This article by Andrew Bell was first published on LinkedIn and is republished here with his permission.

Anaru Ropiha was a friend who taught me a little about courage. We formed a band at Waikato University in the 80’s with Chris Moses, Chris King, Moses Hiakita and Bruce Smith. Three Pakeha, three Maori, one in a wheelchair. Anaru was the singer and frontman – known as ‘Jimi’ because of his visual and vocal resemblance to Hendrix. He was a smiling sticky-sweet box of charisma – seductive, charming and true. He had all the mana & moves, knew how to wrap his arms around a crowd, holding them together in a heaving mess of joy as they sang along to the hits from Prince, The Doors, Springsteen, Bob Marley and Aotearoa. We would trace out a ragged musical arc of emotion behind him, trusting his instincts, rewarded with boozy cheers.

There was something heroic about how he could harness the Hamilton pub crowds, but he was humble about it, like it was some kind of accidental talent. He was training to be a teacher and was being groomed for a career in politics.

There was nothing heroic about how he died. Killed by a stranger in a Landrover while riding his 50cc scooter at night on Ruakura Road, with his lights and helmet on. The driver never came forward, Anaru was 21 years old. At his tangi in Tokoroa we sang though our grief, sitting beside him night and day as he lay dressed in his leathers holding a microphone in an open casket. His whanau was devastated, his iwi had lost a leader, and we never played as a band again.

Tangihana is a moving grief process where friends & whanau put their arms around each other in aroha on a journey from loss, through remembrance, to goodbye and acceptance. There was little room for injustice. As we moved on with our lives his name would come up in conversation, we’d reminisce about a gig somewhere, then sit quietly with the reminder of his sudden death at the back of our minds. We grew to accept it. Part of life. Nothing we could do to prevent it.

Many years, bandmates, songs and gigs later I have discovered a little of the talent Anaru had for holding a crowd and taking them with you. Right words, right music, right room, but most of all trust and respect for people – as best you can. It’s taken me much longer to learn that Anaru’s road death was no accident. It was a trap knowingly set at night, predictable and preventable. As a Road System Designer I know the signs and if you wait long enough for a human mistake to happen, as they inevitably do, the trap will spring indiscriminately and unforgivingly, taking your best mate from you.

When it comes to road danger we have been socialised not to bother about trying to reach out and put our arms around the ones we love. Mothers struggle with the maternal anguish of not knowing if their sons and daughters will return home at night. They are told not to worry. Male Kiwi stoicism is a dangerous currency – threaded through our culture, songs and media it plays into the hands of cash-strapped roading authorities who are trained to wait until death traps go off before they can spend. It’s called economics. There is nothing ethical about it.

No road death or serious injury is acceptable. I know that 87% of our road network is operated and maintained at un-survivable speeds – 2 tonne vehicles hurtling towards each other at 100 kph with nothing but 3 inches of paint between them. Small human mistakes – fatigue, distraction, visibility etc – will have tragic consequences. We cannot create the perfect driver. We can create forgiving roads.

I also know that creating survivable speed limits of 80kph is the most effective and low-cost scalable solution that a Government can implement quickly to prevent death and serious injury on rural roads. Where we have put Survivable Speeds in place, we have seen healthy, sustainable and vibrant communities emerge. They do more than just leave us alive, they improve our lives

We have seen courageous compassion shown recently in Aotearoa by leaders, communities, and musicians. We know that we are good at putting our arms around each other to grieve in times of tragedy. Now it’s time as Road System Designers to put our arms around friends, whanau and communities to prevent tragedy, holding them safely while the daily song of travel takes place to get to work, children to school, do our domestic work, move goods, and provide services. We also need to give priority for the most vulnerable – the young, the old, people walking & cycling, and communities in low income areas that need safe travel choices.

This is a vision shared by many who care for our communities and requires Road System Designers to also show courage and shift from victims to heroes, to reform our transport system and radically improve our lives. Auckland Transport leadership have done this by allowing myself and my colleagues to apply the Vision Zero and Survivable Speed principles to our road network in Tamaki Makaurau.

We have been talking to communities about our Vision for Survivable Speeds. Some are sceptical due to long-held ‘blame the road user’ beliefs, travel delay myths and the perception that we are taking something away from them. As the discussion shifts to how Survivable Speeds will give them what all communities want – a safe place their families can grow up in, become independent and do business from – a strange tangihana takes place in the conversation, like a deadly secret has been uncovered, and they begin to grieve for why it has taken us so long to do this.

