With many people about to start hitting the roads for summer holidays – some of you probably already have – it’s perhaps a good time for a reminder to be safe out on the roads. It’s a time of year where people often travel longer distances than usual and on roads that they may not be familiar with. When combined with more people on the roads – including idiots who saving 10 seconds as worth the risk to pass on blind corners. December’s reputation is borne out in the stats, over the last 20 years December has been the worst month for fatalities in half of them. Of the other half the next most common month was April with three (April is high as a result of Easter I expect). The chart below shows the 12 month rolling total of road deaths over the last decade. As you can see since about February 2014 the number of deaths has trended upwards.

Road Toll by Month - 2015-12

For the second year in a row the number of people who have died on our roads has increased and at 313 deaths as of yesterday, 2015 already has the highest road toll since 2010 – although it won’t pass 2010 (375 deaths) unless things are particularly horrific.

Despite the larger road toll there are some small positives that can be seen in the figures. If they remain unchanged it will be the lowest year – at least for the last 20 – for deaths to pedestrians and cyclists (I’m not sure about injuries but I assume the same).

To me, one of the issues to bringing the road toll down lower is our funding priorities. Currently we are pumping billions into massive motorways across the country and while they will undoubtedly be safer than the roads they replace, the huge cost of those big projects is them is preventing the NZTA and likely important safety projects from being worked on. These are things like intersection improvements, curve easements, passing lanes and better road markings.

If you are travelling the NZTA have put together a website called Summer Journeys with some useful information highlighting areas where there are road works or common congestion points – such as the one below.

Upper North Island Summer 2015 Hotspots

So if you’re travelling please be safe and have a good break.

We’ll still be blogging over the next few weeks but as I’m sure you can understand things will be a little lighter as we too try to have a break and spend time with families

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  1. The problem with claiming to be fixing unsafe roads by duplicating them is that old unsafe roads are still there, and still have remaining users, especially locals. They also may be using them at faster speeds because they have a lower traffic volume to calm them. Furthermore these ex-statehighways become the financial liability of the local authority who now have to add their maintenance to their annual outgoings and don’t have the funds to fix their more dangerous features. And of course the massive highway overbuild programme is gutting the National Land Transport Fund.

    1. Yep, exactly like the US “cash for clunkers” program to get old polluting cars off the road. [Or the Australians “unwanted gun amnesty”] – it only works if, you know, you actually remove the old clunkers/guns/roads from circulation for good.

      If you just hand out the money then don’t bother with the follow through, the community as a whole will not be any safer/better at the end of it. But just a chosen few who will be markedly richer.

  2. I have to do my pilgramage out to Waiuku tomorrow for Christmas and while I enjoy the day, I’m already beginning to feel myself getting worried and some stress about safety on the road. That road has seen a few deaths over the years. There has been some widening on the spots with the most incidents but it could do with more improvement.

    Incidentally, I’m sure that stress over safety is a key cause of road rage. People flip out when something threatens it.

    Wish there was still a train out to Waiuku.

    Thanks for the wonderful thought-provoking posts through the year guys. Have a Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

  3. And yet again the police have decided to proceed with their idiotic 4km/h tolerance policy (despite it failing last year with an increase in the road toll).
    The reasons why it is idiotic are numerous:
    1) Drivers are spending more time staring at their speedo than on the road (for cyclists, pedestrians, other cars, corners etc) as they are afraid of getting a ticket.
    2) People are not able to pass slow drivers (the one’s that do 80km/h then speed up to 100km/h at passing lanes) at passing lanes because the slow driver has temporarily sped up to 100km/h (or faster) because they don’t want to let anyone pass them.They don’t want to risk getting a speeding fine (since this is primarily where police like to hang out – the only place where it is really safe to pass. Good revenue gathering opportunity).
    3) Since people can’t pass at passing lanes they resort to passing elsewhere. Now if you overtake someone doing 90km/h at 110km/h it will take around 5 seconds, if you overtake someone at 100km/h it will take double the time (10 seconds). That is 10 seconds on the wrong side of the road exposed to danger – so clearly more dangerous.
    4) Modern cars (anything in the last 20 years) are far more capable and have better handling/braking etc than older cars. The speed limit was originally set based on stopping distances which have more than halved with better brakes and systems.

