EDITORIAL:

The deaths of eight people near Taupō on Sunday has led this month to be the deadliest April in a decade.

Forty-five people have died on the roads in April, taking this year's road toll to 137 so far. The last time 45 people died in a single month was in April 2009.

How have we come such a tragic full circle to be killing ourselves and each other on our roads just as much as 10 years ago? Perhaps it's time for our focus on road safety to switch away from blaming "high-risk" drivers.

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Government transport priorities were changed as a result of the major report Safer journeys: New Zealand's road safety strategy 2010 — 2020. New Zealand had then reached a 96 per cent front-seatbelt wearing rate across the country. It seems we got that message pretty well.

The NZ Transport Agency also no longer focused on the failure to give way at intersections or rail safety. Instead, a stronger emphasis was put on drug-affected driving and younger drivers.

This was reinforced two years later when the Ministry of Transport identified "at-risk" drivers as causing 34 per cent fatal crashes where a driver was considered to be at fault.
The report defined high-risk drivers as those with previous speed and alcohol offences, or who engaged in hazardous behaviour at the time of the crash. Typical examples are driving with a high blood alcohol content or illegal street racing.

There have since followed multiple high-profile, high-cost campaigns to target these at-risk motorists to push the safer driving message through to them. Think the "Ghost Chips" ad; the stoner monologue as the driver crashes over a traffic island; the surfing buddies preventing their mate drink-driving.

The issue with this targeted campaigning is it too easily allows far too many of us to ignore the road safety messages. Those who aren't young Māori living in a rural town; pot-smoking millennials with a penchant for pink milkshakes; or rustic surfers with a closely guarded secret break can look the other way. That's not me, eh mate?

Driver error remains the highest cause of serious crashes. It's the nut holding the wheel that's the problem. You, me, us.

A recent study from the AA Research Foundation found many crashes involve everyday people doing nothing extreme.

The study, published in AA Directions autumn 2019 issue, found, in around three quarters of crashes where vehicle occupants were seriously injured, the drivers were generally following the rules of the road, but made a mistake or a poor decision, or something unexpected happened.

"To put it another way, they were going about their ordinary business when something went wrong and they were seriously injured," wrote author Simon Douglas.

Every driver can be a menace, whether you're into at-risk behaviours or not. It's time we all got the message. Do we really need a well-scripted, slogan-waving clip acting out a funny little episode of your specific life to understand that?