Why the government’s road safety strategy is failing

Road safety strategies targeting the average driver have been a dismal failure, says the car review website dogandlemon.com.

Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson, who is a respected road safety campaigner, says:

“The vast majority of deaths over Christmas involved reckless behaviour. Road crashes involving reckless behaviour are rarely caused by the average driver. Instead, these accidents are usually caused by the very young, the very poor, the very distracted, the very reckless and the very blotto". 

Matthew-Wilson points to multiple studies showing that people with poor education are far more likely to die in crashes. 

 A 2015 American study showed that the road death rate of the least educated was 4.3 times the road death rate of the most educated.

“Tragically, this least educated group is most likely to drive blotto, recklessly and not wear seatbelts. So, if we are to improve long term road safety, we must improve educational outcomes for the poor.”

 “Speed cameras seem like a magic solution, but they’re not: they alienate ordinary motorists without affecting the behaviour of the tiny minority who cause the vast majority of fatal crashes involving speed.”

“For example, in one tragic crash over Christmas, five unbelted young children were thrown from a stolen car that had just been used in a robbery. Could the government please explain how installing mass speed cameras would have prevented this accident?”

"The sad fact is: 85% of fatal accidents occur below the speed limit, and the drivers who cause most speed-related accidents tend to ignore speed limits anyway.”

A 2009 AA analysis of fatal accidents stated that many fatal accidents are 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 licence 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 adds that teaching motorists and riders advanced skills has never been shown to work. "In fact, many studies have shown that teaching drivers and riders advanced skills may actually increase the number of accidents, by making these drivers and riders overconfident."

All the high risk groups are virtually immune to road safety messages. In fact, there is no credible evidence that asking people to drive safely works at all. Multiple studies have shown that the millions spent on road safety messages has simply been wasted.”

Matthew-Wilson believes that reducing the road toll is simple:

Move freight from large trucks onto rail, make it harder to get a motorbike license and re-target enforcement to high-risk groups, such as drivers using cellphones and not wearing seatbelts.”

However, Matthew-Wilson believes that upgrading the highway system is the single most important step in lowering the road toll.

“The government should stop building grand highways, and instead focus on improving the safety of the entire road network. New Zealand’s roads are like a staircase without a handrail; you make a mistake, you’re going to get hurt.”

A study by Monash University of the effectiveness of installing 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 adds that the government has consistently ignored cheap and easy ways of lowering the road toll. 

“Why are commercial vehicles still allowed to have fatal blindspots? Truck drivers often don’t see the cyclists they kill, yet the technology to give drivers 360° vision around their vehicles is easily and cheaply installed.”

“The government has known for twenty years that daytime running lights can reduce daytime accidents by 25%. So why aren’t these lights fitted to every vehicle?”