After reading a recent article on a popular New Zealand News site I felt compelled to respond.

It opens with this statement, and implies that the two are directly connected:

“Most of the country has been without fixed speed cameras for more than a year, police have confirmed.

It has coincided with one of the deadliest periods in recent years on New Zealand’s roads.”

The whole article seems written to reinforce this link – that speed in itself is a killer, and cameras will somehow make us safe.

Let me be clear – neither Drive Life or myself condone speeding. Speed limits are in place for good reason, and speeding on public roads is irresponsible and potentially dangerous. But the way that New Zealand Police focus on speed above everything else really irritates me. It’s like they have to stay on message, endlessly repeating the “speed kills” mantra despite all of the other factors, and evidence.

Case in point:
“Speed kills and this is definitely another tool for getting the road toll down in New Zealand,” – Police Association president Chris Cahill

Back to speed cameras. In my opinion, speed cameras have a limited effect at best. If a speed camera is well known, or well signposted, people will slow down just as they go past it, often over-braking and disrupting traffic flow. In accident black spots a well-signposted camera could definitely be a useful tool, and save lives. But they often seem to be placed on straight roads or motorways.

I’m not saying we should all be able to speed with impunity, but speed cameras catch the driver in the act. The speeding is already happening, and you’re just punishing them for it. The driver might slow down for a few days or weeks afterwards but do our existing cameras save lives? Hard to say. As Chris Cahill says above, they are definitely a tool in the Police’s arsenal.

Then there’s the accidents themselves. They always say “Speed was a factor”. Well of course it was, if the vehicle wasn’t moving it couldn’t have crashed. And yes, the higher the speed of impact, the bigger the mess, that definitely makes sense. But so many reported accidents seem to be head-ons, because a driver crossed the centre line into oncoming traffic. Do this at any speed and it’s going to be bad. Why did they cross the line? Driver inattention? Texting? Sleepiness? Fiddling with the stereo? Eating a sandwich? Lighting a cigarette? Driver under the influence? It could be any number of things, but it was probably not caused by their speed alone.

This begs the question – do we need to improve our roads? Maybe widen them and add a central median barrier. I think so, at least the main state highways, and so do the AA. They’re campaigning for 100km of roads a year to be upgraded.

But we also need to improve our drivers. The general standard of driving in New Zealand seems pretty poor to me. I regularly see people who are clearly not paying attention to their driving. It seems to be something that people do while thinking about something else. They cut corners, weave between lanes, tailgate, fail to indicate, or indicate poorly, run red lights, go through stop signs, set off without looking properly. I could go on. To most people driving is just a way of getting from A to B, they don’t have any interest or take any pride in doing it well as long as they get there.

The road toll has risen for the last couple of years and it’s a worrying trend. The AA’s Mike Noon said that 100 people who died in road accidents last year weren’t wearing seatbelts, and that half of them might have survived if they had worn them. He also called for roadside drug testing and alcohol interlocks for repeat drink drivers. These are good ideas, though I think if you’re a repeat drink driver you should have your licence taken away.

Another big factor in the seriousness of accidents is New Zealand’s vehicle fleet. Our cars are relatively old and have limited safety equipment, crumple zones, crash protection etc. It doesn’t help that older cars tend to be poorly maintained, and it’s common to see a car with scarily bald tyres, lights not working, bits hanging off. Or even just cheap budget tyres. Imagine getting into a tricky situation and trying to take evasive action in a car that has not been looked after and has no grip.

Overall there’s no simple answer to this problem. People are always going to do stupid things. They’re not always going to drive to the conditions, they’re going to get impatient and overtake, they’re going to drive after a few beers, they’re going to skimp on expensive maintenance. Maybe we need more stringent WOF checks, more roadside safety checks, more roadside drug and alcohol testing. We definitely need more driver training. Maybe a mandatory 5-yearly refresher course for all drivers. Not necessarily a test, but a reminder and opportunity to realise what bad habits you’ve picked up and do something about them.

