Road safety: fix the driver vs fix the driving environment
NZ Herald story
, Greg Murphy comes out against the Ministry of Transport's proposed Vision Zero strategy (even before the consultation documentation is released), arguing that to reduce road deaths we should focus on more or better driver training to reduce the number of crashes.
The MoT's new strategy, it seems, will instead acknowledge there will always be road crashes, and will seek to redesign roads to reduce the likelihood that a crash will result in fatalities or life-changing injuries.
A similar debate has raged for years in workplace health & safety, which can be expressed as: fix the worker vs fix the work environment.
Murphy is in the "fix the driver" camp, not the "fix the driving environment" camp.
Is he right?
I am in the "Fix the Driver" camp.
For a start the "Vision Zero’ is an ambition that nobody should be killed or seriously injured on our roads" is ridiculous and doomed to fail, much like the Zero Harm campaign.
I, like many others here have driven very many roads over a very long time. I am struggling to think of one single unsafe road - provided it is driven to the conditions.
My quick fix contributions to an overall solution would be
- ditch the "ticket the speeder" approach. Its not the speed that kills. Its failing to stop safely in the prevailing conditions that does.
- Instantly remove off the road any person travelling 10km under the sign posted speed limits in good driving conditions. Those between 10km and the speed limit can just have a ticket. If you arent confident or competent to drive in today's modern cars to the sign posted limit then you shouldn't be be on the road.
- Instantly remove off the road any "right Hand Lane" road hog. We don't need virtuous or distracted drivers on the road
- Instantly remove off the road any person with a roaming lap dog in their car. Nothing like having a flying ball of fluff in an accident or a critter under your brake pedal when you need it.
- Instantly remove off the road any cyclist travelling two- abreast. Cars can't do it. Cyclists - you arent that special.
- introduce compulsory third party insurance. If you arent responsible enough to insure against risk to another persons major asset you arent responsible enough to own a car / drive a car.. Instantly remove off the road any person driving without insurance.
- ban parking by "moms" within 1.5km of any school zone at drop off / pick up time. Your kids were born with two legs - use them.
- Introduce three compulsory independent ( ie not your mum or dad) driving training sessions before any licence is handed out
- Introduce one compulsory Defensive Drivers Training session before final licence is handed out
A longer term solution is to remove safety features from vehicles - I think many of us just go into auto-pilot mode, thinking we are safe and there isn't much more needed to be done when driving. Eg "parking Assist" - seriously if you can't park you ought not be on the road!
As ever, nothing is black and white and the answer is probably a bit of both camps.
However, while I'm not a fan of the absolutism of the strapline, the 'fix the road' side would be most successful. Seems to be a lot more straightforward to put a median barrier round a tricky corner than try to educate and retrain everyone of the thousands of drivers that may go round there at any point. We have a training and licensing regime now that strongly emphasizes the need to obey the speed limit, but people don't. Not sure why we think shouting it more loudly will help. Mass behaviour change can be achieved - it has been for reducing drink driving and seat belt use for example, but it's very hard, very uncertain, very slow and needs to consider much broader societal aspects than simply driving.
Seat belt use is an interesting one.
According to a 2017 AA report " non-seat belt fatalities accounted for 19-26% of overall motor vehicle occupant road deaths between 2006 and 2016"
That seems an instant pointer away from "roads". After all the years of Seat belt campaigns it seems "you can't fix stupid"
There are quite a few things we can do
Periodic education and testing - every 10 years it's ideal to at least do a refresher of the road rules
Remove automatic licence entitlement to overseas drivers - drivers of 24 countries can automatically swap their licence for an NZ one
Reduce tourist licence limit and remove the loophole of exiting the country and returning again for another 12-month licence
Compulsory 3rd-party insurance - we must be the only developed country in the world without this
Improve the roads - arterials and blackspots
Mandate new technology - this helps freshen the vehicle fleet
Change the narrative about road safety ('roads' are not inherently dangerous, it's the conditions)
Improve separated cycle networks
Sensible public transport options
More variable speed limits
Passing lane reminders
I explained them in more detail in this article:
The issue with the 'fix the environment' is that the road environment is just too big. A warehouse is a controlled space with a limited number of potential hazards; roads have way, way more hazards and fewer control points
Fix the driver
Bullet point 4 - well said, I've owned a vehicle in both Canada and Germany and can confirm that this is the case there and in myexperience the drivers in these two countries had better behaviour than NZ drivers.
While there is certainly room for improvement in the roading network, I fully agree with Greg that we cannot ignore the Human Factor.
All the iterations of MoT, LTNZ, LTSA, and NZTA, have been aware since the AA Road Safety Foundation Conferences in the 90's that focusing on an engineering solution only will never work. Interestingly, a Swedish road safety expert spoke at the 1st of those conferences in Wellington about their 'Zero Fatalities' target - the 1st in the world to dare to do it.
Another speaker was Professor Gerald Wilde from Canada. He spoke about his book called "Target Risk" and his theory of Risk Homeostasis. Essentially he has shown that our perception of risk acts together with our Risk Tolerance level to control our behaviour like a thermostat. If our perception of risk is less than our tolerance level then we will increase our risk to compensate and vice versa. Notice this is dependent on our perception of the risk - not the actual risk. Consequently our younger drivers are extraordinarily dangerous because they have a high risk tolerance level combined with a low perception of risk.
The other implication of Prof. Wilde's theory is that the safer we make our cars and roads, the less safely we will drive those cars on those roads.
If we truly want to reduce our road toll we need to work on all 3 aspects - vehicle safety, road design and construction, and driver behaviour.
I strongly recommend you read his book. It contains many examples of research that proves the theory.
for more info on the theory
to purchase the book
Perhaps a little of topic, but not entirely. I've recently had to look into "Chain of Responsibility" offences under the Land Transport Act. This is the idea that liability for commercial road safety offences are not necessarily solely limited to commercial drivers or transport operators. NZTA and the police can look to all parties in the supply chain and prosecute for those who have contributed to certain breaches (speed, gross weight limits, log books).
Last year in Australia, their transport law equivalent was amended to account for the Model H&S Law. The net effect was to move from an incident based approach to a pro-active H&S approach, with hefty fines to sheet home deterrence/encourage compliance. For my money, we'll be likely to follow the Australians in time - there are good reasons to do so (although you may see it differently if you're in the transport industry). Linking the HSWA framework with road safety offending would certainly be 'doing something different' which is the direction the Associate Minister is driving the road policy (pun half-heartedly intended).
I suppose the straddles the fence - both a fix the driver, and fix the environment approach. I've linked my brief paper for anyone who is interested.
(3860484_4) CoR - paper
A visiting Swede's view on this:
I'm with the Swedes.
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