Last week the Herald ran an article about the worsening safety of our roads.
The number of pedestrians killed on New Zealand roads has increased by a whopping 75 per cent this year, as the total road toll also soars.
Ministry of Transport road toll data released this morning showed 244 people have died in 220 fatal crashes so far this year.
On the same date last year, the road toll stood at 213 deaths from 180 fatal crashes.
One of the most concerning trends is the number of pedestrians killed.
So far this year 28 pedestrians have died compared to 16 last year and 18 in 2015.
That our road toll is increasing is appalling and it’s even more disappointing to see that pedestrians are bearing some of the brunt of it. That increasing toll has seen in the 12 months to the end of July, 365 people die on our roads, an average of one person every single day. At its lowest in February 2014, the toll was sitting at just 249. Even comparing the outcome to other metrics, such as comparing to the population or vehicle kilometres travelled shows the same basic trend.
What is particularly worrying in the article and also from the likes of the NZTA on twitter yesterday is the level of victim blaming occurring. Under the guise of “it’s everyone’s responsibility” there’s the suggestion that pedestrian’s are hurling themselves at moving traffic. For example, from the article is this comment which while stating facts, can easily be read that it was the pedestrians fault for not using a formal crossing or traffic lights. This is similar to what you might see if a cyclist was hit by a speeding truck but the only focus is on whether they were wearing a helmet, even though it would have made no difference to the outcome.
“The majority – 86 per cent – of reported pedestrian casualties on urban roads occurred when the pedestrian was crossing the road.
“About two-thirds of these casualties occurred when the pedestrian was not at a pedestrian crossing or traffic lights.”
One of the issues with this is that our urban environment is simply not conducive or friendly towards those not moving around in large metal boxes. In the example below I’ve picked an area at random and marked in red all the formal pedestrian crossings or traffic lights. There also aren’t any ‘pedestrian refuges’ either – an island in the middle of the road to make it easier to cross. In the example below, a person wanting to get from Scott Rd, across St Georges St and to Wilmay Ave, only by using pedestrian crossings or lights would have a 600-700m diversion.
The comments continued further with a section titled ‘Safety tips for pedestrians’. Here are just a few that I’ll respond to.
Safety tips for pedestrians
- Footpaths provide a safe place for you to walk. Where a footpath is provided, use it.
- At night, wear light-coloured or reflective clothing, or carry a torch to help you be seen
- Be careful when crossing driveways, particularly when your visibility is restricted by buildings or fences. Remember, if a driver is coming out of a driveway, their vision will be restricted and they may not see you.
Footpaths – Most people will of course walk on a footpath if there’s one available however even when they exist, they’re often not available, thanks to inconsiderate drivers who use them as parking spots. They do this because the level of enforcement is almost zero and they don’t think about other users, especially those in wheelchairs, with prams or those with other mobility challenges.
Clothing – So now walking is so dangerous that we have to wear special clothes at night. Certainly, wearing bright and reflective clothing doesn’t appear to have stopped drivers ‘not seeing’ cyclists or other road users. Perhaps cars and trucks should be required to be painted in hi-viz colours so pedestrians can see them better.
Driveways – Yes people do need to keep an eye and ear out for cars doing this but once again, it largely wouldn’t be a issue if drivers drove more appropriately. I often see drivers on auto-pilot at inappropriate speeds for driveways and as a result nearly hit pedestrians.
If we really want to get serious about road safety it’s time we adopted Vision Zero. Her’es a good video showing the principles behind it.
Finally, to put New Zealand’s numbers into a comparison, Sweden is the best in the world when it comes to road safety. In 2016, a total of 270 people lost their lives there, however, you also have to remember they have over twice the population as New Zealand. That means that for every 100,000 people in Sweden, 2.7 people lost their lives on the roads while in New Zealand that number has risen to 7.1 people per 100,000 people. If we had the same per-capita road toll as Sweden, the toll would be 125, that’s 240 fewer deaths on our road annually than we have now. That’s 240 extra people each and every year contributing to the economy, to our society and going home to their loved ones.