28 Nov 2017

NZTA safety manager backs zero-toll target

7:50 am on 28 November 2017

NZTA's road safety manager is firmly in favour of introducing a zero road toll target.

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Photo: RNZ

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter last week said the government was looking at a zero road toll target similar to the one in Sweden.

New Zealand's road safety strategy is already largely based on the Swedish approach, which assumes that people will make mistakes and aims primarily on reducing the harm which results from them.

NZTA Road Safety Manager Harry Wilson said people often did not see speed as a risk, they saw it as something other people did.

"Everyone's got a story you know, 'did you ever fall asleep?' and people say 'oh, yeah, of course', so when they think about it like that it makes sense."

He supported putting in place a zero road toll target as any level of death was intolerable.

"I do, absolutely, you've got to have an aspiration, you've got to have a vision, and that's what Vision Zero does.

"For most people the word, toll, implies that there's a tolerable level of death."

The current approach had been in the works for about 10 years, with the speed management guide having been developed over the past three years by NZTA, the AA, police and local government organisations.

It uses statistics around which roads are most risky for drivers and advises roading authorities - NZTA for state highways and councils for local roads - on how best to change speed limits, with some roads having limits increased and others reduced.

It also advises on which roads can best be improved and upgraded with safety measures like median barriers, or enforcement controls like speed cameras.

Maps of the level of risk a driver would face on any given road.

Maps of the level of risk a driver would face on any given road based on 2012 statistics. Graphic: Supplied / KiwiRAP

He said the changes were not yet affecting the road toll, which has recently begun to trend upwards again.

"We're just not there yet, so if you look at one of the roads of national significance they take 10 years to build ... you can't just go out and do major road improvements overnight."

There were limits to how quickly changes could be put in place, and how much could be spent on improvements, however.

"You can always do more, transport investment is a very complex thing ... there's never enough money to do everything at once," Mr Wilson said.

He said some changes were also being fought at the community level, but mostly those were not around speeds.

"The most common area is usually just around - not the speed limit - it's the engineering side of things, so when you put in the median strip [barrier] and suddenly they can't get into their driveway [from the opposite side of the road].

"So, it's very much reasonable community concerns."

The improvements were worth it to save lives and reduce injury, he said, and the organisation hoped not having such safety improvements would feel as unfamiliar to regular New Zealanders as not wearing a seatbelt.

He said it was also about making New Zealand roads more uniform.

"So when you're driving from Kaitaia to Coromandel the roads have the same enhancements, and it looks and feels the same.

"When New Zealand used to have a 100km/h default, people didn't really think about it.

"It's also the urban environment in particular, speeds around schools, around urban cul de sacs."

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