Fred’s Comments

There is no single answer to killing fewer people on our roads – so why do the Police/NZTA continue to beat a single drum – always, ‘don’t speed’. Their own advertising says it it – ‘less speed equals less harm’. It’s saying to the public, you are going to crash, so drive slower to cause less harm. This is a classic ‘Ambulance at the bottom of the hill’ approach. How about we start focussing on reducing the crashes in the first place?

I recently spotted a new NZTA company car; the slogan on the back said “Slower drivers are our goal”. The word may have not been ‘goal’, but the first part is the most important. Shouldn’t New Zealand expect their slogan to be, “Safer drivers are our goal”.

Let’s give an example. You have an athlete who’s competing in the decathlon. Does he just practice long jumps, or does he practice every skill he needs to win? To make any change in the amount of people dying on our roads, the NZTA and Police need to remove the blinkers from their eyes and look at the big picture.

What do you think?

Post your thoughts in the comments below.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I’d like to see the stats on speed Vs distraction or inattention or alcohol and drug related accidents or unfamiliarity with NZ roads and laws. Speed alone is not responsible

  2. Its not speed that kills . Its the individual sitting behind the wheel that kills . The car is being driven by an individual that’s why terrorists have recognized that Motor vehicles are a great weapon to use. All they need is a person who is prepared to cause death to go to heaven and be a martyr with a promise of having 40 virgins in the after life.
    So what’s the difference between a terrorist and the rational human being in charge of a vehicle. The former is determined to kill. The other is not aware of his surroundings and responsibility of care not only for himself but for others around him/her. It comes down to the definition of being human. The ability to care for others

  3. They are also missing a word – “inappropriate”. “inappropriate” speed can be a factor in some accidents, and that includes driving too slowly as well as too quickly. Here in the UK the number of people doing 35-40 mph on a road with a 60 or 70 mph limit is frightning. Not only does that frustrate people in the endless queue behind them, but it also increases the closing speed when they decide to change lanes without using their mirrors.

    It seems to be becoming increasingly common for people to join motorways (70 mph limit) at 40 mph. That invariably causes issues, especially if you are behind them as it’s increasing your chances of an accident to. What that seems to make the following vehicles do is go straight out into lane 2 and accelerate to pass these moving road blocks (many remaining in lane 2 until they exit the motorway hundreds of miles away, but that’s another issue….)

    As an advanced driver/rider, it always amazes me the number of people who don’t look far enough ahead, plan their moves or do simple things like look over their shoulder before changing lanes (which failure to do is an immediate failure for the motorcycle test – we call them lifesavers for a reason).

    I admit there are times where I may exceed the limit, but there are also times where I’ll drive under it. My analysis of the situation, risks, dangers and the potential outcomes tells me what the appropriate speed is.

    Speed cameras can also make people pay more attention to their speedo than the road ahead. There are areas near me with many cameras and/or police that have 20 limits because of the number of pedestrians/hazards. Going through there requires real attention to keep to the limit and it’s disconcerting the amount of time your speedo requires in order to do that. Surely that attention would be better focused on the road.

    There should certainly be some sort of periodic checking; as a minimum the knowledge of the highway code. It’s amazing how many people think the limit on a dual carriageway is 40 or 60 (it’s 70). There have also been many people lecturing me and other motorcyclists I know about filtering being illegal (some go as far as activley trying to cut you off). Not only is it perfectly legal, it’s expected on your test. And even if it weren’t legal, that doesn’t give them the right to try and assault you with their vehicle.

  4. Umm…
    If you look at Germany they have no speed limits and drivers go as fast as they like. Road Toll? Not that high
    I reckon the speeding fines are a sign of the NZ police’s laziness (speed is the one common factor in every accident so in the cops eyes why not take advantage of it?) The other sign of lazyness is that they get money from it. At work one guy was training to be a police officer and he told me that traffic cops have a certain number of tickets to give out throughout a given time period (not sure how much or how long, but he was being serious). Peoples thoughts?

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