This is a guest post by Darren Davis, reposted with his kind permission. It originally appeared on his excellent blog Adventures in Transitland, which we warmly encourage you to check out.


Aotearoa has one of the worst road safety records in the developed world. Australia is doing quite a bit better. What can we learn from our Aussie cousins?

In Aotearoa, driving is often perceived in public discourse as a right, not the privilege that it is. Driver licensing, by its very nature, requires a prescribed standard of driving skill and knowledge of the road rules in order to keep all road users – from oneself to other drivers through to public transport passengers and people on foot and bike – as safe as possible.

To this end, there are sanctions available, including fines, to incentivise safe driving and penalise those who do not drive safely. The oft-held tenet that traffic fines is revenue raising is strictly speaking true as money is collected. But this ignores the fact that the only way drivers are raising revenue is by them breaking the law. We don’t question punishments for behaviour that could injure or kill people except, apparently, when those behaviours are committed behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Traffic and parking fines in Queensland can be up to 10 times their equivalent in Aotearoa. Image source: Reserve Bank of Australia. Low resolution image with enough detail removed to be unusable outside of the internet.

But for fines to have an effect on driver behaviour, they have to have a deterrent effect. And this is an area where Aotearoa fails miserably in comparison to our large neighbour to the west, Australia.


A quick Trans Tasman deterrence calculator

What follows is a comparison between Aotearoa and my current residence in exile – at least for the duration of the Coalition of Clowns – in Queensland. The Queensland fines are from 1 July 2024 as Queensland, unlike Aotearoa, increases fines every year in line with inflation.

[Amounts are in local currency. As at 18 June 2024, $NZ1 = $A0.93.]

Speeding 5km/h over the speed limit

In Aotearoa – $0 as there is in effect a 7km/h tolerance built into enforcement
In Queensland – $322 and 1 demerit point. There is zero tolerance for speeding in Queensland (and more on demerit points later)<

Speeding 31km/h over the speed limit

In Aotearoa – $300 and no demerit points if caught by a speed camera
In Queensland – $1,210 and 6 demerit points

Mobile phone use while driving

In Aotearoa – $150 and 20 demerit points
In Queensland – $1,210 and 4 demerit points

Not wearing a seatbelt

In Aotearoa – $150 and 0 demerit points
In Queensland – $1,210 and 4 demerit points

Running a red traffic light

In Aotearoa – $150 and 0 demerit points
In Queensland (including running an amber light) – $645 and 3 demerit points

Parking offences

In Aotearoa – from $12
In Brisbane – $120

As you can see, there are huge differences in both the level of fines and a number of key safety offences where there are no demerit points in Aotearoa – such as running a red light.

But the issue goes broader than this as there are striking differences between the mechanics of the demerit point regimes between Queensland and Aotearoa.


A tale of two demerit point regimes

Queensland

If you get 12 or more demerit points within a 3 year period on a Queensland open licence, you have to choose to either:

  • have your open licence suspended for a requisite period (12-15 demerit points = 3 months; 16-19 demerit points = 4 month suspension; 20+ demerit points = 5 months), or
  • agree to continue driving under a period of good driving behaviour for 1 year.

If you choose to continue driving under a good driving behaviour period for 1 year, you can keep your current licence. If you get 2 or more demerit points during the good driving behaviour period, your licence will be suspended for double the suspension period that would have applied if you had chosen the suspension period originally (e.g. for an original 5 month suspension, your new licence suspension will be 10 months).

But wait, there’s more. In Queensland, double demerit points apply for certain second or subsequent offences committed within a year of the previous offence, including.

  • speeding more than 20km/h over the speed limit
  • mobile phone offences
  • driver seatbelt offences

Unlike other states and territories of Australia, in Queensland double demerit points apply year around, not just during holiday periods.

For a mobile phone offences (and it is illegal to even touch your mobile phone while driving in Queensland) with double demerit points, two mobile phone offences in a year triggers a licence suspension or good driving behaviour period.