With the tangihana conversations underway, we are gathering community support as we go, and more importantly, we are acting on it, engineering Hope, one raised crossing at a time. It’s challenging, as is anything new, but the good news is that it’s working. We are saving lives and preventing serious injury. We’ve got this, and we need more Vision Heroes to join us.

Road System Designers of Aotearoa, we share the same power, can see the same opportunities, and know the solutions. Join us in speaking up and taking urgent action together on survivable speeds. Nga Iwi E.

Soundtrack to the article – Century by Big Thief

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58 comments

  1. ‘A strange tangihana takes place in the conversation’
    ‘With the tangihana conversations underway’
    I googled tangihana conversation and nothing is refererenced so Im trying to figure out what this means. My best guess is road safety, road safety thinking, pondering on road safety, safety analysis…
    In any case its good to read that roading engineers are giving road safety priority in their thinking, i just wish the safety vision went somewhat further than raised tables

  2. Beautiful writing, thanks Andrew.

    “Mothers struggle with the maternal anguish of not knowing if their sons and daughters will return home at night.” Yes. Every day.

    And now I’m seeing people who’ve refused to get licenses stand up and say the reason: that they’re too scared to drive, having lost their mother, or brother, to traffic violence. I’m seeing people with a medical issue unable to cross at lights in the time allocated, yet being tooted at by motorists, standing up and saying “No, this is not about pedestrian education”.

    Our safety system is broken but we have people willing now to call out the problem.

    Keep up the good work, Andrew.

  3. So much talk yet so little action.

    CBD reductions: still talking
    Glen eden reductions: oh we decided to stick to 50 due to come complaints
    Te Atatu South reductions: oh we are only doing the speed calming for now

    So much time has passed yet no notable speed reductions. Meanwhile injuries and fatalities continue. Talk is good, but more action needed and quicker! Its not being treated like the emergency its being painted as.

    1. You are right to be impatient about progress on these vital safety issues in Auckland but at least they’re being talked about and in some cases, implemented. For example, the impressive speed table/ped crossing on Mt Eden road. But this tragic road death happened in Hamilton where, apart from some very minor improvements recently, very little to nothing is happening. Very busy, inner city roads with multiple double lane roundabouts and not a single pedestrian crossing, it’s actually quite incredible to see the total disregard for pedestrian safety versus traffic flow on Tristram St, Collingwood St, Ruakiwi Rd, southern Anglesea St.

      1. Why we still have the stronger road user dominating road space, in 2005 six on-road cycle lanes crossing the river, 2019 one.

        Quote from Access Hamilton 2005
        “At the moment, there is no transport system in Hamilton which can compete with the car in terms of convenience, speed flexibility or comfort. Therefore, our future planning has to be based on the reality that motor vehicles will continue to be the dominant mode of transport”

        http://hamiltonurbanblog.co.nz/2019/05/whitiora-bridge-boundary-road/

  4. We lose around 400 people a year in NZ to traffic incidents and thousands more are injured including some very serious consequences. Yet apart from some advertisements and marginal police enforcement we don’t do much about it.

    In part its about perception and how poor humans are at calculating risk. This year, and next year, and for the foreseeable future around 400 people will be killed on our roads and we shrug our shoulders and move on. Compare this to what happened in Christchurch; 8 times more people will be killed on our roads this year and yet the responses could not be more polar opposite. No one is talking about limiting the speed of vehicles or requiring much higher licencing requirements for drivers. That’s not a call for any specific response as I am no expert on these matters so I do whole-heartily support the call for the experts to step forward and lead a debate.

    1. Yes, and while I am not in any way opposed to the new gun laws, it does seem amazing that the cogs can move so rapidly when politicians are politically motivated and when the majority of people aren’t negatively impacted.

      1. Agreed, there was little to no resistance to those gun law changes, the media even tried to claim a ‘nz gun lobby’ would strongly oppose them, a lot of international credibility to be gained with no negative effect on the local voter base. Mandatory 3rd party insurance would help but current govt won’t touch that.

        1. At the start of this year the Norwegian govt linked vehicle registrations to vehicle insurance, the insurance companies are responsible for ensuring every car is registered and insured. It’s a good idea and makes it impossible to own a car and not have it insured.

