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Editorial: New year off to bad start on the roads

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Crash involving three cars and a truck, took place on State Highway 5 at Tarukenga, north of Rotorua at start of this year. Photo / Andrew Warner
Crash involving three cars and a truck, took place on State Highway 5 at Tarukenga, north of Rotorua at start of this year. Photo / Andrew Warner

Before this holiday season began, we went back to the first fatal road accident of last year, talking to all the people - families, friends and emergency service workers - who had been traumatised by just one of a rising number of deaths last year.

When the Christmas-New Year period ended for accident statistics on Tuesday morning, 12 more people had died on the roads.

Although this was down on the last festive season's 15 deaths, it is obviously disappointing to the police who make a particular effort and use carefully considered strategies to make the roads as safe as possible at this time of year.

Of the 12 fatalities since Christmas Eve, six happened since New Year, getting 2016 off to a bad start in the quest to reduce the annual toll that ended last year at 321, the worst since 2010.

As recently as 2013 New Zealand was showing a declining trend, as we should expect with the constant improvement in roads, vehicles, additional safety devices and a rise in the average age of the population.

But that welcome trend reversed in 2014 when we recorded the sharpest increase of 28 countries in the International Road Traffic and Accident Database, and last year saw another rise.

So what is going wrong?

In recent years the police have reduced the tolerance for speeding during holiday periods. Last summer this produced a flood of tickets that surprised and antagonised those unaware they were drifting over the tight margin of tolerance.

Questions were raised about the safety of requiring drivers to watch their speedometer as much as the road. But it may be that the hard lessons drivers learned last summer are a reason the toll for the holiday period is down slightly.

There are no reports as yet that as many tickets have been issued this season. Speed remains a prime focus of the road-safety message but it is not the only concern.

National road policing manager Superintendent Stephen Greally says most crashes are attributable to the same six errors: speed, alcohol, not wearing seat belts, fatigue, cellphone use and "stupid risks".

He calls those "really easy things to fix" and they are, but not through policing. He means they are easy for every individual driver to fix.

Unfortunately, he adds, "it only takes one to cause carnage".

Patrols cannot be everywhere, roads will never be foolproof.

Our safety rests ultimately on the culture of driving that we create in conversation and by our behaviour in traffic. Consideration and common sense can be catching.

The year has started badly but we can do better. Drive carefully.

- Herald on Sunday

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