Mike Noon: Four changes that can save lives


A few bold, but simple, actions would significantly help reduce the number of crashes and make roads safer.

The AA believes that with a fresh approach to road safety we can cut the road toll to less than 200 by 2020. Photo / Alan Gibson
The AA believes that with a fresh approach to road safety we can cut the road toll to less than 200 by 2020. Photo / Alan Gibson

What can be done to make our roads safer? It's a question the Automobile Association is often asked and, with this month being the third anniversary of the Decade of Action for Road Safety in New Zealand, it's a perfect time to consider it.

The first thing we have to acknowledge is there is no one thing that can be done to stop road crashes. Some crashes involve people being reckless, some involve people making a simple mistake, some involve vehicle issues or conditions of the road, some involve freak occurrences and some involve all of these.

That's why the modern approach to road safety is about creating safer drivers, safer roads, safer speeds and safer vehicles. We have to improve in all of these areas, not just one.

In recent years New Zealand has been making good progress.

If we look back to 2010, when the Decade of Action for Road Safety began, 375 people were killed on our roads and about 14,000 were injured.

In 2013, 254 people were killed and around 12,000 injured. In the space of three years that's a 32 per cent drop in road deaths and a 14 per cent drop in injuries.

There's also significantly less drink driving, less speeding and fewer young people killed on our roads. Although this year's road toll is unfortunately up from the same time in 2013, fatalities are still well below the level of three years ago.

The challenge is that we need fresh ideas and approaches to keep making progress. Here are four changes the AA believes would substantially reduce preventable road crashes.

• Evidence shows there are significant numbers of drugged drivers on our roads, yet we're doing next to nothing to stop it. The AA wants the police to be given the ability to conduct random roadside drug tests, just like they have in Australia and numerous other countries.

• Drink driving rates have dropped, but the hardcore offenders won't be changed by losing their licence or even a prison sentence. We need to be using alcohol interlocks to prevent drunk drivers from using their car and rehabilitation treatment for people with addiction issues to stop these people continuing to put innocent lives at risk.

• When you buy a car from a dealer a rating showing how much fuel a vehicle will use is displayed on it. Yet a safety rating for how well the vehicle would protect you in a crash often isn't. If you're deciding between different cars, wouldn't you want to know if one had a two-star safety rating and the other a four-star? The AA wants dealers to be required to display vehicle safety ratings and the safety features so it's easier for people to choose the safest car they can afford.

• New Zealand has too many stretches of highway divided by nothing more than a line of paint. We know the locations that are blackspots for head-on crashes and we know median barriers will make a difference in these highest-risk areas. The AA wants the next government to install at least an extra 200km of median barriers or safety treatments in its next term. In the right locations these barriers will save many lives.

We've got seven years left in this Decade of Action and the AA believes New Zealand should be aiming to have cut its road toll to less than 200 by 2020.

It'll take bold actions to get there. Not only would these changes make a big difference in saving lives, they will also reduce the thousands of injuries people suffer in preventable crashes.

Mike Noon is the AA's general manager of motoring affairs.

- NZ Herald

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