          1. It’s a great idea if your goal is to make car insurance more expensive.
            Besides, if you’re not bothering with rego you’re even less likely to bother with insurance.

          2. It’s the same charge as it was previously but it’s no longer the road authorities collecting it, it’s the insurance company.

            Also it’s nearly impossible to drive an unregistered car here without being caught. there are plenty of devices here which the authorities have for reading license plates an unregistered vehicle is flagged ASAP.

          3. No it’s not cause now you’ve insured everyone including the uninsurable. The cost will go through the roof.

          4. Tony – you maybe right that it could go up for that reason but ‘through the roof’ is an exaggeration.

            Anyway it comes with a benefit that everyone else is now covered if they are hit by the previously uninsured driver.

            The challenge is to ensure bad drivers pay higher insurance premiums but that is easier said than done.

          5. Jezza, there’s no benefit in that if you are insured yourself. It’s a myth.
            So through the roof is not an exaggeration given the benefit is almost zero.

          6. Tony – good point, you are correct that you are already covered anyway. However, given as you rightly say that the insurance companies are already covering the cost of crashes with these uninsurable drivers I can’t see why premiums would go up.

            All that changes is these drivers contribute to the cost of these accidents that are already being covered anyway, if anything this would lower premiums for everyone else.

          7. @tony: that is nonsense. Third-party insurance has been mandatory since a long time in many countries (I’m guessing that includes Norway, and MC is just referring to more strict enforcement). Insurance costs did not go through the roof.

            And you will bother with it. New Zealand generally doesn’t give a damn about anything but other countries do. You can go to jail for driving an uninsured vehicle.

            It is pretty strange that you’re still allowed to drive uninsured over here.

          8. Jezza insurance companies recover the costs from the uninsured drivers directly if that driver is at fault. If they are forced to cover these drivers then the cost will from the pool of funds the insurance company holds. The premiums we pay create the pool. If the pool of funds are at greater risk then it must be bigger to cover that additional risk. That’s why premiums have to rise. That’s how insurance works.

            Roeland the vast bulk of overseas compulsory insurance schemes are mostly for liability cover not property. We have ACC to deal with this.
            There are 3rd party schemes too but these are pointless and expensive.
            If you your own cover you are covered against others.

          9. Tony – insurance companies try and recover the costs if it is worthwhile, often it isn’t and even when it is they spend a significant amount of money recovering it. It’s not a great system financially for those that are insured.

          10. It’ll be even worse when you’re subsiding the repeat Drink drivers and serial speeders and insurance fraudsters.

          11. Because everyone is now insured, the cost of insurance should reduce since the risks of being in an accident with an uninsured driver are now non existent.

          12. Insurance is pretty cheap in Norway, I’m not sure what the rates are in NZ these days but I pay under 800 NZD per annum for an over 120k NZD car. It’s odd but I also pay a lot less for our new car then I do for our 4 year old car. Cars are stupidly expensive in Norway, paying 120k is par for the course for a decent sized family friendly station wagon.

    2. Because we don’t want to spend money making our roads better. The state highway network should be a divided road, its criminal that it isn’t. We also don’t take driver training seriously enough, most people are taught by their parents, this should not be allowed, you should only be taught by a certified professional driving instructor. And for some stupid reason which is beyond me we still allow people to have a couple of drinks and drive. Even a glass or two is enough to have an effect on your ability to drive, even when you’re under the limit.

      1. I think you have highlighted the problem; instead of making the obvious change that would seriously drop the road toll (decreasing and policing speed limits) we focus on blaming the road (yet are so opposed to any increase in fuel tax to fix it). Why not drop all speed limits tomorrow and increase them again when/if the roads are made better?

        1. The road is part of the problem, no amount of policing is going to stop the average idiot keep left, and not pass when it’s unsafe to pass. Making the road safer and eliminating the ability for drivers to cross the centre line should be the goal. As I mentioned elsewhere you’re going to be just as dead hitting another car front on at 80kph as you will be at 100kph.

          1. Yeah, evidently not true, given the reduction in deaths everywhere that 80kmh limits have been applied (including NZ in the past). Frontal impact systems certainly cope better with an 80k impact than a 100k one.