And if you’re found driving while suspended, you’ll be charged with unlicensed driving and need to appear in court.

Aotearoa

If you accumulate 100 or more demerit points in any two-year period, your licence will be suspended for three months. As speed camera, seat belt and red-light running offences don’t have demerit points in Aotearoa, only fines apply for these offences. It would take five mobile phone offences in two years (versus two offences in one year in Queensland) to trigger a three-month licence suspension.

After a licence suspension is over, you can automatically regain your licence and all the previous demerit points leading to the licence suspension are cancelled. Similarly, if a court disqualifies you for a period of six months or more, any active demerit points recorded on your licence record at the time will be cancelled and will no longer contribute to your active demerit point total.


Enforcement

What makes this situation even worse are the significant differences in traffic and parking enforcement between Aotearoa and Australia. In Aotearoa, parking fines are so low that it is a loss maker for road controlling authorities to enforce parking restrictions, most extremely for non-paid parking offences.

But, more importantly, the deterrence of high fines needs to be backed up with high enforcement of fines. If you run little risk of being caught, then no level of fines will have a significant deterrence effect.

Speed and red light camera, Brisbane. Source: Courier-Mail.

In Queensland, speed, red light camera, seatbelt and mobile phone use enforcement is both highly visible and subject to high levels of fines and demerit points. In the 2022-2023 financial year, there were 558,570 mobile speed camera infringements, over 78 per cent of which were for less than 13 km/h over the speed limit.

But this doesn’t stop the apparent paradox where only 47 per cent of Queenslanders surveyed agreed with the statement ‘Low-level speeding is a major contributor to crashes’ while 90 per cent agreed with the statement ‘The faster you drive, the more severe the crash’ (Department of Transport and Main Road Annual Report 2022-2023, App. 4, p223)

In the same survey, 54 per cent of respondents self-identified as low level speeders who travel 1-10 km/h over the speed limit for more than 10 per cent of driving time.

Camera Detected Offence Program, Queensland Government. CC BY 4.0

Even with this apparent cognitive disconnect, an important element of the Queensland traffic camera program is the legislative requirement under the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 for proceeds of traffic camera fines to be spent on:

  • road safety education and awareness
  • improving road-safe practices and behaviours
  • rehabilitating persons who have been injured in a road crash.

As per the graphic above, the Camera Detected Offence Program enabled $171.3 million to be spent on safety improvements on Queensland’s 33,000 kilometres of state-controlled roads in the 2021-2022 financial year.

In Aotearoa, money from speed camera fines goes into the Government Consolidated Fund, meaning there is no direct connection between payer and benefit.

Media in Aotearoa frequently emphasises the “revenue gathering” argument and not safety in relation to speed cameras. Stuff.co.nz January 2023

Of interest is there are more mobile speed camera offences detected in Aotearoa (608,029 in 2023) than in Queensland (558,570 in FY 2022-2023) even though there are a lot fewer cameras in Aotearoa. This is explained by a lot more cameras in Queensland (up to 3,500) versus around 200 in Aotearoa, detecting a lot fewer offences.

In Queensland, there are 14,411 vehicles per speed camera offence and an astounding 152,630 vehicles per red light camera offence detection. This bears out my experience of living in Queensland, where speed and red light compliance is very high when compared to my experience of living in Aotearoa.

And this also bears itself out in the safety statistics. In 2023, 341 people died in road crashes in Aotearoa while 276 people died in Queensland. Taking the 2023 populations of Aotearoa (5,228,100) and Queensland (5,528,292) and adjusting for population, Queensland’s per capita road death rate is 25 per cent below Aotearoa’s.


