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Anti-speeding propaganda is everywhere, we are lead to believe that as soon as we travel 4km/h over the limit, we are more likely to be involved in an accident with the possibility of death. But this is not really the case and neither is it the largest cause of death on our roads. But of course you believe otherwise right? The Government has told you so and they must be right.

:The boy in the bubble:

If you are someone from the ‘older’ generation, you will notice this effect taking place. The large differences from when you were growing up and today, the Government has slowly but surely placed a blanket over our heads and tucked us into our beds so that we are not hurt by the big, bad world outside. It is now on the plan to make it onto our roads, the reach of full control for “our safety” is clasping it’s hands onto the way we drive and the text below will show this to you.

It is evident in everything from the “Anti-smacking bill” to the Life jackets, alcohol purchases, cycle helmets etc… where we are being rather mothered but here is something taken from the NZTA website, which purely scares me.

What would a Safe System free of death and serious injury look like?

We would enjoy a transport system where everyone expects a zero road toll. Roads and roadsides would encourage safe behaviour and be forgiving of human error by providing safety cues to users and protecting them from hazards.

Vehicle technology would communicate with the road environment and automatically adjust to appropriate speeds that respond to real-time road conditions.

Road users would understand and play their part in the system, with licensing dependent on a high level of skill. Alertness and compliance would, if necessary, be reinforced by in-vehicle technology(including alcohol and safety belt interlocks, and fatigue and speed monitoring).

Automated enforcement, including point-to-point (average speed) cameras and remote vehicle power down, could be used for high-risk road users.

Crash risk would be further reduced by advanced vehicle-to-vehicle warning systems (such as vehicle/pedestrian proximity warnings) and automatic collision avoidance technologies (including lane containment and emergency override features in the event a driver fails or is unable to respond to warnings).

If a crash is unavoidable, advanced airbags, crumple zones and head restraints would manage crash forces to levels the human body can tolerate.”

Now the text that I have made into bold is what sticks out to me.

1) Providing safety cues to users and protecting them from hazards.

While this is a good thing, especially for the unsuspecting motorist coming around a bend to find that it is also a sheep crossing, who can now slow down to a reasonable speed as well as trying to keep as much risk out of driving as possible. But what I take from this is the fact that road users will become too dependent on these cues and safety measures and they will soon come to rely on them to alert them to a potentially dangerous situation, and when the time comes and there is no sign there, the driver will be in a slight state of shock  and won’t know what to do in such a situation.

2) Automatically adjust to appropriate speeds.

So, the Government wants us to keep lower speeds so that there is a decrease in the severity of crashes on our roads. What does that mean when you are going around a corner at XXX speed and then your car/bike decides to slow down, immediately increasing the risk of crashing significantly. Or when you need to speed up to pass a car or get out of a sticky situation? Will there be a limit that needs to be reached till it comes on or does it play by ear?

Personally I don’t like the thought of having a computer do my thinking for me or having any control over me whatsoever.

3) (including alcohol and safety belt interlocks, and fatigue and speed monitoring).

Ok, I do agree with an alcohol monitoring system to gain access to your vehicle as well a some sort of fatigue test so that we don’t have idiots falling asleep at the wheel, but in saying that we should have the choice not to wear a seat-belt or leave them unclipped if we want to go for a drive. But what really gets me is the speed monitoring system,which is what is already taking place in some other countries. It is going to remove any freedom at all that we previously had and when the Police stop you for no reason in particular and then ask to search the pre-installed GPS tracker that is in your car and find that within the space of a week, you have gone over the limit X amount of times and proceed to write out fines left right and center.

4)  Emergency override features in the event a driver fails or is unable to respond to warnings.

This can be a good thing, there are two sides to the coin and while there is a positive side to this which is potentially saving the drivers life and also people around them which could also be harmed. There is also the fact that a computer is now going to be allowed full access to your car, ranging from steering, braking, acceleration and every other aspect that could be controlled and if there is a malfunction, you could be at serious risk if the car decides to do something stupid.

