Police said a 56-year-old woman, 60-year-old man and a five-year-old boy who were travelling in a separate car also died.
Those injured include a 10-month old baby who was flown to Starship Hospital in Auckland overnight in a critical condition.
Two girls aged 2 and 17, and a woman aged 66, all remained in Rotorua Hospital in a stable condition.
While the past week is hopefully a blip, the longer-run statistics of the past few years tell an incredibly sobering story. While the road toll halved between 2001 and 2013, since then it has increased significantly – as illustrated in a recent post by Sam Warburton:
This increase is occurring at a faster rate than population growth, or the growth in total vehicle travel. Another article by Sam highlights this point:
The fatality rate (deaths per kilometre driven across New Zealand) of car occupants is 41% higher in 2017 than it was in 2013.
Another way of looking at this is that, while New Zealand is driving 15% more as a country than in 2013, deaths are up 60%.
Had we kept fatality rates at 2013 levels, there would be about 80 fewer deaths than we expect there to be in 2017, and over 110 fewer since the end of 2013.
These changes are, in technical terms, statistically significant. We can have greater than 99% confidence that the road toll is up.
This increase in the road toll is a tragedy, particularly as since the mid-1970s we have been incredibly successful in reducing the road toll, despite massive increases in population and total travel. In short, what previously worked is clearly no longer working. Improvements in vehicle safety, education, enforcement and safe infrastructure improvements led to a massive decline in the “fatality rate” over this time. There’s some good historic data on the Ministry of Transport’s website which highlights how successful these efforts were, until recently:
The estimated economic impact of crashes on our roads in 2015 was a staggering $3.8 billion and with volumes having increased since then, it’s likely to be even higher now. With the cost of congestion in Auckland being around $1 billion a year – and most of the country’s congestion being in Auckland – it is clear the economic impact of crashes is much bigger than the cost of congestion.
So what can be done about this? Over the past couple of weeks there has been a terrible lack of accountability from the Police and NZTA, essentially shrugging their shoulders or (inaccurately) blaming increasing travel for what has happened in the past few years.
Yet stories are starting to emerge that indicates deeper problems. This recent one from RNZ highlighted a pathetic lack of progress on installing speed cameras:
Police celebrated the installation of the new network of second-generation digital speed cameras in 2014, saying switching on the first of the cameras in July that year was an “important milestone in our efforts to reduce deaths and injuries on the country’s roads”.
At the time police said 56 cameras were planned for the country and would be installed by the end of 2015.
But when the last of the old network of wet-film cameras was decommissioned in March last year only 12 cameras had been installed and much of the country – including the entire South Island – was without fixed speed camera coverage.
“We have 18 cameras operating in total, including four at Waterview [Auckland], covering four districts. The other eight districts do not have static safe speed cameras,” police said in response to RNZ questions yesterday.
The police website states the link between speed cameras and reducing speed was well documented.
But despite “research clearly show[ing] that safety cameras change driver behaviour and have a positive road safety impact”, most of the country had been without fixed cameras as road tolls rose.
In a second article by Sam Warburton, he highlights that the site of on of the horrific crashes last week had already been identified as needing improvement but it’s still waiting on funding.
Safety is (supposedly) one of the Government’s top transport priorities, in the Government Policy Statement it is one of the top 3 priorities alongside supporting economic growth and value for money. However, there is little evidence that in reality safety is a high priority. This is backed up by the NZTAs own actions, for example in this article from Tauranga, they effectively state that the safety of an intersection comes second to moving trucks to the port.
Mark Haseley from the New Zealand Transport Agency said the pedestrian and cycle crossing was the result of decisions made two to three years ago. It was about economic productivity and the efficient flow of freight to the port. There was not much of an emphasis on cycling and walking.
However, he assured Ms Hughes that “the door is still open to these ideas” as long as it made sense and stacked up economically.
As non-motorist noted on twitter, even the NZTAs own cars appear to show this as a Venn diagram.
The NZTA aren’t alone though, we’ve heard of many similar stories just like the one originating agencies like Auckland Transport too.
We will have a far stronger focus on safety in the coming weeks and months to force some change because what’s happening simply isn’t good enough. We’ll work through the details of exactly what needs to change, but some initial thoughts are:
- Formally adopting “Vision Zero” as a guiding strategy, not accepting any deaths
- Reducing speed limits in high risk areas and on most urban streets
- Re-focusing infrastructure investment away from a very small number of incredibly expensive motorway extensions and towards improving safety through median barriers and other improvements across many more locations.
- Changing the economic evaluation manual so that high priority safety projects are able to occur, even if they create traffic delays