Our unforgiving roads
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.