Restricted plates of limited benefit – safety expert

Monday 28 May 2012, 10:24PM
By Dog & Lemon Guide

A government proposal to require ‘R’ plates for drivers on restricted licences is unlikely to seriously affect the road toll, says a leading road safety campaigner.

Clive Matthew-Wilson, editor of the car review website, says:

“Half of the highest risk group don’t have licences anyway. How can R plates possibly curb their behaviour?”

Matthew-Wilson adds that measures such as doubling prison sentences for dangerous drivers who cause death, and introducing alcohol-detecting car-ignition locks were also unlikely to work with the high risk groups.

“These guys don’t think about the consequences of their actions: that’s the problem. They don’t sit down and consider what they do before they act. Giving them longer prison sentences will simply increase the chances of them being pressured into joining gangs while they’re in prison. It would make far more sense to simply lock them up in a rehab centre and not let them out until they’re cured.”

“I also seriously doubt the effectiveness of alcohol interlocks among this group. Many of the cars they drive can be easily started with a screwdriver, and if their own car isn’t available, they’ll simply drive someone else’s.”

Matthew-Wilson gave the example of Bevan Shane Marino, a South Auckland gang associate who caused a multiple fatality while drunk and on cannabis. Marino’s own 3-year old son, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown through the windscreen of the car. Marino was driving erratically and at high speed. His bald left rear tyre punctured and he lost control, killing two German tourists and two of his passengers. He had no memory of the crash afterwards.

Matthew-Wilson adds: "The one thing that would have prevented this crash is a centre road barrier to stop Marino’s car colliding with two innocent tourists.”

Matthew-Wilson also disputes claims that road safety adverts such as the ‘ghost chips’ ad have been responsible for a lower rate of teenage drink driving.

“Advertising is a great way of getting people to do what they wanted to do anyway, like eat hamburgers. However, it’s not very effective at telling people not to do something. On some level, the person eating the hamburger knows that eating lots of burgers will make them fat, unhealthy and eventually kill them, but they do it anyway.”

The internationally respected American Insurance Institute for Highway Safety did a major study of the effectiveness of road safety advertising and concluded:

“Research indicates that education has no effect, or only a very limited effect, on habits like staying within speed limits, heeding stop signs, and using safety belts.”

“[Until you check out the facts,] 'who can argue against the benefits of education or training?' asks Institute chief scientist Allan Williams. “But when good scientific evaluations are undertaken, most of the driver improvement programs based on education or persuasion alone are found not to work.”

Clive Matthew-Wilson adds:

“Teenagers are ruled by their hormones. How they drive is largely governed by whatever hormones happen to be flowing at the time. Also, the frontal lobes of the brain, which are used to assess risk, are not fully developed during the teenage years. That’s one of the reasons teenagers tend to believe they’re ten foot tall and bulletproof.”

“Road safety dollars are limited, and dollars that are wasted on strategies that don’t work, mean there are less dollars spent on the strategies that have been scientifically proven to work.”