    So what we get instead is a line of 20 cars all stuck behind some selfish driver who refuses to pull over to let them pass and who speeds up at passing lanes again to prevent people from passing without breaking the law. We have the police facilitating this which results in long, slow journeys with frustrated drivers….who are more likely to make a lapse of judgement and cause an accident. When was the last time you saw a cop pull over someone for holding up traffic? The road code states that they should allow others to pass yet they don’t. These are the same people that sit in the right hand lane (fast lane) of the motorway.

    Drivers are naturally most comfortable driving at the speed that most suits them (overseas examples have shown that being more flexible with speeding or raising speed limits can often actually reduce the number of accidents – I’m not suggesting giving drivers carte blanche to drive how fast they like, but a 10km/h tolerance is much easier to stay within, is easier to police (and free’s up police time to pull over inconsiderate drivers, catch robbers, burglars, rapists, murderers etc. Of course this won’t happen is there is too much easy revenue to be generated).

    Merry Christmas everyone 🙂

    1. I had the opposite problem when driving most of the length of SH1 last weekend. I’d be doing 99-101km/h on the speedo, and have a number of vehicles sitting on my tail. I’d get to the passing lane, pull to the left, slow to 95, and still not have these people pass me. If I slowed down to the 80s they’d pull to the right and stop annoying me.

    2. I’m not sold that people are suddenly looking at their speedos, pretty sure they were previously looking at them to check they were doing 108kmh. The fine for doing 111kmh in a passing lane is the same now as it usually is so that argument doesn’t hold water.

      Also there are many other reasons for speed limits outside the handling ability of cars, many have intersections and driveways. My experience overseas is roads with higher speed limits are either separated or are areas like the Mackenzie Basin and Desert Rd, with long straight stretches and few intersections, we don’t have many of them.

      Agree completely though with speed cameras on long straights and passing lanes, the quicker the safer with passing and this just deters people till further down the road when the straight might be shorter and less safe.

      1. Regarding the 111km/h.. the point is that when the police allow the full tolerance people don’t need to focus on their speed so much as they can comfortably drive between 95-110km/h (15km/h range) easily enough without having to check. By changing to 104km/h that range reduces to 9km/h) which is quite easy to go over with our undulating terrain and more powerful cars that can very quickly accelerate (smoothly) it is quite easy for speed to creep up unnoticed.

        Yes understand about the speed limits due to other roads etc… those aren’t unique to NZ. But there are plenty of roads in NZ that could handle a higher speed limit (contrary to popular opinion most of our roads aren’t actually that bad).

        Yes passing lanes the focus should be on slow drivers who speed up at passing lanes as they should be getting fined for holding up traffic

        1. Our bigger problem is that we have far more roads (urban and rural) that really should have a lower speed limit, not a higher one. For example, when Sweden reviewed its rural speed limits a few years back they did increase some (e.g. 100 to 110, 80 to 90) but decreased seven times as many. But the NZ Govt is very sensitive to the bleating of everyone who doesn’t want to slow down (and sees it all tied up with speed ticket revenue grabbing…) and the possible economic cost of “reducing efficiency” (ignoring the fact that getting from A to B faster is only one form of economic efficiency). There are also many people who point to the “problem” being poor drivers and poor roads, not speeding – they’re missing the point of what lower speeds would achieve for road safety outcomes: http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/opinion/73285969/critics-of-lower-speeds-miss-the-point

          1. time=life
            no time=no life
            so if people in NZ are collectively wasting millions of hours (north of 200million) then those numbers far outweigh a potential small increase in the road toll not too mention the economic cost of the wasted time.
            The UK was looking at raising their speed limit (currently 113km/h) by 16km/h since they worked out it was economically better. However fuel prices had gone up and environmentalists put a stop to it due the increased emissions it would cause.
            I know cars aren’t popular on this blog but we are discussing driving around the country rather than the urban environment (and NZ doesn’t really have alternatives). Being stubborn about an old arbitrary 100km/h speed limit is not productive.

          2. I imagine your figure of 200 million hours being wasted is probably due to other factors rather than low speed limits. Where I live, the problem is that State Highway 1 has 25 kph corners and not a lot of passing; hence a lot of drivers going at 70 kph with a speed limit of 100 kph. The speed limit is certainly not responsible for these drivers driving 30-40 kph below the speed limit and no matter how much drivers bleat cyclists certainly aren’t to blame. The average speed on motorways in Auckland’s rush hour is currently 10 kph lower than that of a bicycle and is forecast to drop to barely above walking speed within ten years. This appears to be completely independent of the speed limit… Probably due to not enough people riding their bicycles (kids to school for instance) and clogging up the roads with unnecessary road movements.