            There is a persistent myth that a head-on crash has an effective kinetic energy of twice the approach speeds (e.g. 160k @ 80kmh). But, assuming the two vehicles are similar in size, then each of them will simply face a sudden drop in speed from 80k (or whatever) to zero – rather like hitting a solid brick wall at that speed.

          2. @ GlenK: But fair to say that if a vehicle at 80Km/h crashed head-on into a similar vehicle that was stationary, the energy needing-to-be absorbed by the frontal-impact structures of both vehicles would be half that compared to both vehicles doing 80Km/h and crashing head-on.

            A brick wall has no crumple-zone so yes, a single vehicle hitting it head-on at 80Km/h would have to absorb the same energy as two vehicles at 80Km/h colliding head-on and sharing twice the crumple-energy between them.

            (I trust everyone has got that :o)

          3. Dave, if you hit a stationary vehicle while doing 80k, it is very likely that the stationary vehicle wouldn’t remain stationary for very long… so yes, the energy absorption per vehicle would be less because it can be shared. Not so with two equal moving vehicles or one vs an immoveable object – in both cases each moving vehicle has to absorb the same amount of energy because either (a) the other veh is a mirror of it, or (b) the immoveable wall absorbs none of it (if it is by definition immoveable). Simple way to understand it is to put a line between the two colliding objects – nothing can cross that line.

  5. So why did Glen Eden have it’s proposed 30 speed limit increased back to 50 – it’s so frustrating when great idea’s and passion like in this post get stopped into actual action by what I assume is a small number of managers at Auckland Transport trying to keep a few people who complain happy without accepting the science and evidence.

  6. Yes fantastic post.
    A friend of mine used to say that trusting a stranger to drive a car at great speed towards you is as stupid as trusting a stranger to shoot an apple on top of your head. We are so scared of strangers in almost every aspect of life yet we completely trust them with our lives on the road.
    Driving is one of those things that we will one day tell our children or grandchildren about and they won’t understand how it could possibly have worked. How could you give everyone a highly deadly weapon and not expect a significant number to accidentally/stupidly/deliberately use it.

    1. That’s why I drive assuming that everyone around me is a crazed idiot just waiting to do something stupid. It is very tiring driving that way, but I prefer it to the potential other result.
      A recent example of where it helps was last Sunday, driving on a fairly narrow rural road. A cyclist was riding towards me, close to their road shoulder. A car was coming up to the cyclist in the same direction as them, I estimated we’d all meet at about the same time. I slowed down and pulled over as far as possible, because sure enough the driver coming the other way didn’t slow down and only just avoiding hitting either of us. If I’d assumed the other driver would drive appropriately, either I would’ve been in a head-on or the cyclist would’ve been rear-ended. Hence, I’m better off assuming every driver is a crazed idiot until proven otherwise.

  7. Not far from my home a two lane sealed 50km/h road become a single lane unsealed 100km/h road.

    It’ll be good if they can lower many 100 roads to 80, but if they are going to keep narrow windy unsealed roads at 100 it just makes a mockery of the whole system. It will mean road speeds based on ideology and perceptions rather than practical engineering, and that shouldn’t be the case.

  8. Thanks Andrew Bell. This is exactly the message that needs to sink into the numbed skulls of so many people, here in NZ and all round the world.
    The car has taken too much and continues to do so. Too much has been sacrificed on its account, yet somehow we have become inured to the human, the social, and the environmental gravity of it.

    In 1985 the NZ open-road speed-limit was raised from 80Km/h to 100Km/h, with almost zero consideration of the unsuitablilty of many roads for this speed. The nation and its newspapers and show-hosts cheered and celebrated this idiocy, eyes firmly closed to the horror of what really goes on, on the roads.

    But a generation on, eyes seem to be opening again. Questions are being asked that were not asked before. Debates are being had around what was formerly taken for granted. Politicians are beginning to catch on to what a few of us have been trying to say for decades.

    It has taken a painfully long time to reach this point but fruit is appearing. ‘Survivable speeds’ are a long-overdue first step in bringing this madness under control. And high time for those who oppose lower speeds to be swept aside.

