Since 2010, the NZTA have had 10-year road safety strategy called Safer Journeys. The Safer Journeys website describes it as:
Safer Journeys is the government’s strategy to guide improvements in road safety over the period 2010 to 2020. The strategy’s vision is a safe road system increasingly free of death and serious injury and introduces the Safe System approach to New Zealand.
The Safe System recognises that people make mistakes and are vulnerable in a crash. It reduces the price paid for a mistake so crashes don’t result in loss of life or limb. Mistakes are inevitable – deaths and serious injuries from road crashes are not.
The third Action Plan will renew focus on areas of greatest risk and disproportionate harm, and present opportunities for the use of current and emerging technologies.
In particular, this Action Plan’s focus is to:
- enable smart and safe choices on the road
- make motorcycling safer
- ensure roads and roadsides support safer travel
- encourage safe vehicles.
The words sound nice but is it working in reality and are we doing enough to keep people safe? The stats suggest we have a long way to go.
In the 12 months to the end of Feb, 321 people lost their lives on roads in New Zealand. Of that 33 were pedestrians and six were people on bikes. While it’s down on 2010 when the Safer Journeys strategy was introduced, 375 people died that year, it is up considerably on early 2014 when we reached the lowest ever point of 249 people over a 12-month period. And this doesn’t even cover the numerous serious injuries that occur. Any other activity that caused as much death and injury as roads do would have been shut down long ago.
Currently 6.8 people for every 100,000 in the country will die on our roads and even at its lowest point it was 5.5. To put that in comparison, the road toll in Sweden last year was 263 but with a population of over 9.8 million, that gives them a rate of just 2.7 per 100,000 people. If New Zealand was achieving that same rate, around 200 fewer people would die on our roads every year.
Given the results of how we’ve been performing, we need to start to think about calling Safer Journeys a failed strategy. Sure, over the long term things have improved, but that mostly came from before mid-2011 and likely a hangover from previous work undertaken. Since that time the picture isn’t pretty.
If Safer Journeys is a failed strategy then we need to start thinking about replacing it, and we’ll have to in 2020 anyway. It’s a good thing we won’t have to look too hard to find a suitable replacement either as a better strategy already exists in the form of Vision Zero, an initiative that started in Sweden and has started spreading across the world.
At its core, Vision Zero is summarised as: No loss of life is acceptable. At face value, much of what discussed in Safer Journeys is broadly similar to Vision Zero but where they are different is in the tone of the language used. For example, compare that Vision Zero statement with the vision from Safer Journeys of “A safe road system increasingly free of death and serious injury“. It’s the difference “we must to do better” versus “we hope, maybe if we’re lucky to do better”.
It’s that requirement that we must do better, at all costs that is why Vision Zero is working in so many places. It, along with the key principles of Vision Zero provides the political and policy cover and encourage the transport industry do to better, even if it means slowing traffic down or removing road capacity.
One of the ways we can tell Safer Journeys is not working is the high number of crap designs that continue to be advanced by our transport agencies. Traffic flow and movement continue to be prioritised over safety and we hear many stories where key safety features are stripped out in order to save money or save a few seconds of inconvenience for drivers. One good recent example being the Mt Albert town centre changes where at the last minute, AT proposed to retain lightly used right turn lane at the expense of a safe, protected bike lane next to the train station. They even tried to sneak consultation through on it.
Kent posted a great video on the principles behind Vision Zero back in January.
One of the interesting developments with Vision Zero is that while it started in Sweden and initially spread to other countries, now many of the locations adopting it are individual cities, such as many of the large US cities (a list of them is on Wikipedia). Given the government and the NZTA are unlikely to suddenly come out and adopt it, perhaps Auckland should follow the lead of those US cities and adopt Vision Zero itself. In fact, this year would be the perfect opportunity to do so because the council is required to refresh the Auckland Plan, the 30 year vision for the region, and what better place to embed the idea than that.
So should Auckland adopt Vision Zero?