Mike Noon has been instrumental in many major policy developments for the AA, advocating on behalf of New Zealand motorists and representing AA Members in public as well as behind official doors. AA Directions talked to Mike on the eve of his departure.
What went on behind those official doors, Mike? Can you describe your role with the AA?
My role has been to represent the voice of the reasonable motorist, making sure we have AA Members' backs and they are fairly treated. We like to think we are the Motorists’ champion. I am talking about ensuring fuel taxes are being well spent, roads are safe and that rules and the enforcement of them are fair. People often think that to influence you need to jump up and down and demand stuff. One thing I’ve always remembered, whether I was meeting with Ministry staff or a Minister, is that they are people first – normally good people – trying to do their best with the right motivation. So, I treated like I liked to be treated. We often had different views, but it was far better to help move them to the best outcome I could for our Members than have a standoff. And if we couldn’t agree to a compromise, I never made it personal.
Was there a pet project that you’re particularly proud of?
In 2008, the AA introduced a road assessment programme (RAP) to New Zealand. And then, along with the Ministry of Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency, KiwiRAP was born. This was a programme to video all our State Highways, to analyse and code them and rate their inbuilt safety. They were given a star rating for how many people were being killed or injured, reflecting a collective risk, and also the risk to an individual driver on a particular road. KiwiRAP gave us a national safety blueprint of New Zealand’s State Highways. For the first time we knew where our highest risk roads were and could target safety upgrades where they would save the most lives. It was a game changer; it directed investment and I think will have saved many lives and thousands of injuries. I’m proud to have been part of that.
How has the AA changed during your time here?
We have been the main advocate for the car for over 100 years, but now more than ever we take a holistic view for our Members’ mobility needs, including cycling, walking and public transport. We also survey our Members much more now, so we can understand what they want and what is concerning them the most. For our advocacy work, we are more professional, our submissions are better and I like to think we are influential and our views are well considered by the Government of the day and Ministries.
Has working with the AA changed you?
Are you aware of different things as a motorist now, for example? I now understand how Government works and just how long it takes to effect change, so yes, I am more patient. But I am still pretty determined. Also, you can’t work in road safety as long as I have without getting a real sense of the risks of driving, how everything can change in a moment. I am much more attentive when I drive, and always keep a good following distance, giving me more time to react should it all go pear-shaped ahead of me.
What were some of the highlights of working with your team?
I have been lucky to have had a great team of dedicated and skilled people. The AA has a really good work culture; everyone enjoys being part of it and we know our work makes a difference in the community, especially for road safety. One of Motoring Affairs’ achievements under your watch was the launch of a research foundation. How did that came about and what does it do today? The AA Research Foundation was established in 2011. I remember the then AA President and the CEO asking me what resources I needed to take our advocacy for Members to the next level. I think they expected me to say ‘more staff’ but I answered ‘research, research, research,’ because there was a lot about road safety we thought we knew but we didn’t actually. I got the go-ahead to establish the AA Research Foundation with a budget of $250k a year. That Foundation has undertaken some fantastic New Zealand-based research, from the need to introduce interlocks for recidivist drink drivers, to those not wearing seat belts and why; comparing actual and perceived risks and how drivers interpret them, and cycling safety at intersections. The insights have shaped policy and on-the-ground actions to help keep people safe. I see it as the Association giving back on behalf of our Members and all road users.
Can you tell us about your work with FIA, – what did that involve?
The FIA is a fascinating organisation with 246 automobile and motorsport clubs in 146 countries representing over 80 million consumers and their households. I had the pleasure and privilege to be on the Mobility and Tourism World Council for many years, and was the President of the Asia Pacific Region for the past four. What was really rewarding was the promotion of road safety programmes, the mentoring of smaller developing clubs and seeing the sharing of best practice across the region. The FIA is really dynamic and it was great to be part of a truly global organisation.
What's next for you?
A number of years ago my wife Debbie and I bought a lifestyle property north of Wellington with some covenanted native bush. We have developed lots of organic gardens and a small orchard. I also keep bees and take great pleasure in that. They are fascinating creatures; you get really attached to them and of course the honey is superb. We also have dogs, so there is a lot of walking to do. There is definitely going to be more fishing, and travelling in New Zealand in a campervan is a distinct possibility. There is so much to do.
Reported for our Autumn 2022 issue