Imagine how the public would react if they learnt the government, or one of its agencies, wasted billions of dollars of taxpayer money. The public would expect heads to roll. Now imagine what the response would be if it was revealed that the govt/agency had been doing this each and every year. Then add to that they planned to keep on doing the same thing in the future. The latest report from the Ministry of Transport, released last week, shows that’s almost exactly the situation we’re in today with road safety.
We’ve talked plenty of times before about crashes, and perhaps understandably, that is mostly focused on the loss of life. However, the report released by Associate Transport Minister David Bennett, the latest version of a series of reports titled The social cost of road crashes and injuries, highlights just how much impact crashes have from an economic point of view.
Annual research released today has highlighted the hidden cost we pay for road crashes, says Associate Transport Minister David Bennett.
The Ministry of Transport’s annual Social Cost of Road Crashes and Injuries report seeks to understand the social and economic cost of road crashes to New Zealand, and the estimated total social cost of fatal and injury crashes rose from $3.53 billion in 2014 to $3.79 billion in 2015.
In per-crash terms, the updated average social cost is estimated at $4,729,000 per fatal crash, $912,000 per reported serious crash and $99,000 per reported minor crash.
“Putting a value on a life lost or permanently altered is impossible. This report shows that on top of the high price paid by friends, families and communities, each and every crash has serious social and economic consequences for all of us,” Mr Bennett says.
Over 300 New Zealander’s lost their lives on New Zealand roads last year, and about 2,500 were seriously injured.
That is a huge loss to the overall New Zealand economy each and every year. This is shown in the graph below and with more fatalities in 2016 compared to 2015, I’d expect that line to keep going up.
The report explains more about how the costs are derived but they include the following key components
- loss of life and life quality
- loss of output due to temporary incapacitation
- medical costs
- legal costs
- vehicle damage costs
A breakdown of these for the 2015 crashes is shown below, and as you can see, the cost of loss of life/permanent disability makes up the vast majority of the total.
Given the enormous cost crashes have, you’d think we’d be doing a lot more to prevent them. Our current safety strategy is clearly failing. Yet you’d think from the press release that all of our transport money was going into safety.
The Government spends billions of dollars a year on physical infrastructure improvements such as median barriers, rumble strips and wide shoulders, as well as on road safety enforcement, advertising, and education campaigns trying to encourage the sort of behavioural change required on our roads.
The government are being disingenuous here. Yes, they spend billions every year on transport but the vast majority of that is going the hugely expensive Roads of National Significance, diverting funding many smaller but vital safety improvements. Furthermore, projects like the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway will see the existing roads remain as dangerous as ever. Spending a few years focusing our road budget on safety improvements all over the country would likely deliver significant improvements.
ATs speed limit paper
The NZTA’s upcoming speed management guide is intended to modernise how speed limits are set. This includes making it easier to set speed limits below 50kmh in urban areas. A paper to Auckland Transport’s board in February highlighting their planned approach to the guide was recently be made public. They’re initially targeting to make changes to just 10% of road network in the region and most of that will be in rural areas. Speed limits will decrease in some cases but much of the focus will be on be “engineering up” roads so the existing limits can remain. One of the most telling comments in the paper is below:
Potential operational impacts on the network as a result of lower operating speeds will need to be considered during development of the programme of work.
Over the years we’ve heard many variations of this. Essentially it amounts to the value of of flowing traffic being put ahead of the value of people’s lives. If we really want to get serious about improving road safety then this is an attitude that need to quickly change. As we’ve said before, we need to be adopting Vision Zero.