      1. Yes and no. Some of what cars have given could have been achieved by other means (e.g. a society less-structured around car-dependency is able to manage with less car-travel – different layout, different ways of doing things etc – and the same applies to road-freight). Also the high-cost that cars have exacted could have been much-reduced while continuing to deliver most of the benefits, simply by curbing unnecessary excesses of speed, weight, and infrastructure-provision. The reality as I see it is that we have become unhealthily-addicted to cars, in rather the same way that substance-abusers become addicted to drugs. They see the harm caused and ignore it, they spend and sacrifice more-and-more to sustain the habit, and they lose sight of how life could be without it.
        It is welcome that governments and individuals in more-and-more countries are recognizing that the car-dependency has gone way too far and are starting to re-strategize. As in many things NZ is behind the eight-ball but changes are happening.
        The next generation may well look back with horror at the mess we allowed to happen.

      2. Spray and walk away, eh?

        I think you’ll find that in other countries they take away far less. We need to match that.

    1. We raised the speed limit but failed to spend the necessary money to improve the roads. Lowering the speed limit back to 80 isn’t going to prevent a head on collision because some twat failed to keep left, you’re just as dead at 80 as you are at 100. All our state highways where the majority of fatal accidents happen https://www.transport.govt.nz/mot-resources/road-safety-resources/road-deaths/2018-road-deaths/ should by now be divided highways, eliminating the possibility of head on crashes would reduce our road toll significantly.

      1. There is a huge difference between the survivability of a head on at 80 vs 100, it’s the main reason 80 is recommended on undivided roads, but I completely agree that we need a lot more divided roads than we currently have.

      1. To answer your question Geoff, I looked at what happened when the open road speed limit was reduced in 1973 and then raised again in 1985 – https://viastrada.nz/pub/changing-rural-speed-limits . Short answer: rural fatals and serious injuries went down and up accordingly with speed limit. Obviously other long-term trends like improving vehicles and roads continue along at the same time, but it is clear that lower speed limits where warranted are a powerful safety tool that we have barely looked at so far.

        1. In 85 the speed limit went up to 100kph, road deaths were 747, they started dropping from 1988, and they have continued to drop, in 2018 we had 380 deaths, roughly half the number since the speed limit was increased, with almost twice the number of registered vehicles on the roads. Saying the increase in speed limit has increased the number of deaths isn’t accurate, when the statistics show a different picture. We can do better and should but reducing the open road speed limit isn’t going to make a lot of difference, dividing the roads and reducing the possibility of a head on crash will make a huge difference, but

          1. The deaths started dropping in 1988 because we got onto other safety initiatives like blackspot treatment programmes, graduated licensing, etc. These were largely as a response to the jump in deaths. I’m talking about the immediate impact of the speed limit after 1985, and it is clear that there was a notable change for worse in the succeeding 2-3 years that can’t be explained by other interventions.

            It’s a tricky analysis game because at any given time there are multiple interventions happening, be they instantaneous ones (e.g. lowering the drink-drive limit) or continuous ones (e.g. ever-improving vehicle fleet). The changes to the open road limits were some of the rare times when we made a blanket nationwide speed change. In practice, we are likely to be progressively making future speed limit changes on a case-by-case basis, but that doesn’t nullify the significant safety effect for the treated areas.

  9. Great post!

    I have previously argued that the national speed limit should be 80km/h, with certain roads signed for 100 or 110 on a caße by case basis. As time goes on, I become more and more convinced that this is the way forward.

  10. We need a speed limit boycott campaign. Get people to pledge to drive 80kmh on roads with no median barrier, try to force the hands of councils and NZTA.

    1. While deaths have reduced, I think you will find injuries have not reduced to the same extent. “Accidents” – if you can call them that when we do so little to change what we clearly know causes them – are still happening. But we are now better at rescuing victims and piecing them back together again. And vehicles are better-designed to protect occupants in the inevitable crashes.
      Transport by motor vehicle is still a high-risk activity both for participants and for external parties, and the fact that there were 843 death in 1973 does not make the 380 deaths in 2018 and likely this year also, any more acceptable.

      1. If we had the same level of people using active modes as we did back then, our fatalities and injuries would be higher too. I don’t know if we have a value for fatalities per 100 km walked or cycled were back then, but today, those measures are very high. And we know people are walking and cycling way less, from the MoT Household Travel Survey data.

    2. Comparing with 1973 is apples vs oranges; obviously our underlying level of road safety sophistication in terms of road design, vehicle design, and road user education/licensing/enforcement continue to improve. But the headline result is that our road safety record has not improved in the past five years, even if you take traffic demand into account (and meanwhile, other top countries have continued to improve their records).

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