In 2020, a total of 320 people lost their lives on our roads. That’s an improvement on the 350 people that were killed the year before, but the improvement is due to little travel occurring during the first COVID lockdown and if you take the main part of the lockdown out, April and May, the rest of the year was higher (289 last year vs 279 the year before). So much for the foreigners causing accidents that some like to blame.

This time of year is one of the few were we see media covering road safety issues and over the last week or so we’ve seen a number of commentators and industry figures putting the blame almost solely on driver training. For example Nick Leggett from the trucking lobby group the Road Transport Forum talked about truck drivers being held to high standards and said the issue was distracted (car) drivers “lacking the skills to drive safely”. Sadly that night a truck driver died after two trucks crashed and so it seems even those standards aren’t high enough. Others have attacked the focus on speeds and the investment in making roads safer with things like side and median barriers – the roll out of which has been way too slow by Waka Kotahi.

Education and driving skills are certainly one part of the problem, though anecdotally, arrogance and a sense of entitlement on the roads by many, perhaps somewhat enhanced by our car-dependant society, seem to be just as much of a problem. In saying that, even highly skilled racing car drivers make mistakes and crash sometimes. Like in car racing, we need to ensure we’re doing everything we can, including vehicles and infrastructure, to ensure that when mistakes happen people don’t die or get seriously injured.

So it was great to see an update from Waka Kotahi CEO Nicole Rosie yesterday saying the same thing. I’ve included it in full below and highlighted what I think is the most relevant part.

There is only one acceptable road safety target – Zero

Like many of you, I returned to work this week after some time off to recharge and spend precious time with friends and family.

I also took the time to reflect on the past year, which was truly unprecedented in our lifetimes, with the world engulfed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As we all know, New Zealand has been incredibly fortunate to escape the worst effects of the pandemic which continues to decimate so many countries, claiming thousands of lives a day.

Of course New Zealand has still been affected, and the families of 25 New Zealanders will remember last year not just for the disruption and anxiety of Covid lockdowns, but also as the year they lost a loved one who succumbed to the disease.

Tragically though, many more Kiwi families will remember 2020 as they year they lost a loved one in a road crash.  Last year 319 people lost their lives on our roads, and many more suffered serious debilitating injuries.

If we step back and take a longer view, the scale of the tragedy of road trauma in this country is astounding. Over the past ten years, more than 3,200 people have died in road crashes in New Zealand, and an estimated 23,000 have been seriously injured.

Those are staggering figures. They should horrify us. Deaths and serious injuries on our roads should not be tolerated – they are not inevitable. We should not accept that serious crashes are just another part of road travel, and we should not refer to the loss of human life on the roads as a ‘toll’ we are prepared to pay as the price of our ability to get around.

So what is the answer? Some recent media stories suggest drivers are primarily to blame – poor driving is the problem, and the answer is more training to make everyone better drivers.

The evidence shows us it’s not that simple. Human beings are fallible by nature, and every one of us makes mistakes. Certainly there is an important role for driver education, and we all have a responsibility to make the right decisions like buckling up, driving sober and at a safe speed, and following the road rules.

But if we are going to reduce deaths and serious injuries on New Zealand roads we need to do much more. We need to work towards creating a safe system which is designed to account for human error – a system in which people are not killed or seriously injured when they make a mistake, or when someone else makes a mistake. This is what the safest countries in the world for road travel are already doing successfully – places like Sweden, Norway and Australia.  New Zealand’s current road death rate is 7.9 per 100,000 population, whereas countries which have adopted a ‘safe system’ approach have much lower rates. Australia’s current rate is 5.0 deaths per 100,000 population and Sweden’s is 2.6.

That’s why Waka Kotahi is committed to the Government’s Vision Zero strategy, which aspires to a New Zealand where no-one is killed or seriously injured on our roads. Under the Vision Zero philosophy, no loss of life is acceptable. It is based on the fact that we are human and humans inevitably make mistakes so, while the road system needs to keep us moving, it must also be designed to protect us.

Waka Kotahi and Police are working together with local government and others to deliver Road to Zero, the Government’s road safety strategy for 2020-2030, which is guided by Vision Zero. The new strategy sets a target of a 40 percent reduction in deaths and serious injuries over 10 years. The initial action plan includes further investment in roading improvements (including more median and side barriers), improving vehicle safety, a greater focus on road policing and a new approach to speed management.

