Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Restricted plates to reduce road toll

Should new drivers use R plates? Email newsdesk@nzherald.co.nz.

A 17-year-old died in this car... now the Government is trying to reduce the number of teens killed on the roads. Photo / Richard Robinson
A 17-year-old died in this car... now the Government is trying to reduce the number of teens killed on the roads. Photo / Richard Robinson

The Government will consider "R" plates for drivers on restricted licences as part of a push to reduce the road toll by targeting high-risk motorists.

The moves come as a report reveals that high-risk drivers account for just over a third of New Zealand's fatal crashes.

Other measures already signed off include doubling prison penalties for dangerous drivers who cause death, and introducing alcohol-detecting car-ignition locks and a zero alcohol limit for repeat drink-drivers.

The Ministry of Transport study, to be released this week and provided exclusively to the Herald, examined crashes between 2006 and 2010.

It found that high-risk drivers - who included those with histories of drink-driving, speeding and illegal street racing - were responsible for 541 road deaths over the period, or 34 per cent of the total.

More than 80 per cent were men, and more than half of those were under 30.

Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges said although the number of fatal accidents involving 15- to 19-year-olds this year (seven) was down on the same time in previous years, it was still too many.

Targeting high-risk drivers was a priority in the Government's Safer Journeys road safety action plan, he said.

"We are taking steps to reduce the impact caused by this core of problem drivers."

The aim was to reduce the number of road crashes and minimise the damage they caused.

Mr Bridges said the Government would be looking at R plates this year, but he could not elaborate on the concept.

"All drivers can make mistakes and it is important everyone takes responsibility for their actions on the road, no matter what their driving history," he said.

"But this information shows there is a subset of drivers whose reckless actions remain a cause of many road deaths and injuries."

As well as causing 34 per cent of fatal crashes over the four years, high-risk drivers were also at fault in more than 60 per cent of late-night crashes.

Of teenage high-risk drivers involved in fatal crashes, 48 per cent had licence-related factors such as being disqualified or unlicensed, and 24 per cent were racing or evading police at the time of the crash.

"There has been strong progress overall in road safety and in regards to youth, but the numbers are still too high and the high-risk-drivers report makes it clear there is targeted work to be done," Mr Bridges said.

Automobile Association spokesman Simon Lambourne said it was no surprise to see young drivers among those classified as high risk.

"You are at the greatest risk on the road in the first six to nine months after getting your restricted licence and driving solo.

"The bravado of the Kiwi male has been a long-standing issue in road safety and we've tried to address that in many ways, shapes and forms over the years."

But the AA had not yet formed a view on the R-plate concept.

Mr Lambourne said it had "some pros and cons", but he did not want to comment further until the discussion between the association's districts was complete.

This month, the Herald revealed that the number of teenagers caught drink-driving had halved in the past five years - but the worst offenders among those stopped were blowing more than twice the adult limit.

Police figures showed a dramatic drop in the number of under-17s caught drink-driving, from 630 in 2007 to 305 last year.

But of the 2300 teenagers caught since 2007, 12 had more than 1000 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood - more than 12 times the legal adult limit.

Mr Bridges believed the hugely popular "ghost chips" anti-drink-driving commercial, which started screening in November, had also helped to bring down the numbers of young drivers in fatal crashes in recent times.

"It's been a pop-cultural phenomenon and the lines in it have become part of everyday Kiwi conversation - they're on T-shirts, there are spoofs and parodies, and it's had 1,973,530 hits on the Transport Authority video on YouTube."

He said that in addition to its Safer Journey actions, the Government had announced a $10 million-a-year plan to increase access to treatment programmes for alcohol and other drugs.

Of that, $1 million would go to programmes for drink-drivers.

High-risk drivers

* 82 per cent were male
* 54 per cent (where known) were Pakeha, 35 per cent Maori.
* 54 per cent were under the age of 30

Blamed for ...

* 34 per cent of fatal crashes 2006-10
* 22 per cent of injury crashes
* 15 per cent of minor crashes
* 63 per cent of late-night crashes

Other factors

* 61 per cent had been drinking
* 36 per cent were unlicensed or disqualified
* 19 per cent had two or more speeding offences
* 6 per cent were racing or showing off
* 5 per cent were evading the police

ROAD TOLL

2006 - 393

2007- 421

2008 - 366

2009 - 384

2010 - 375

2011 - 284

2012 - 111 as of Friday (Down one for same period last year)

- NZ Herald

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