Honk for a speed camera

by The Listener / 21 January, 2016
We’ve lowered the speed and alcohol tolerance for drivers, yet as if on some perverse cue, the road toll has risen.
Photo/Getty Images
Photo/Getty Images

Given the official line on these apparent road-safety imperatives, it’s an outcome staggering in its contrariness.

The seasonal national conversation about how we drive has accordingly been spiked by an unwelcome degree of cynicism. Many drivers feel unduly brow-beaten by the police’s holiday lectures since apparently their crackdowns were not the ­promised magic bullet.

One knee-jerk public reaction has been to blame the foreigner. The Ministry of Transport says overseas licence holders caused 4.8% of crashes in 2014, the latest analysed data available, up from 2.1% in 1987. But only 1.5% of accidents were caused by bewilderment at local rules. Increasing use of directional arrows on highways will be helping, but actually, locals caused 10 times more accidents by failing to keep left than visitors did. We cannot scapegoat tourists.

In any case, what we call “the road toll” is misleading. Our true incidence of road deaths and crashes is in long-term decline. Taking account of the population and car numbers, we’ve cut our fatality rate by 75% since 1989. According to Infometrics research for the Ministry of Transport, if we still had the same death toll per unit of travel as in 1990, there would have been 12,300 more deaths between then and 2012.

Safer driving is only a modest part of the reason. Having safer vehicles and fewer motorcycles on the road has saved nearly half of those lives. Road improvements – such as rumble strips and replacing T-junctions with roundabouts – have saved a further 19%. Driver behaviour – less drinking, speeding, texting – accounts for just 36% of the avoided deaths.

And we’re improving on that. New car technology increasingly forces safety on us, governing following distances and braking for us. Before long, cars will actively deter us from speeding and report us if we do. We’ve gone from alcohol causing 42% of fatal and 22% of injury crashes in 1990 to 23% and 13% respectively. And from the 1980s to 2014, speed has gone from being a factor in 40% of fatal crashes to 29%; and 17% for injuries.

So should the authorities still be thrashing the speed, drugs and booze message when those factors are in decline? Distractedness is increasing as a contributing factor in crashes, as is fatigue, estimated now to be causing 10-25% of crashes.

Though research shows our hard-hitting anti-drink and speed campaigns have had a positive effect, the overall approach has come to feel like something that is done to us rather than for us. Targeting risk profiles, such as the push to ensure all young drivers get licences, is surely better than broad-brush shaming.

But police and the MoT shouldn’t ignore the rather ­celebratory public response to the blasting of a notoriously lucrative Wellington speed camera with a shotgun over Christmas. There was a social-­media ­outpouring against the siting of speed ­cameras. The ministry reaffirmed its camera placement is determined by accident black spots, not revenue-gathering. Bluntly, not everyone buys it.

Granted, the remedy is not to speed – and if people weren’t breaking the law, there would be no revenue gathering. But it is imperative that, in general, the public sees driver policing as “a fair cop” and respects the system’s integrity.

A good start would be to ask people where they feel at risk on the roads, and what they think would help. Any two locals can agree on where the scarily low-vis or sun-strike spots are and where people are apt to take corners too fast or cross centre lines.

These are places where people actually desire speed humps, cameras and policing. Honk if you want a speed camera. The authorities may be surprised if they were more open in their ­analysis of road safety and moved away from shrill driver-­shaming. It’s likely they’d get better results by engaging with drivers, and even giving them a pat on the back.


Follow the Listener on Twitter or Facebook.


Fall into a beautiful abyss at this must-see dance show in Auckland
102571 2019-02-20 12:12:54Z Where to go in Auckland

Fall into a beautiful abyss at this must-see dance…

by Metro

A contemporary dance show that marries dystopian anxiety with raw energy is a must-see at the Auckland Arts Festival.

Read more
Climate change declaration 'politically charged' – Thames-Coromandel mayor
102563 2019-02-20 09:39:08Z Planet

Climate change declaration 'politically charged' –…

by Kate Gudsell

A push to get local authorities to sign up to a declaration on climate change is "politically charged and driven", the Thames-Coromandel mayor says.

Read more
What's inside Metro's March/April 2019 issue?
102558 2019-02-20 09:24:47Z Auckland Issues

What's inside Metro's March/April 2019 issue?

by Metro

Top 50 wines, rappers Church & AP, fast-talking poet Selina Tusitala Marsh and what to see at Auckland Arts Festival.

Read more
China could be using Taiwan as a testing ground for disinformation campaigns
102550 2019-02-20 00:00:00Z World

China could be using Taiwan as a testing ground fo…

by Gavin Ellis

A Taiwanese diplomat’s death in Japan has become a symbol of the consequences and dangers of disinformation.

Read more
The best way to beat food cravings? Fill up on the objects of your desire
102087 2019-02-20 00:00:00Z Nutrition

The best way to beat food cravings? Fill up on the…

by Jennifer Bowden

Research has shown that dieters’ attempts to resist eating certain foods appear to lead to cravings for those foods.

Read more
Deepfake: How disinformation fools our brains and damages democracy
102545 2019-02-20 00:00:00Z Tech

Deepfake: How disinformation fools our brains and…

by Gavin Ellis

Message manipulation using bots, algorithms and, now, AI software is making it harder to know what’s real – and threatening democracy itself.

Read more
Move to introduce digital tax for foreign companies profiting online
102519 2019-02-19 09:23:12Z Economy

Move to introduce digital tax for foreign companie…

by RNZ

New Zealand is lining up to introduce a new tax on multinational companies that make money out of online goods and services in this country.

Read more
National's high-risk gamble on marijuana and euthanasia
102484 2019-02-19 00:00:00Z Politics

National's high-risk gamble on marijuana and eutha…

by Graham Adams

Having polarising MPs like Paula Bennett and Maggie Barry leading the opposition to popular reforms could be kryptonite to the National Party.

Read more