New Zealanders quite rightly do not accept that the loss of life is an unfortunate but inevitable and acceptable part of the aviation or the maritime transport sectors. Nor should we accept it on the roads.  Vision Zero applies the same expectations to road travel as we apply to travel by plane or by boat.

We need to be clear that no system can be designed to prevent every crash, and no-one drives perfectly, without mistakes. But road transport systems can – and should – make crashes less likely to occur, and keep people alive when crashes do happen.

Mistakes are inevitable – deaths and serious injuries are not.

The Road to Zero strategy and action plan is available at

There was another road safety article that caught my attention yesterday and in particular how it intersects with vision zero which is a key part of the government’s road safety strategy. That’s because a core part of Vision Zero is that it places responsibility on the people who design and operate the transport system to provide a safe system.

A student who was badly injured after being run over by a ute was slapped with a repair bill by the driver’s insurers to pay for the damage.

Portia Jackson spent months fighting the insurance claim only to have it dropped this week, less than a fortnight before a tribunal hearing was due.


Jackson, now 20, does not remember ever seeing the vehicle that hit her.

According to her, a car had pulled out into the street, blocking her from seeing the ute behind it and preventing the ute’s driver from seeing her.

When she stepped into the street, she was hit by the vehicle behind the car that had pulled out into the road.

A police report later estimated the ute had been travelling about 25kmh an hour when it hit her.

“I woke up in the ambulance and I remember someone tried to talk to me about what happened, but I was out of it,” Jackson said. She ended up spending five days in hospital before being discharged.

Helpfully a map showing where the image occurred was included

This is the intersection of Great King St and Pine Hill Rd and if anything, it seems the insurance company should be going after the road designers. It doesn’t even look that safe for cars with those going west to east (like the ones lined up to do), having to shoot the gap with poor visibility – the image below is the one the white car has.

Thankfully the insurers have dropped the claims but we really need to fix intersections like this all around the country and make them safe – this particular one is considered one of the top 12 projects in Dunedin.

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  1. One of the solutions largely ignored is to reduce traffic and get people onto public transport, which is much safer.

      1. Depends what you are trying to do. They are a pain in the arse for storing at either end of the journey and don’t work well when lots of other people are trying to drive as well, they do give a lot of flexibility.

        I certainly couldn’t imagine not having a car but there are lot of times I’d prefer not to drive if it were easier.

  2. Of course the truckers lobby group want to point the blame away from truckers but the truth is that they aren’t held to high enough standards.

    Drivers that are remunerated based on productivity (owner-operator truck drivers, taxi drivers, courier drivers etc.) have a clear incentive to break any rules that impair productivity where the chance of getting caught is low (for example speeding, parking illegally, ignoring vehicle faults etc). This is a problem that I think outweighs the additional training and experience these drivers supposedly have.

    1. Very interesting to see the number of road rail transfer log yards which have started operating in the lower North island. Wairoa Woodville Masterton Palmers ton north Eastown and Feilding. Forestry companies and their trucking partners plus the port companies must be finding efficiencies in using rail maybe we can see something similar happening in the northern part of the island as well. Anyway less kilometers and less trucks needed.

      1. How many extra Kms of truck travel are there on SH3 since the Stratford to Okahukura rail line was closed? I’ll bet road safety was not factored into Steven Joyce’s close the line policies at the time.

        1. It would be pretty minimal. When Kiwirail consulted their Taranaki customers about the costs of getting it fixed the overwhelming majority were happy to pay a bit more for it to still go on rail but via Marton.

          The SOL line couldn’t take high cube containers anyway from memory.

        2. It could take high cubes tho. I’m still of the opinion a lot of customers
          in New Plymouth walked away from Rail because of that decision.

        3. Regarding the high cubes, the SOL was the only way rail access to the naki prior to the Kai iwi tunnel being bypassed.

  3. Here’s another case of where a truck driver and their company completely failed to uphold the high standards that we should expect. Not only that WorkSafe completely failed to appropriately discipline the parties at fault. There needs to be far more accountability and a change of attitude across the board.

    This story still saddens me every time I read it:

    1. If there were as many deaths in forestry as there are in commercial transport worksafe would come down like a ton of bricks.

    2. worksafe have traditionally drawn a line that they’ll only prosecute where workers are harmed.

      The first shift from this that I’ve seen is the Whakaari / White Island tragedy.