            Perhaps if most of the National road budget wasn’t being purloined for RoNs we could have more than one 2 +1 section in 50 kph of road here and we could probably have a shoulder for the cyclists to ride on as well (even though it is illegal for cyclists to ride in the shoulder…).

          3. > time=life
            > no time=no life

            Rubbish. Being in a car for slightly longer isn’t even in the same league as being dead. Maybe driving is only 95% as good as what you’d be doing if you’d already arrived, but practically everyone would far, far rather be alive and in a car, than dead.

          4. Funnily enough, now that I drive so little, I really enjoy it when I do! It’s like a fresh change. But then I’m largely able to choose when and where I drive so there is no comparison with the stuck-in-auto-dependency commuter driving experience that seems to make people so fat and angry….

          5. @ KP: referring to general driving rather than Auckland rush hour motorway traffic.

            @Stephen: of course on an individual basis. On a collective basis however spread over the larger population the amount of time collectively wasted for no real reason other than some muppet is selfishly holding up the reasonable flow of traffic would more than outweigh that by many orders of magnitude. That’s even assuming that the road toll would go up which is doubtful when people can drive at a more comfortable speed and not driving as frustrated or tired.

          6. @Bruce But “collectively” you can’t do anything with this time. Adding it all up and saying it represents value is a voodoo traffic planning trick.

          7. @Kent except you can. Those extra few-many minutes saved can be the difference of arriving at your destination at 10:30pm rather than 11pm. After a long day and a long drive at that time of night it could make the difference in making it at all. Or collectively that’s 5 minutes here and there to spend time with family or friends or for a coffee as seems popular on TB.

          8. Agree with Bruce. People’s time is important – we can’t produce more of it – and if that time is spent sitting in a car rather than doing the things we enjoy, then that’s a net negative.

            We’re now at a stage where every single vehicle on the road can do 90-100km/h in most conditions (ie, except for steeper sections) and thus the differences in speed come down to preferences. Where everyone is going the same speed, within safe limits, and keeping appropriate distances, things go well. And for the most part that now happens. Fewer people drive at slower speeds, because their vehicles comfortably sit near 100, and fewer people drive much above that. It’s rare to see someone driving at 120, and this was common 20 years ago. I actually agree with those who suggest that those who are travelling considerably slower than the stream of traffic (eg, 80 on high quality open road) are given tickets – they frequently induce dangerous behaviours in others. I also think that considerably more overtaking lanes are necessary, and I think that drivers who tailgate and overtake unsafely also need targeting and sanctions.

    3. People speed up at passing lanes because that where the road suddenly becomes double wide, straight and even. After the passing lane it goes back to being single lane, narrow and winding.

      Don’t be so conceited that other drivers are selfishly trying to stop you getting past, it’s just people driving to the conditions.

      1. A lot of them are. It’s amazing that if you do manage to get past them (at the speed limit) how quickly they then just fall away behind you (as they go back to plodding along).

      2. I made the suggestion to a traffic engineer that I knew who was reviewing overtaking lanes, that the lanes should be assymetrical, the left (slow) lane should be narrower to give a sense of constriction, compared to the right (overtaking) lane; this difference should help keep slower traffic at a steady speed

        the extreme of “I want to meander on a single lane but not be overtaken” was coming back from Whangarei, when following a car at 85-90kmh along the highway, we came to an overtaking lane, so I indicated and took to the right lane, he sped up so did I, he sped up again so I responded, at the time I owned quite a fast car, but as I was finally getting away from him I thought “I’m going quite fast here”, looked down and I had had to get up to 150 just to past this nutter

        possibly the nutter term applied to me too, but this episode does illustrate the lengths some people will go to to stop others passing them

    4. A lot of the passing lanes in my travel route are on hills where people will naturally speed up.

      I try to make a conscious effort not to speed up too much so the faster vehicles can get passed. It’s about awareness of others.

    5. Those of you who genuinely don’t accept that reducing speed limits on a lot of our roads need to read some actual research into crash stats.

      Nillsons model is widely accepted for a reason.

