The Government has recently proposed a new road safety strategy for 2020-2030 which aims to have a transformative impact on New Zealand’s stubbornly high rate of road deaths and serious injuries. There were 377 fatalities in 2018.

The new strategy replaces the last 10-year road safety strategy, Safer Journeys, which has not achieved its promise of a sustained drop in fatal crashes. However, in the past decade our population has grown and the number of vehicles on our roads has risen by over 13%.

Road to Zero is named after the world-leading Vision Zero approach adopted by many countries, which takes the view that no death or serious injury on roads is acceptable. It signals a strategy that recognises humans are vulnerable; the transport network needs to plan for people’s mistakes; all parts of the road system need to be strengthened; all interventions need to be evidence-based; and that safety is the priority in decision-making ahead of efficiency.

Unlike the previous strategy, this one proposes an actual target – to reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roads by 40% over the next decade. If successful, that would mean approximately 750 fewer people killed, and 5,600 fewer seriously injured, by 2030.

The Ministry of Transport says that while this is challenging, it can be achieved through a substantial programme of road safety improvements, including infrastructure upgrades like more median barriers and rumble strips, along with effective enforcement.

The proposed strategy will also focus on improving the safety of the vehicle fleet, reducing speeds, improving work-related road safety and encouraging safer driver behaviour on New Zealand roads.

The strategy suggests a number of specific actions to achieve this, including lower speed limits in urban areas and around schools, and adopting the Swedish approach to speed cameras which would introduce a lot more cameras but not having them operate 24 hours a day. While not many tickets would be issued, motorists won’t know whether they are on or not.

Other options include raising the safety standard of vehicles entering the fleet and better promotion of vehicle safety ratings. For the latter, the AA has long called for mandating the display of safety ratings at car yards so people know how safe the cars are, in the same way fuel economy ratings are required.

The strategy will also review traffic infringements to ensure they match the risk and are an effective deterrent. And it proposes to enhance drugged-driver testing. The AA thinks this could best be achieved by introducing a roadside saliva test, as they have in Australia.

European countries leading in road safety, like the UK, Sweden and Ireland, have achieved fatal and serious crash reductions of 40% or more within a decade, so the strategy’s goal is possible. However, we are not starting from a great position. Most European countries have more high-standard highways, a younger vehicle fleet and more intensive driver training than in New Zealand. A case in point is Sweden, which has a similar-sized road network to New Zealand. While 5,000km of Swedish roads have median barriers, in New Zealand fewer than 500km do. If we had even half the length of divided roads that Sweden has, it would mean all of State Highway 1 from Cape Rēinga to Bluff would have a central barrier.

So whilst the AA’s submission was supportive of the strategy’s objective, we signalled that if it is to achieve its target it will require a detailed action plan with a significant and sustained increase in funding and ongoing monitoring.

Reported by Mark Stockdale for our AA Directions Autumn 2020 issue

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