Final thoughts

  • Compared to Queensland, Aotearoa’s traffic and parking fines are very low and are a poor deterrent to bad driving and parking behaviour.
  • Queensland’s demerit point system is vastly more effective than Aotearoa’s, especially for speeding, mobile phone use and red light running.
  • Both Aotearoa and Queensland drivers have the same cognitive disconnect between their own speeding and the risk and severity of crashes as speeds increase.
  • Enforcement is much more visible (and comes with much more severe consequences) in Queensland than in Aotearoa but detects fewer offences due to much higher compliance rates.
  • Queensland makes no apology for reinvesting traffic offence camera revenue in road safety whereas in Aotearoa, this goes directly into the Consolidated Fund.
  • In the end, the combination of higher fines, a much tougher demerit point regime and visible and frequent enforcement contributes to a significantly lower death toll on the road network in Queensland when compared to Aotearoa.
  • As an aside, with transport revenues severely strained in Aotearoa, is it such a bad thing to collect more revenue from traffic offenders, which would deter bad driving (along with a higher risk of licence suspension)? This would both contribute to safer roads and provide more revenue to make roads safer.
  • This piece only covers a few elements of road safety. There are many other that are equally if not more important such as safe, survivable speeds and streets designed for everyone – on foot, bike, public transport or in a car, truck or van.
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46 comments

  1. Fortunately with the coalition’s ” tough on crime” stance we can expect to see these law breakers receive punishments consumerate with the dangers they present to our communities.

  2. Compare the number of stolen cars per capita.
    Compare how little training, skill and comprehension is required to get a drivers license here.
    Compare attitude.
    Our roads are on the whole more poorly designed, in bad condition, less straight and narrower.
    How many of the worst offenders here actually pay fines, or have any care for society.
    How soft are the judiciary.

    1. “Compare how little training, skill and comprehension is required to get a drivers license here.” You obviously don’t have children who are trying to get a license. It requires quite a bit of training, skill and comprehension to get a license. We always get the same excuses (delaying tactics) when road safety is discussed.

      1. A big burden on youngsters trying to make a living. They do need the lessons, but training new drivers doesn’t fix the appalling standards of ‘experienced’ drivers. Remedial courses and re-testing are needed if the worst offenders are expected to improve. Fund as ‘diversion’ of fines and out of general enforcement revenue.

      2. The license is far too easy to get. You should try getting one in a first world country if you think NZ is hard.

        1. In my opinion driver competency is a distraction from the real problems, and there’s little evidence I’ve seen that harder license tests would make any difference at all.

          The key issue is that we have an incredibly unforgiving transport system where a minor mistake too frequently has tragic consequences. We are all human and occasionally make mistakes, regardless of how “good” we are at driving.

        2. Ha! It’s piss easy here in the UK.

          You can get a learner licence through the post without doing anything at all and you can then work as a commercial driver for Deliveroo etc on a scooter.

          It’s appalling.

    2. Most of the issues I see are due to a lack of re-testing.

      Zero attempt to go back and ensure people that got their license out of a weet bix box in the 80s know the give way rules. Nearly zero oversight of people that become unfit to drive. People can do some heinous stuff and be back behind the wheel quickly https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/wrong-way-driver-on-wellington-motorway-sentenced-for-killing-motorcyclist/XOJOSF7T3C7ELDDGZ6NQBTWJXY/

      The failure rates if you sat an average NZ adult in a learner or restricted test tomorrow would be shocking.

  3. Murder in Queensland is life imprisonment and a non-parole of 20 years. Here it is 10 years. We live in a country where the hand wringers run the system.

  4. I feel that the low number of speed cameras we have contributed to the attitude towards them.

    Outside of some high accident areas, you’re pretty unlucky to get a speeding ticket. People view speeding as normal behaviour, and getting a ticket as an aberration. If getting a ticket was a common consequence of speeding people’s would speed less, AND be less annoyed by tickets

    There are no static speed cameras in greater CHCH. None. Occasionally mobile cameras are set up, but rarely. A limit is not a limit of there is no enforcement.

    1. Yeah that, quite often not speeding will cause you trouble. A situation where most traffic is driving at 70 is safer than a similiar situation where everyone is driving 100, but if you’re driving 70 but everyone else is driving 100 you become this slower moving obstacle in traffic flow, and that introduces a lot of risk.

