Simon Wilson's article setting out to debunk six myths on road safety (Weekend Herald, June 8) is a text book example of how accurate figures can be used to give a misleading impression.
He writes there has been an around 50 per cent increase in the rate of road deaths. The bald figures are true, in 2013 there were 253 deaths; last year there were 377. That's a 50 per cent increase.
He doesn't say, however, that the year 2013 was an outlier. The annual road toll bounces around a lot. The road toll was 55 higher the year before 2013 and 40 higher the year afterwards.
Wilson doesn't acknowledge the population growth in the years since, nor the more rapid increase in road use. As everyone knows, there are a lot more cars and trucks on the road. This is because of years of economic growth, population growth, rapid employment growth – hundreds of thousands more people working every day, massive tourism growth, general prosperity.
The Ministry of Transport has a measure of this, vehicle kilometres travelled. Since 2013 the number of vehicle kilometres travelled increased 17 per cent. If you take the figures for road deaths per 100 million vehicle kilometres travelled, the increase from the average of 2012-2014 to the latest figure in 2017 is 13.5 per cent. There is a big difference between the road toll soaring 50 per cent in five years, and a 13.5 per cent increase.
Regardless, it is still a sobering figure. Every road death is a tragedy, blighting the lives of families left behind. We all understand that.
The key question, is what is an appropriate response? The Government and Auckland Council have proposed radical reductions in speed limits, suggesting a large proportion of our open roads should have limits reduced from 100 to 80, or even as far as 60km/h. This would take us back to the 1970s or earlier. Regional centres such as Gisborne, New Plymouth and Whangārei become a much greater journey away from friends, family, tourism and jobs.
Auckland Transport has proposed the entire area of the CBD inside the motorway loop, for example, become a 30km/h zone. We are being asked to crawl down Hobson St and along Fanshaw St, for example.
Remembering there are 24 hours in a day, for most of those hours these are wide thoroughfares with plenty of opportunity for people to get on their way.
Interactive maps: Speed limits 'too high' on nearly all roads - those facing cuts
Don't like the idea of reduced speed limits? Be a better driver!
There will be roads where it is appropriate to drop the speed limit, but to do it in a wholesale way is an over-reaction, offending a basic sense of progress. Cars have never been safer; why should we be going backwards?
In contrast to the Government's enthusiasm to reduce speed limits, it has been very slow to make progress on other areas – the quality of the roads, law enforcement around drink driving and wearing seat belts, the growing scourge of drugged driving and driver distraction generally, particularly cellphones.
On drugged driving, the Government has been dragged, kicking and screaming after 18 months' silence, into starting the process the previous government had underway to devise ways to randomly test for drugged driving. The Aussies have recently mastered it.
National undertook a roading investment project that, once completed, will have doubled the level of motorway in New Zealand. These are the safest roads in New Zealand.
The Government has made a clear and deliberate decision to cancel or greatly delay all the major new roading projects. In exchange, we have investigations into pet projects, such as light rail in Auckland and Wellington. I understand officials are advising both projects are likely to cost in the billions and deliver only minor service improvements.
Cars have never been safer; why should we be going backwards?
Julie Anne Genter refers regularly to progress Sweden has made on its road toll. Sweden has around twice our population. We have 360km of motorway, with a further 124km under construction. Sweden has more than 2000km of motorway and a further 6000 of expressway. Genter does not point out that every Swedish city larger than Dunedin is connected in a motorway network, with speed limits up to 120km/h. Speed limit reductions are limited to minor rural roads.
Astoundingly, given the Government's apparent focus on road safety, the so-called Wellbeing Budget actually budgeted $10 million less for police road safety than it spent last year. It is hard to comprehend this could be the case; but it is.
We should absolutely be focused on turning around the increase in road deaths in the past five years, and we should use the full suite of options available – not just a wholesale reduction in speed limits.
• MP Paul Goldsmith is National's transport spokesman.