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.
Sweden is at least 20 years ahead of NZ when it comes to road safety, ie. Number of deaths and serious injuries per capita. They've done the maths and the cold hard facts can't be ignored.
Sadly, NZ drivers have an outdated, she'll be right attitude towards driving. There's always going to be people who are opposed to making our roads safer. Kiwis in general like to get from A to B as quickly as possible and l guess that's human nature. And we like to think we're bullet proof. As a country we've become conditioned to the road toll states. And unless we or someone we know is involved in a serious crash, we probably don't think of the adverse effects on so many other people besides the injured or deceased.
Having said that, l believe that we need to take a more holistic approach to road safety. Eg. Mandatory driver training and maybe a more comprehensive licensing system, ie. The learner's license limiting drivers to 50kph speed zones, with a full license conditional on further driver training and a practical test carried out in 100kph speed conditions.
On the subject of tourist drivers, it's clear that they shouldn't automatically be let loose on NZ roads, especially when the vast majority aren't used to driving on the left hand side. Another problem is that tourists are not conversant with NZ road rules.
Queenstown's Mayor wants to insist that the rental car companies 'should take responsibility for road deaths' by training "tourists" (nebulous term that basically means someone with a foreign drivers licence) on how to drive, AND not hiring cars to people that they think are jet-lagged or incapable of driving on NZ's road (subjective criteria imposed by people who have no training in how to make that judgement).
Below is a summary of my response I wrote based on my experience of being both an HSE consultant for transport companies and having spent time as a volunteer ambulance officer dealing with MVA's (it didn't go down well).
1. There is no point in demanding that rental car companies stop hiring cars to tourists based on subjective criteria. It's up to the NZTA to determine 'Who" can go on our roads and the NZPolice to enforce that decision.
2. Kiwi's crash just as much as tourists and the stats for the Southern South island show that three key causes of serious trauma for drivers with a NZ Licence are impairment (drugs or alcohol), speed (not driving to the conditions) and poor road design. See "Statistical analysis of tourist crashes in southern New Zealand."
3. Rhys Gardner: Chief executive officer at Codriver Group Limited has developed virtual reality driver training that is currently been tested in rental car companies around New Zealand. However, this doesn't affect "tourists" who buy their own vehicle and then crash.
What does all this mean?
I'm a Safety II fangirl, so I'm going to be on the side of better-designed roads and 'space-aged' technology in cars that would prevent drivers from driving impaired and cause the vehicle to pull over or slow down if the driver is driving inappropriately according to the weather and road conditions.
I'm sure I'm going to be dodging tomatoes over this view and accused by liberals of imposing 'Nanny State' technology on their right to drive their vehicle the way they want to....and die a predictable death.
Blaming tourists for crashes is often making them a convenient to avoid having to look at ourselves.
The South Island has its own challenges in having to navigate over long, often winding stretches of roads where drivers might not see another car for quite some distance, leading to complacency and inattention. When I lived in Methven (Mid-Canterbury) many years ago, I can recall one summer day when there was a crash at an uncontrolled intersection in the residential section of the sleepy little town (at least it's quiet when it isn't ski season!), and when they investigated, they found that both drivers simply 'didn't expect any other cars to be there'. Neither had even checked before entering the intersection, so both were profoundly surprised to find themselves colliding with another vehicle.
I also met many drivers in the South Island who had learned by driving farm vehicles, with very little (typically none at all!) instruction or supervision. So they often had very little idea of defensive driving or road safety principles.
At the same time, many roads throughout NZ - I see them all the time here in Auckland - have not been designed with safety in mind. Many roads are designed in ways that actually encourage poor driving habits and unsafe behaviours. Timed transit lanes might aim to keep traffic flowing in peak times, but they have to be policed for this to be effective. In addition, the way these lanes are allocated only during peak times means parked cars are allowed to park in a lane of a busy road, where vehicles may be driving along in that lane only to suddenly find themselves approaching a parked vehicle in front of them and having to suddenly take evasive action - this often happens along Gillies Avenue in Epsom, for example - there is a slight rise where you can't see very far ahead, and it is quite reasonable to expect to be able to just proceed in that lane. I can think of several other busy roads that operate with the same set of conditions, and I am surprised there are not more accidents.
Another source of confusion and increased risk is the inclination to add additional lanes as you approach an intersection, then at the other side the extra lanes very quickly disappear, leaving vehicles to merge. At busy intersections, this just leads to competitive driving to get ahead of as many other vehicles as possible, with long, slow queues building along with a head of steam with frustrated drivers.
I have been told in the past that changes are only undertaken by NZTA after a certain number of fatalities or factors such as a dramatic increase in traffic volumes, due to the costs of making changes, so NZTA could also do a lot more to get on board - stop making decisions with financial outlay as the only consideration or the most important factor, and start thinking a little further ahead. Safer road design is really the best solution.
Nicely recycled, Peter, but still a good discussion point.
The world is not black and white, it's never an either/or scenario.
I think the Ministry of Transport is on the right track. Competence is important, but don't set up a system that expects human perfection all the time.
Todd Conklin puts it better than I ever could.
"Anytime you put a worker in a position where their only defence against getting hurt is that they'll do the job right, you're creating your very own alligator wrestling show." - Dr. Todd Conklin
"Asking drivers to not wreck is not very effective" - Automotive industry, circa 1951 - relayed by Dr. Todd Conklin.
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