    2. Same with breath testing checkpoints. Outside of the silly season, how prevalent are they?

      When I worked in Sydney, they were very visbile throughout the year. Used to see them at 8am in the morning on a public holiday…

      1. Just been to Sydney recently myself and noticed they enforce the road rules better in general including illegal drugs using roadside tests. No wonder the road toll in Aus is way lower than ours.

  5. Make setting and gathering traffic enforcement fines a revenue source for our cash strapped local government and wham, it’ll be like that time you got pulled over and fined by the local sheriff in backwoods Alabama for a tail light that wasn’t broken until he smashed it with his baton.

    1. Our current govt will send Simeon Brown to personally apologise and refund you if you get three or more fines in one year, because clearly this would be a woke crusade against car drivers.

  6. No political party in this country wants to risk losing votes by increasing penalties for illegal parking let alone dangerous driving.

  7. Stating the obvious, but how about banning private motor vehicles??? Surely in our cities there would be logical justification for limiting the movement of this heavy weaponry?
    Where I live in the centre of Auckland it seems that every day the vehicles outside my window bear a closer resemblance to military vehicles.
    If we are too scared to catch public transport, we need to make our public transport safer.
    Private bubbles, maintained by private motor vehicles, are unhealthy for every person, whether inside that bubble, or outside on the footpath avoiding being hit by those tanks.

    bah humbug

  8. Kiwi that’s in QLD now. Two subtleties that the article misses that I think are worth adding:

    1) Double demerits are NOT for the SAME offense in a year, it’s actually TWO in the same GROUP of offenses. (i.e If you get pinged for mobile phone use and then no seatbelt you get double demerits)

    2) Fines (and many things actually) are NOT hard-coded dollar values into legislation. They are in “penalty points” The value of 1 penalty point is adjusted every year in line with inflation. So the “sting” of a fine’s value is maintained all the time (instead of just when politicians feel like updating it).

  9. In order to impose demerits for camera detected offences it is necessary to positively identify the driver to whom the demerits will apply.

    1. Too true. I once loaned my car to a mate who then got picked up by a speed camera. The fine came to me (and went on my record for the insurance) because I was the registered owner. I could show that I was not the driver at the time but no-one cared.

    2. Many countries have a similar system and just apply them to the registered owner, with some exemptions if you can prove someone else was driving.

      1. Yeah, if it is your mate, they should step forward and accept the demerit points. That needs to be possible but no big deal really.

    3. Speed cameras in Germany look backwards for this exact reason, if you get pinged there you get a visible light flash straight in your face.

  10. It would be great if we adopted a driving school approach both at the time of getting a licence but also when people tick over the demerit point limit. Something like suspended for 3 months during which must pass a defensive driving course or a tailor made course addressing speeding and red light running.

    1. I think we should start road safety and testing at a young age.

      Start off at primary school with a test on basic road code and teach young kids how to cross roads etc. Then as they get older, have a license for riding bikes and scooters.

      After that, there can be a driving license.

      Hopefully that way we would have less accidents from motorists, less accidents from cyclists (I watched the whole peloton ride through a red last week) and by the time you are allowed near a car, at least there is some basic understanding.

  11. My my. The Speech Police have been out twice this week.

    And both were clever enough to misapply the word woke. Well done chaps. Keep raging.

  12. needs more enforcing and big fines. also banning. only thing people care and only way for them to learn.

  13. Just think of traffic fines as voluntary tax – those who incur them reduce the tax burden on the rest of us.
    Have to say I feel safer driving in Aussie than here.

  14. One thing that amazed me when I moved here was how bad driving behaviour is overall, and it’s not like I come from a place famous for great drivers.

    Seeing how impotent the enforcement and punishments are for driving infractions, I’m much less surprised. Drivers as a whole need to face greater accountability. They’re operating big, loud, dirty, metal death machines. If they can’t do that to a level that’s safe for others they should face the consequences.

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