Not a day passes without another life or multiple lives being lost on New Zealand highways and byways. Statistically, one of the most dangerous things you can do in NZ is to drive somewhere.
When I head to Wellington from Whanganui for work or to spend time with the grandkids I am always relieved to arrive and drop the intense concentration required for safe driving.
It is time for car manufacturers to do their bit for road safety. There are some simple automotive automatic things that would reduce the risk of crashes. Volvo are proposing to build their cars so they cannot go more than 130km/h.
Nobody needs a car that goes faster than 130km/h and in most countries that is over the legal speed limit anyway but still designers, manufactures and car company advertising tends to talk up power and speed as a selling point. Does a family sedan need to be able to go 200km/h? The answer is no but power is a powerful selling point.
We all might like to imagine ourselves as skilled drivers well able to manoeuvre safely at high speed. This is a dangerous illusion. There is a reason police and other emergency vehicle drivers do training courses to manage travelling at speed. It is a specialised task that requires practice on off road circuits where there is room for mistakes.
I have been in a car traveling at high speed with a trained driver and it is pretty scary seeing how fast the scene in front of you is changing and how limited the response time is to impending danger. For Volvo, limiting the top speed of their cars fits their marketing of safety as a major selling point. It will be interesting to see whether other car makers follow this lead.
The other blindingly obvious design modification that would save lives is to have the ignition linked to the seatbelts. Seatbelts save lives and life threatening, life-long injuries. No driver seatbelt locked in – car won't start – easy. This could incorporate existing sensor technology for passengers that will stop the ignition if others in the car are not strapped in and also prevent the car starting if there are more people in the back seats than seatbelts.
It may be that the automobile industry is reluctant to introduce such safety features in the mistaken belief that it is an individual users' choice to drive without a seatbelt or at high speed when in fact it is part of a wider social contract.
If a person does not wear a seatbelt or decides to barrel down the road at high speed because they feel it is an affront to their personal freedom to be restrained in any way, it is us the taxpayers who pick up the bill for health and rehab care. This does give the state the right, on our behalf, to set regulations that govern the type of cars we import and the rules of the road.
The current moves to restrict certain types of weapons is an example of how this can be done to reduce future risk. A car can also be a lethal weapon and managing the risk in a similar way by requiring inbuilt safety features at the designs stage or with import regulations may be the way to save lives.
Terry Sarten (aka Tel) is a writer, musician and social worker.