Another possibility of malfunction could be that the computer picks up false signals and therefore decides to react where in fact there is no danger what so ever or the driver has decided that what ever incident that is happening around them can be better avoided with another maneuver but the computer decides otherwise and then leads itself into a dangerous position.

We are now taking what control we had an putting it into a pre-determined computer system that falls in to place with what the Government thinks is best for us. Your whole life is soon going to be determined by what the Government thinks is best for you and the only way to escape it is to go and live out in a secluded mountain range and live off plants, though you will probably still have to pay a mountain tax anyway.

Instead of learning to think for ourselves and getting taught appropriate ways of dealing with situations, we are being put into diapers and placed into a harm-free environment where we are likely to turn into brain dead zombies, which is their goal I guess but nevertheless.

Speed, is it the real problem?

If you read the article I linked in the title, you will see what my view of speed is and what I think needs changing, but I will go a little more in-depth to it here as well as add some more points and information.

Some interesting statistics (Go to page 30) from the Government show that the majority of crashes and deaths are actually in the 50km/h speed limit areas. Wait a second, isn’t it at high speeds where we are likely to die? Or are they all speeding in the 50km/h zone and got injured or killed as a result? It seems unlikely to me, which brings me to the conclusion that it isn’t the really high speeds that are going to kill you, in fact they hold the lowest crash rates, but at speeds that are slow which can lead your mind to wander and then lead you on to not see that car turning or small child running out from behind that car and then it’s all over red rover.

Now, talking with people and also my flatmates I have also come up with some other thoughts about speed and it’s effect on us.

My flat mate had the idea that it’s not actually bad drivers that are causing the crashes on the road but simply for the fact that they are good drivers and have the knowledge but simply don’t bother absorbing all of the information around them and don’t drive to the conditions.

Now that is not only bad driving, but a phenomenally stupid idea.

Another one is that if you speed, you are most likely to lose control and kill yourself.

It is not really speed in itself that will cause the problem, but more so the lack of driver skill than anything. If speed was really the cause, there wouldn’t be any kind of motor sport because, hey, they are all going to die anyway.

It comes down to how well the driver can manipulate his/her vehicle and if they can use all of the information that the road provides us to keep to a safe speed.

Now when I talk about safe speeds, I am not referring to the speed limit set in place by the Government, but more so about the speeds that are safe to maintain traction, stability, line and an adequate stopping distance.

It is quite easy to safely speed throughout many roads and not cause any harm to anyone or kill yourself, but it all comes down to driver ability.

Have you tested the brakes on your car from both 50 and 100km/h to see how fast you can stop, or will you just learn it at the time? Have you tested the handling of the car, what will it take under duress in corners or a quick turn to get away from a dangerous situation?

I believe the biggest problem with the death toll in New Zealand is the ability to follow simple road rules. A Scandanavian report states that if every single road user were to follow the road rules, there would be a 50% drop in deaths. That is a large amount, but it can still be improved on. What if apart from just following the road rules, road users were seeking higher training to better their skills and were then better equipped to take on New Zealands roads when things got dicey.

Scandinavian research quote.

Advanced driver training:

Advanced driver training is a series of tests, lessons and classroom theory activities that provide the road user with a fresh look on their abilities, a wide range of new skills and the ability to drive or ride safely on every road that they come upon. We have a few training options in New Zealand, one of which is an international driver/rider training programme which follows more or less the Police Motorcycle handbook which the police use for their rider training programmes. It is called I.A.M (Institute of Advanced Motorists) and you can read more about the I.A.M here.

Riderskills Owner and Operater Phillip McDaid is the Chief Examiner for the IAM NZ and also runs courses for advanced rider skills among many other courses through his company. I have taken one of his courses for Confident Riding which is detailied in that link.

My belief is that every single road user should take at least one advanced course throughout each stage of the licensing process so as to give them the knowledge and skills to be able to use the road safely and therefore lower the road toll at the same time.

Now the courses would have to be heavily subsidised by the Government because many New Zealanders simply don’t have enough money to take such a course regularly but I think that any money spent on advanced training is well spent.

