatively little.


Rumble strips are also highly effective at warning motorists of oncoming intersections.

 "While the government has installed rumble strips in many locations, there are still multiple high-risk roads that lack this life-saving technology."


3. Separate cyclists from other vehicles and also from pedestrians.

“Cyclists are highly vulnerable when using public roads. The only real way to protect cyclists from ongoing carnage is to separate them from motorists. Cycle lanes are a good start, but ultimately, there needs to be a physical barrier between cyclists and car users, so the two can’t collide.”


4. Prioritise pedestrian safety.

“We need to urgently address the horror of pedestrian deaths on New Zealand roads.”

“Between 2006 and 2015, almost four times as many pedestrians (348) as cyclists (90) were killed on New Zealand roads. Pedestrian deaths among people over 65 (104) also outnumbered total cyclist deaths (90) over that period.”


5. Prioritise the safety of elderly road users.

In 2014, road users aged over 60 (including pedestrians, cyclists and passengers) made up 83 of the 294 total fatalities for that year. That was over a quarter of the road toll. Overseas studies suggest if an 85-year-old driver and an 18-year-old driver make the same one kilometre trip, the 85-year-old faces a greater risk of crashing and about the same risk of dying.

However, due to a lack of alternatives, many elderly people are still driving cars, even though they may pose an extraordinary risk to themselves and other motorists.

As with disabled pedestrians, elderly pedestrians are also at a high risk when crossing roads. The best evidence suggests they’re often innocent victims of a roading system that treats pedestrians as third class citizens.


6. Allow the police to temporarily impound vehicles in which the occupants are not wearing seatbelts.

“A high percentage of people who die in car accidents are not wearing seatbelts. The current strategy of fining the occupants is clearly not working. In fact, the best evidence suggests fines don’t work for the highest risk groups. Temporarily impounding offenders’ vehicles is likely to have a powerful effect on compliance with seatbelt laws."


7. Make reversing cameras compulsory on all vehicles. Evidence suggests reversing cameras are the most effective way of eliminating the blind spots that often lead to driveway tragedies.

Matthew-Wilson believes reversing cameras should be compulsory on all cars, with subsidies for those on low incomes. The government could bulk-buy the cameras and then on-sell them to ordinary motorists at a reduced cost. For parents, reversing camera installation could be arranged at the same time as baby car seats were installed.


8. Reduce the number of heavy trucks to a minimum.

Trucks make up about 2.5% of the vehicle fleet but cause around 20% of all road deaths. 


The government’s own studies show that transporting goods by sea freight and rail is far more efficient than transporting goods by truck.


“While truck drivers are generally very skilled and courteous to other motorists, the current system effectively pits cars and trucks against each other. The truck driver may not be at fault, but when a car and a truck collide, size wins.”


9. Allow the police to permanently confiscate hand-held cellphones used by drivers in a moving vehicle.

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


“The current system of occasionally fining illegal cellphone users is clearly not working. However, the possibility of losing their cellphone would provide drivers with a powerful motivation to leave their phone switched off.”


10.  Require all vehicles to operate with daytime running lights

According to an Australian study, daytime running lights can reduce fatal daytime accidents by 25%. They are also cheap and easy to install.


11. Ban motorists from driving vehicles for 24 hours after they arrive from an overseas destination.

Driving tired is as dangerous as driving drunk. Rental car firms would not be allowed to rent a car to a drunk driver, but are allowed to rent a car to a traveller who’s liable to fall asleep and kill someone. This is just wrong.”


12. Require all drivers – including New Zealanders – to pass a simple, computer-based competency test before being allowed to rent vehicles


Matthew-Wilson believes such a test would not contravene international drivers’ licence agreements, as it is not putting the driver’s existing licence under scrutiny, Instead it would test the driver’s awareness just before a vehicle was rented.


“A breathalyzer device tests whether you’re safe to be driving. A computerised competency test would work much the same way; assessing whether you were alert and competent enough to be behind the wheel of a car.”


13. Require all rental vehicles to be fitted with Electronic Stability Control

Many older rental vehicles lack basic safety protections, such as side airbags and electronic stability control (ESC). Given that ESC can reduce the chances of a fatal collision by up to 55%, the government needs to look seriously at measures to control the age of the rental vehicle fleet and ensure that all vehicles have appropriate safety features.”


14. Empower Maori communities to train their own drivers.

Maori are heavily over-represented in road fatalities. Matthew-Wilson believes that Maori must be funded and empowered to provide community-based driver training.

“The current driver’s licence system was designed by and for average white New Zealanders, and it often doesn’t work well for other groups."