      1. Firstly Sweden has a lot different conditions to NZ (snow covered roads over the entire country for much of the year and sub zero temperatures).
        Secondly if speed is so dangerous then perhaps we shouldn’t have cars, buses, trains, planes at all and just stick to walking or riding a horse (better not put gears on bikes either least someone rides a bike fast). We might as well get rid of phones, computers, TVs, electricity too and just live subsistence lives off a pocket of land (de-urbanisation since it’s harder to support a large urban population without technology or a large rural population).

        Of course we won’t do that because people value time.
        Yes there are some roads in NZ that should have lower speed limits just as there are roads where 110km/h (or more on some) shouldn’t be an issue.

        1. Bruce, according to Stuff there have been 200 crashes since Christmas Eve. A 5 km/h difference in average speed for the entirety of a 300 km journey will cost me about ten minutes. I know for sure that getting stuck waiting to move past one of those incidents caused by (“some muppet” in your words) driving too fast for conditions will cost me a whole lot more time than reducing speed. Not to mention the costs associated with the vehicle damage, injury, or death. Pull your head in.

          1. Doug, are you seriously trying to say that 5km/h is the difference between having a crash and not?! What a complete load of crap! Yes occasionally it might make the difference, just as driving 20km/h less might. Fact is almost all fatal crashes in NZ happen at speeds below the speed limit.

  4. The government policy of spending petrol tax monies (plus supplemental funds input) only on “moar” roads is clearly misplaced. This relates particularly to Auckland where we need the investment and implementation of other modes of travel so that Aucklanders have choice of mode and better efficiency of land use.
    The more people that find other means of travel beneficial (as they will will, particularly within the city core) rather than their own private car, will mean less cars on the road and that the road death rate will decline. So encouraging and funding of other modes (even from petrol taxes) should be government policy, if they are serious about saving lives.
    As New Zealanders, present Government policy is failing us and a Ministerial reform of the of the transport portfolio is urgently needed.
    Furthermore, their long standing fight with Auckland re the funding of the CRL is decidedly unhelpful.

  5. Some good safety advice:

    1. Remember intersections are THE most dangerous part of the journey. If you are turning onto/off a highway, be extra, extra cautious.
    2. If you are overtaking, think about your merge back EARLY. There are 200m warnings for a reason.
    3. If there is heat haze on the Desert Road, it’s sticky. Be careful.

  6. You can blame people for overtaking on dangerous corners with a lack of visibility.

    But when those corners have white lines indicating that overtaking is an endorsed safe activity on that piece of road, rather than double yellow lines with rumble strips, the road environment itself is unsafe. Perhaps the speed limit is too high on that section of road. And perhaps there should have been a larger number of overtaking lanes (if the road users are lucky there will be some small number) so that slower traffic is not holding up the majority of traffic which travels around 95-100km/h.

    People will make mistakes. What the NZTA does determines the consequences.

    Look at this road. The visibility at the intersection is poor, for both drivers. It is an uncontrolled intersection, with insufficient marking indicating that it exists. The speed limit is 100, when it should be 80 or 60. There are no variable speed-limit signs (which are being successfully used elsewhere). Any one of these things could have saved a life or reduced the impact of the collision.

    1. White centre lines absolutely do NOT indicate that overtaking is a safe endorsed activity!
      Yellow lines explicitly mean that it is not safe but they are generally used where it may not be obvious that the view ahead of oncoming traffic is not clear or there are known blind spots. The opposite does not apply and the law is simply that you require 100m of clear road in front of you when you are finished passing

      1. And yet white broken lines are not the exclusive province of straight flat road, but are seen on almost every corner in the country. What they say to the driver is: “make up your own mind, and if you think you can make it, go for it”. Too many of them do.

        I think that a lot of the problem is that the original use-case for these was that there was often agricultural machinery and other very slow vehicles on the road. Expressly forbidding overtaking of these vehicles on long stretches of road would create a number of issues. We need to be able to manage this exception, which still exists, while treating ordinary speed overtaking differently.

        1. The official policy in NZ on where to mark no-overtaking lines (https://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/motsam/part-2/motsam-2.html Section 2.05) doesn’t include horizontal blind curves alone as a reason to mark them. You either have to have limited vertical curve sight distance, “an unusual combination of vertical and horizontal curves”, “a documented history of cross centre-line crashes”, or where “there is a hidden traffic hazard”.