It would also deal with the speed issue at the same time, it teaches drivers/riders to adjust their speed accordingly to the road conditions and to be driving safely at every stage of their journey, to take in all of the knowledge of the surrounding environment and to be able to process that information in real time which is what a lot of drivers are hardly doing as it is.

So in addition to most people following the road rules which could drop the road toll by around 50%, with the addition of continuous advanced training, we could lower the road toll to near non-existent. It sounds a little far fetched when you think about it doesn’t it? I could imagine that it would be near impossible to drop it down that far because there are so many other factors in crashes as well but it would be a good sight closer to zero than what it is now and that is what we are aiming for isn’t it?

So in conclusion, it is not speeding that is the issue it has been made out to be. The government have been pushing the wrong message this whole time, and whether or not it has been to increase the number of speeding tickets they can issue or if it is really what they believe, we will never know for sure. But what we can know for sure is that speeding is hardly a cause for a crash, merely a factor that can play a big part. What we should be focussing on instead are the following issues:

  1. Drink driving
  2. Driver awareness and training
  3. Harder testing for licenses
  4. Harsher penalties for drunk drivers and drivers who have been in a crash of their own fault
  5. Distractions in the car (Music, cell phones, children etc…)
  6. Vehicle maintenance
  7. Complete knowledge of the road rules/standards

What would my plan be to achieve these ideas?

I think that the way to move forward would be to first take a look at our 3 stage system and it’s tests. Subjecting them to discussion from advanced riders/drivers and the NZTA and re-writing them so that they will show an actual skill level that is applicable for on the road.

Once the new tests have been introduced, bring in subsidised training from the government that is a compulsory requirement to achieve the next level of their license.

As well as having that applicable for the learning stages, it would be forced upon drivers who were at the cause of a crash (Possibly instead of a fine or with a reduced fine as well?) So that they learn why they crashed, what they could have done to prevent it and will therefore be safer drivers on the road.

Teach road users to be aware on the roads, they should be absorbing information about their surroundings, not about who had the seared Tuna salad for lunch.

Also as part of the licensing process would be basic maintenance knowledge, road users should be aware of how their car works and how to make sure all of the essential bits are functioning correctly, we as motorcyclists do it daily, from checking the Oil and water levels to checking chain tension, tyre wear, brake pad wear and anything else that we can remember to check before each ride.

Having a safe car is as important step to being a safe driver on the roads, as well as knowing the limits of your vehicle, from braking to swift direction changes which are often needed in heavy traffic.

And last but not least, a full knowledge of the road rules and how they work, possibly a re-test every now and then just to re-inforce the thought of the road rules. It could also be a part of each graduated license stage where the questions get harder and harder so as to re-enforce the idea in their heads.

Matt Wishart

Other blogs about speeding:

http://geoffjames.blogspot.co.nz/2011/01/speed-doesnt-kill-stupidity-kills.html

http://theage.drive.com.au/motor-news/speed-doesnt-kill-says-benz-20100304-pjin.html

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Photo taken from stuff.co.nzNew Zealand’s roads have been referred to as “The killing fields”, In 2010 our death toll sat at 375 deaths, with 2007 being our hardest hitting year within the last 5 years, at a whopping 421 deaths on our roads.
The New Zealand Transport Agency claims that out of those deaths, around 170 are speed related with the rest being blamed on dangerous roads, driver inattention and alcohol and drug related incidents.

Studies show that high risk (Drivers convicted of a driving related offence, including drink driving, dangerous driving or speeding as a few examples.) drivers along with young drivers between the ages of 20 – 24 years old who are at fault in a crash, account for 58% of all serious crashes on New Zealand roads.
Taking into account the governments assessment on the roads, detailing such areas as a stretch of state highway between Parnell and Western Springs which has seen 20 serious crashes and the lives of 2 people over the past 5 years.

There are many other roads considered to be “dangerous” that are scattered throughout New Zealand, although the majority of them are in the Greater Auckland region.

