Our un­for­giv­ing roads

Nelson Mail - - COMMENT&OPINION -

polic­ing national man­ager Su­per­in­ten­dent Steve Gre­ally finds him­self ac­knowl­edg­ing that if we can fin­ish the year un­der 350 "I would take that as some sort of vic­tory".

It would be trite, if not fatu­ous, to scold him for a lack of am­bi­tion. For one thing, road safety is not a sim­ple func­tion of how well the po­lice do their job, much as some as­pects like the rules for pur­suit con­tinue to re­quire close mon­i­tor­ing.

Gre­ally spoke as one still tast­ing the ashes of the as­pi­ra­tions held at the start of the year. He said po­lice were do­ing all they legally could to get the toll down and he wasn’t shy about high­light­ing prob­lems that went be­yond the poor judg­ment of shown by drivers, con­se­quen­tial though these un­de­ni­ably were.

Much as Gre­ally ham­mered the need for peo­ple to drive to the road con­di­tions, rather than think­ing them­selves safe if they merely de­fault to the limit, he also warned that some of those lim­its, es­pe­cially on ru­ral roads, were set too high.

The num­ber of cars out there is ris­ing dra­mat­i­cally. Car safety fea­tures are also in­creas­ing, but the same goes for the num­ber of po­ten­tial dis­trac­tions inside the mod­ern car.

The NZ Ini­tia­tive think-tank has re­cently re­ported on road safety spend­ing and pri­ori­ti­sa­tion. Ar­eas in which the goal is to get ac­tu­ally fewer bangs for your buck.

One of its find­ings was a chal­lenge to the pri­ori­ti­sa­tion of des­ig­nated Roads of National Sig­nif­i­cance, which re­port au­thor Sam Warburton has ar­gued are rel­a­tively lightly trav­elled com­pared to the cost of build­ing them.

In essence he raises the chal­lenge that if safety were a pri­mary ob­jec­tive, shouldn’t other, riskier blackspots and stretches of road be pri­ori­tised higher? And if other pri­or­i­ties like travel times are tak­ing prece­dence, then should they be? Ex­cel­lent ques­tions.

For South­landers this brought the par­tic­u­lar sor­row of triple fa­tal­ity in which In­ver­cargill’s for­mer NZ First MPRia Bond’s nephew and his part­ner died. Their baby and a two-year-old tod­dler sur­vived but the driver of the other ve­hi­cle also died. In it­self this was a des­per­ately sad out­come, but also a re­minder that in a coun­try as small and in­ter­con­nected as ours, the road toll is never even close to the real tally of loss.

The grief around each death, and for that mat­ter the sig­nif­i­cantly in­jured sur­vivors, rip­ples through many lives.

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