          I think the underlying assumption is that people are smart enough to figure out that they shouldn’t overtake on a blind horizontal curve, whereas some of the other scenarios may be a bit more subtle (e.g. vertical dips hiding gaps on an otherwise straight road). Increasingly I’m not convinced that everyone is quite that “smart” to make that distinction, especially those who have originally come from jurisdictions where horizontal curves are marked no-overtaking.

          Interestingly I did some research on this topic for Transfund NZ back in 2001 (“Assessing Passing Opportunities Stage 3”, Transfund Research Report no.220). One thing we did was estimate how much extra length of state highway would be likely to need marking if we introduced a horizontal curve no-overtaking criteria (only State Hwys had the necessary geometry data to do a desktop analysis). The estimate was a two-fold increase at least in the length of highways marked with no-overtaking lines (from about 21% of total length to 42%). Presumably somebody balked at the prospect of an extra 2-3000km of yellow marking…

          1. And with respect to the smart people who work in this area that’s a really stupid assumption to make, proven by the regularity with which people are killed proving it wrong.

            The cost of 3000km of double yellow line ($6,000-$15,000 per km) would be in the tens of millions. However with the statistical value of a life at $4m, if it saved just one life per year for the next decade, it would work out as worthwhile (feel free to correct my math).

            Even in the Waikato, which has the highest absolute number of fatalities, and the highest per-capita rate of fatalities, only 1/3 of new announced investment has been directed towards safety, with the large majority directed towards large new capital works designed to improve transport and freight efficiency.

          2. It’s also worth noting that NZTA’s guidelines on separation of traffic, overtaking etc. are based primarily on traffic volumes. You need to be at quite a high volume of daily traffic before unseparated lanes are not the default.

  7. The NZTA puts a lot of effort into encouraging drivers not to make stupid mistakes. But it puts a small fraction of its roadbuilding efforts into increasing the safety of existing roads. A full 95% of NZ’s state highway only meets 2 or 3 star safety ratings. ie., they are unsafe. Just 5% are rated at 4 star. By vehicle kilometres travelled the results are slightly less dire, with 73% of travel on 2 or 3 star roads, and 28% on 4 star. The results also vary massively by region, with Auckland in relative safety, and Taranaki in a dire situation.


    1. You get no argument from me that we should invest far more in crash reduction than we do in congestion reduction. But it is pertinent to point out that they have been focusing their efforts primarily on the roads that carry the most traffic (and hence have the most crashes). So, for example, those 5% of 4-star roads (which are only the State Hwys BTW; we don’t have the same data for local roads) carry 28% of the total SH traffic. That’s also why Akld and Wgtn feature the highest proportion of 4-star roads; much of their State Hwy networks are divided, grade-separated motorways.

  8. NZs road toll is very high. Victoria’s road toll is around 250 a year, and this state has a population of almost 6million. That really puts it into perspective.

  9. I did a little bit of analysis on reported injuries over the past five years; you can see the resulting graph at https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10205521303288023&set=a.1964771475023.2098993.1114960488 (Matt, feel free to replicate it here, if you wish)

    (NB: there is up to a 3-mth lag in getting crashes into the Crash Analysis System, so I have only shown up to Aug ’15 to avoid any false “downturns” in numbers)

    The good news: there has been a definite downwards trend in ped/cycle injuries over the past five years, which seems to be mirroring the drop in fatals too. The bad news: motor veh injuries have started to creep up again over the past year.

    Now I know that social media is awash with theories about why this might be the case, but I do wonder if it’s simply reflecting the growth in traffic volumes that has started again over the past two years? (e.g. since mid-2013 the %growth in State Highway traffic volumes has gone from flatlining to sitting at about 6%pa) Simply put, [number of crashes] = [crash risk] x [traffic exposure]; so, without any new big-ticket road safety initiatives to reduce crash risk as in the past, the road toll may simply be reflecting changes in traffic exposure.

  10. There are a lot of people that shouldnt be driving as they dont posess the ability to operate machinery safely.

    Unfortunately obtaining a licence is far to easy.

  11. Drove the Rimutaka Hill Road today. It’s a challenging drive at the best of times.

    On the way out, I noticed how little of the road – one of NZ’s major state highways – met full safety standards.
    On the way back, I saw a serious crash in which someone had crashed into an unprotected roadside object at high speed. I hope they (and any passengers) are alive and free from major injury.

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