Something is going terribly wrong on our roads. Yesterday, after just a quarter of the year, the road toll was a grim 110. The last nine days have been especially bleak, with the loss of 27 lives. New Zealand is on track to repeat the toll from last year when 378 people died on the country's roads — the worst year since 2009.
Each death is a tragic and costly loss. The family of those who die are left to mourn the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one. Among the most recent victims were very young New Zealanders. A crash in Ashburton claimed siblings aged eight months and a year-and-a-half. A 2-year-old was killed in a Kaipara accident, and three sisters, aged 12, 14 and 15 died in a car being driven by their father who, along with his nephew, 26, also died in the crash near Taupō. Mourners at their tangi farewelled five members of the same whānau.
The pain and despair from these crashes is immense. Let's not forget either that many accidents cause serious but not fatal injuries. For these people, recovery can be a long and gruelling struggle. From the point of impact, their futures too can be immeasurably altered. They may never work again, they may suffer lifelong pain, and they may carry a burden knowing they were spared when someone close to them died.
Familiar messages were repeated by police after the spate of fatalities. They pleaded for road users to drive to the conditions, wear seatbelts, remain alert, sober and unimpeded by drugs and to stay off the cellphones at the wheel.
Perhaps these messages have become too familiar. For the last five years, the road toll has gone up and the "zero deaths" goal announced a year ago seems unachievable. The danger of driving at excess speed, without seatbelts or influenced by drink or drugs are clear yet the behaviour is repeated.
Besides spending over a $1 billion improving safety infrastructure, the Government is targeting areas where drivers refuse to belt up. Perhaps the loss of a car for a week or more might work as a deterrent because the current strategy is clearly — and sadly — not enough.