Road toll proves safety strategy isn't working – expert

Tuesday 5 June 2012, 8:19AM
By Dog & Lemon Guide

Last weekend’s high road toll is proof that enforcement by itself has little effect on the number of accidents, says a leading road safety campaigner.

There were more than 800 crashes and seven deaths on New Zealand roads over the weekend, compared with 361 crashes and one death over the same weekend last year. There was a heavy police presence on both these weekends and a strict enforcement of speed limits.

Clive Matthew-Wilson, who edits the car review website, says:

“When the road toll goes down, the police try and take the credit. When it goes up, they blame the drivers. They can’t have it both ways.”

“The simple fact is: the highest risk groups, which are the very young, the very old and the very impaired, are largely blind to road safety messages.”

“For 50 years before airbags and modern roads, there were policemen at the side of highways and signs saying ‘drive safely’. The road toll simply kept climbing. The road toll began to fall again when safer cars and roads arrived.”

“The most obvious example is the Auckland harbour bridge, which used to suffer one serious road accident every week. After a concrete barrier was installed down the middle, the serious accidents stopped immediately. There wasn’t one less hoon or drunk driver, yet the accidents stopped because the improved road design prevented mistakes from becoming fatalities.”

“Despite last weekend’s tragedy, overall, the road toll has been falling steadily since the late 1980s. The fall in the road toll closely matches the improvements in our roads and cars. As our roads and cars continue to improve, the toll will fall further.”

Matthew-Wilson adds:

“ There’s a bizarre mindset at police headquarters that if they issue a million tickets to ordinary motorists, this is somehow going to modify the behaviour of the high risk groups. That’s a bit like trying to stop bank robberies by targeting shoplifting. There's actually not much connection between the two events.”