Why is it that these roads are labelled as dangerous, and that there is such a high number of crashes on these particular stretches of road? Why is it, that so many crashes can be blamed on these dangerous roads and yet the government only looks to fix the immediate cause, instead of looking at the root of the problem?
You could say that pot-holes and blind corners could attribute to it, that no median barriers could also be a cause. You could also go so far as to say that the road surface isn’t the correct type for tyres, and you could also say that environmental conditions such as black ice or off camber corners are to blame. But all that really points to is a lack of driver awareness and/or ability.
No matter where you are, there will never be a perfect road surface to drive on, there will never be full visibility throughout all of the corners and livestock and other factors will always come into play.

What really stands out is the ability of road users to adapt to an ever-changing environment. As a motorcyclist, I am subject to a much larger possibility of hitting something that will cause me to fall off, whether it be a possum, pot hole or slick of diesel, I have to constantly adjust my riding accordingly to the road conditions so as to not come to a potentially fatal end.
I believe the cause of this problem is first of all the driver licensing system as at present, recently the government have changed the license test for people looking to sit the restricted test into an hour-long driving session with a much harder criteria to pass the test which is at least a start into educating drivers/riders on the skills needed to operate a motor vehicle on New Zealand roads.

Once passed you are then allowed onto the road, where there are a plethora of potential hazards along every stretch of road. It comes down to a matter of luck and trial and error, where as if you were taught the skills actually needed to ride on the road, there would be a significantly lower accident rate among road users and a large drop in the current road toll.

I believe another contributing factor to the large accident rate is the ability for a learner and restricted driver to drive any kind of car they like, which is usually a souped up Skyline or a car of relative style, where the power available to the still new driver is far above that of their ability and that is witnessed in the number of high-speed accidents where you have many who lose control of their vehicle and either flatten a pedestrian or wrap themselves around a power pole adding either 1 to 5 numbers to the death toll.

Back onto road conditions, what I have detailed should give you a small understanding on first of all, why young drivers are in the highest death toll statistics and why road conditions shouldn’t be to blame, but the driver’s ability to adapt and change their driving style to the conditions.
It does involve actually looking at the road and surroundings, and assessing them as you drive along the road. Looking for potential hazards and changing road conditions which will mean that drivers can’t be fiddling with radios, cell phones, cigarettes and those screaming children in the back. Making sure you are well rested and awake is also a crucial factor in being able to drive at 100% of your ability.

The governments plan for the future of many roads is to make them as easy and care free to drive on as humanly possible, now that may sound like a good idea at first and it may very well stunt the rise of fatalities on our roads. But all that will do is dull our senses even more untill we are driving on auto pilot, where at the time of any danger or hazard arises, we simply don’t have the tuned reactions to be able to deal with the situation properly and safely.

Which leads to the question, are we playing the blame game when it comes to the large number of lives lost on our roads and simply looking for a quick fix and something to lay the blame on? I have not seen any one actually come up with the idea that the standard of driving in New Zealand is rather sub-standard and that nothing is being done to prevent that. We are often presented with the saying “Sorry mate, I didn’t see you!” Now when you think about it, is there any reason that this should be a valid excuse? You are operating a large, powerful machine on public roads with young children, elderly and animals nearby, then there is also the majority of other road users who are sharing this space with you, if the driver is not paying attention enough to prevent a collision, then what else could they be doing?

Now about the condition of the roads, I will admit that the company that takes care of the repairs and construction of New Zealand roads, often do a poor job. The roads are constantly being repaired in spaces of up to every 6 months in some cases, if we spent the money in one large go and rebuilt the roads with a top quality surface, then we would be looking at a “safer” road, which needs less repairing, which would in turn reduce the queues that pop up all across the country due to repairs.

So is the New Zealand government simply playing the blame game? dealing to the easier and quicker yet less efficient method? It certainly seems so, and it is a chilling thought to think about how much our government really cares about our safety and driving standards, where they now focus on going a mere 5km/h over the posted speed limit where many speedos have a 10% inaccuracy which equates to roughly 10km/h over or under the limit, is that really making our roads dangerous or should be looking at other causes as to our death toll?

Matt Wishart


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