Yesterday we covered the government’s latest policy/delivery changes with a focus on light rail. But there was another important transport part of the announcement: The government will also intends to scale back its road safety plans.
The programmes that are being reprioritised include:
- Significantly narrowing the speed reduction programme to focus on the most dangerous one per cent of state highways, and ensuring Waka Kotahi are consulting meaningfully with affected communities.
That means speed limits will reduce in the places where there are the highest numbers of deaths and injuries and where local communities support change. We will continue to make targeted reductions in the areas immediately around schools and marae and in small townships that a state highway runs through.
Every year, hundreds of people die needlessly on New Zealand’s roads and thousands more are seriously injured, altering the course of their lives. Concerningly, safety hasn’t been improving in recent years: last year, 378 people died on our roads, which is significantly higher than the all-time low of 253 in 2013.
Road deaths equate to over 7 for every 100,000 people. This is significantly higher than what has been able to be achieved in other countries: for our cousins over in Australia, the rate is less than 5 per 100,000 people and some of the Nordic countries have reduced rates to just over 2 per 100,000 people. If we met even just Australia’s result, that would mean about 140 people not dying in crashes each year. That would be an outcome any politician could be proud of.
Improving road safety has been a cornerstone of transport policy for decades – and for good reason: people deserve to be able to get home safely to their loved ones.
There’s a strong economic reason too, as crashes are estimated to cost the country close to $5 billion every year from things like lost productivity, quality of life, as well as direct medical, legal and vehicle costs.
In 2020, the government adopted the Road to Zero strategy and set a goal of reducing road deaths and serious injuries by 40% by 2030. These are the key ways they planned to do that:
How we plan to achieve the 40% target
Modelling suggests that just over half the target could be achieved through a combination of infrastructure improvements, such as:
- median barriers and intersection treatments
- speed limit changes in urban areas and on the highest risk parts of the road network, and
- increased levels of enforcement, both by safety cameras and police officers.
These changes require substantial investment in road safety over the next decade.
Up to a further 25% could be achieved by lifting the safety performance of the vehicle fleet and mandating ABS for motorcycles.
The remaining 25% could be achieved by a combination of other interventions, such as improvements to driver licensing and increases to penalties for safety offences, as well as broader factors, such increased uptake of public transport and changes in vehicle technology.
Speed limit changes are on the list because they’re one of the fastest and cheapest changes that have been shown to make a difference. They tend to draw a lot of media attention, but when you look at public feedback, there is just as much support as opposition – that in itself is notable, given most people won’t submit in support of a proposal.
By limiting Waka Kotahi to only changing speed on about one per cent of highways – or about 246km – the government is really hamstringing them in being able to achieve the targets they’ve been set. In doing so, over the coming years, hundreds of people will unnecessarily die as a result.
It’s not like Waka Kotahi have been doing a great job of some of the other changes either, with little progress being made on median barriers in most places.
And it’s not just us perplexed at the announcement. This comment is from the AA in an interview on Radio NZ.
At the AA we were always in favour of targeting the speed reductions to the highest risk areas. But in terms of scale of it, this is a big U-turn by the government on what was planned before. Speed reductions was a major part their modelling of the Road to Zero target of a 40% reduction of deaths and serious injuries by 2030. So I guess our question is, if the speed reductions aren’t happening, what are we going to see instead to try and make our roads safer?
We haven’t been moving quickly enough up to this point, the government’s been struggling to deliver on a bunch of its Road to Zero goals. With the change in speed, it just means there’s more need for us to be upgrading and improving roads. We need to get our road policing enforcement levels back up, we need to be looking at the vehicle fleet and getting people into safer vehicles, so it puts more emphasis on doing those things and doing them quickly now with this change in direction on speed.
Likely there’s some political calculus involved, given it’s an election year. But this also seems like another case where the government is making a decision because it’s done a bad job at communicating why these changes are needed. Only this time, it’s a decision that will cost lives.
— Sharon Murdoch (@domesticanimal) March 14, 2023