  4. The insurance company’s actions here are atrocious. They are not following the numbers or the data… they’re perpetuating myths and biases, and letting our local and central government off the hook for building lethal infrastructure.

    There’s plenty of acknowledgement now from Waka Kotahi about the need for a safe system, and from the international guidance about the flaws in this roading design, for them not to find a good case. Even before Vision Zero was accepted here, the insurance companies could have been part of the reason for needing to adopt it, if they’d simply brought cases against the road designers.

    Insurance companies going after the victims are either ignorant, or lazy, and either way, it’s not ethical.

    Good on the student and her family for standing up to them. It sounds like Stuff might have asked the right questions and been the circuit breaker. But how many people try to argue and get nowhere?

    1. I think you’ll find that Road Controlling Agencies/Authorities are exempt of prosecution which means they cannot be liable. Perhaps if there was a limited ability to hold them accountable there would be less of paying lip service to making roads safe and a greater investment in things like design- which includes making reading roads easily understandable for drivers, and utilising the ‘no surprises’ approach in their decision-making. Currently I know of one Council that says ‘off-the-record’ that this is too expensive to warrant and people just want a sealed road to use.
      Sometimes the safety auditing they use as semi-validation for a project does not go into enough depth to review these things.

  5. That intersection in Dunedin was built in the late eighties from memory, so very much car focused. The main reason was to straighten up SH1, however there was also a problem of trucks loosing their brakes having descended Mt Cargill and Pine Hill Rd. It wasn’t uncommon for them to crash into the botanic gardens before the realignment.

    Definitely needs sorting out.

    1. It’s a fairly major intersection where the SH 1 one-way system both merge to SH 1 north of the city. All traffic going between Port Chalmers and north of Dunedin would travel through here. It also connects to North Road to access NorthEast Valley and other parts of suburban Dunedin (including getting to Baldwin Street).

      I agree entirely. It’s unsafe.

    1. “China, India, Pacific Islands, Philippines” – driving licences from these countries aren’t valid here after 12 months of living in NZ and cannot be swapped for a local licence. Anyone from these nations still driving here will have had to have taken driving tests just like a local.

      But we’ve already highlighted this on GA on previous dicussions around road safety, and AKLDUDE still persists on posting racist screeds about foreign drivers. Mods, can we see some action on this please?

  6. A contributing factor not discussed is the huge population growth we have had which means there are now a lot more people using the same roads, more hold ups, more frustration and possibly more risk taking. This may account for some of the upward trend in the last few years.
    Zero deaths is a best case ideal but there will always be medical events, suicides, drugs, stolen vehicle racing, etc.
    Targets for things that would improve safety that are actually achievable and measurable would be better, e.g. install 100km of new median barrier per year.
    I think driver training is lacking. Compulsory defensive driving training course for anyone getting a speed camera or police ticket would be sobering and help.

    1. Yeah I agree. Vision Zero is a nice soundbite, but as it will never be achieved (without serious technology improvements) it is impossible to make it a measurable target. Its kind of like a DHB having a Vision Zero policy – it would be great if they could achieve it (or would it?), but they never will so it would be meaningless on its own.

      1. I don’t really like the name. But under the surface it just sounds like the idea is to optimise for safety rather than to optimise for throughout, to a certain extent. Combined with some better thinking around minimising the impact of people driving wrong. Eg if they don’t give way correctly here, is there some way we can make that accident less bad.

  7. What I often read between the lines is that, despite any rhetoric about safety or climate change, the basic assumption is that you’re still only supposed to be on our roads and streets (!) for one purpose, and that is driving. Otherwise, you’re using them improperly and it is your own fault if you die.

    And what a strange intersection, I had a hard time figuring out the layout until someone pointed out that here SH1 splits in 2 one-way roads. So we have a give way to traffic coming from a downhill curve on the main highway into town. What could possibly go wrong.

    Finally is anyone else thinking that ‘obviously’ trucks are not supposed to lose their brakes downhill? Otherwise what are those high standards they’re talking about?

  8. Not a stat that can be easily measured but it’d be interesting to see how many accidents are caused by mistakes vs willful bad driving

  9. Sure is good to hear the CEO saying this stuff. Decades of focusing on speeding, drunk driving & driver training has not helped or helped much.

  10. From a road designer perspective we adopted the Safe System from Vision Zero over a decade ago, and even before then we always looked to make roads safe. The issue is, we don’t have unlimited money or space and so we can only do what is reasonably practicable within the constraints we have.

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