The Transport Minister, Paul Swain, has advertised a series of sweeping changes to speed-camera ticketing: lower tolerances, hidden cameras and demerit points. He says these will lower the road toll. The evidence says these won't make a jot of difference ... but will swell the Government's treasure chest.
At the start of this week, 431 New Zealanders had been killed on the roads, compared with 377 this time last year. Last year the road toll was 404.
Catching "speedsters" is the central plank of the Government's road-safety policy. Mr Swain said in June that "the most convincing argument supporting the police enforcement of speed limits is the declining rate of death and injury from road crashes".
What he didn't tell us was that 75 per cent of fatal accidents and 85 per cent of all crashes happen under the posted speed limit.
What we are never told is that despite the police issuing a record number of traffic tickets in the past year - almost 1.5 million - latest available data from the Land Transport Safety Authority shows that not only has the road toll gone up but there have been more crashes and injuries.
More tickets, more fines, more car confiscations and more advertising have not stopped more accidents.
We are now at a point where we must question the effectiveness of our road-safety policies.
When it comes to speed and accidents, the real speed issue is speed inappropriate for the conditions.
British researcher Alan Buckingham noted in a vital piece of work - predictably bagged by the LTSA - that "few would claim that driving 10km/h above the speed limit on an empty motorway in good conditions constitutes driving with excessive speed".
But driving just below the speed limit in fog and ice might constitute excessive speed.
Against this background, the Minister of Transport has been considering three changes to speed-camera policy. None takes into account the available research or international experience.
First, Mr Swain talked about lowering the speed camera tolerance level from 10 km/hh to 5 km/h over the posted limit.
This would generate tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue, but there is no evidence that these additional speed-camera tickets will do anything to improve road safety.
The latest data shows that 70 per cent of all speed-camera tickets are issued for driving 11 to 15 km/h over the limit. Drivers travelling 21 km/h or more over the limit make up less than 10 per cent of those ticketed.
Lowering the tolerance level to only 5 km/h over the posted limit would see hundreds of thousands of extra tickets issued to people who research says are the safest drivers - for no purpose other than extra tax.
Already a motorist gets a speed-camera ticket every minute of every day. The goodwill of law-abiding citizens towards the police would evaporate rapidly under such a regime as safe, but ticketed motorists feel unfairly treated.
In answer to a parliamentary question, the Police Minister, George Hawkins, last month indicated that the lower-tolerance idea "probably won't be Government policy". One hand doesn't know what the other is doing, it seems.
Secondly, Mr Swain started touting hidden cameras as the next step to lower the road toll. Fortunately, there is local experience on this. It shows hidden speed cameras do not work.
In the late 1990s, the police began a two-year trial of hidden speed cameras in the Waikato-Bay of Plenty. During the trial, the road toll went up, not down. Incredibly, Mr Swain quotes this trial as proving the success of hidden cameras.
Even the LTSA report on the trial states that any conclusion "cannot be attributed per se to hidden speed cameras alone because of the large statistical fluctuations that occur with the small numbers involved". Former Transport Minister Mark Gosche was right when he cancelled the trial, stating it had not cut speeding or road deaths.
The Government must realise that hidden cameras are bad policy unsupported by any scientific evidence.
The third idea from Mr Swain is to copy Victoria and New South Wales by introducing demerit points for speed-camera tickets. In Victoria, when a speed-camera ticket is issued, it is in the name of the vehicle owner. If someone else was driving, the owner and the driver sign a statutory declaration and the fine and demerit points are transferred.
But there is demerit-point trading. It is not uncommon for family members to transfer demerit points among themselves to avoid getting a disqualification period. And in some companies it is not unheard of for other staff to accept demerit points so top salespeople can keep their cars on the road. This avoidance is illegal and dishonest and apparently widespread.
The fact is that Victoria's road toll has remained virtually unchanged for the past 10 years, yet New Zealand's has dropped 37 per cent over the same time - without demerit points.
The New South Wales road toll has fallen only 3 per cent over the same period, despite motorists being hit with double demerit points at times. Why adopt road-safety policies that have failed in Australia?
The authorities must realise that there is more to saving lives than speed cameras. Arguably, safety engineering in cars has had the major impact on reducing crashes and fatalities. Road design has also played a part.
Speed cameras can play a role in known black spots where speeding can be shown to be an important factor in accidents.
Road safety is important, but Mr Swain should focus more on police visibility, inappropriate speed, driver fatigue, seatbelts and drink-driving. Above all, the Government should look around and not ignore the experience and research others have learned.
* National MP Tony Ryall is a former Minister of Justice.
Herald Feature: Road safety