Launch of Road Safety Policy statement

  • Annette King

It is six months and one day since I launched the See you there …. Safe as! Programme, and the first thing I want to do today is to thank all those New Zealanders from all around the country who have taken part in the subsequent road safety debate.

One continually refreshing aspect of living in a democracy like New Zealand is that everyone seems to have their own best idea of how to run most things, and road safety is no different to anything else in that respect.

We have had great feedback from the programme, and a vast assortment of ideas. The Government cannot, of course, adopt every proposal, and that inevitably means disappointing some people. What we are trying to achieve, however, is greater road safety in ways the majority of New Zealanders will acknowledge as making good sense, and which they will support as a consequence.

I want to acknowledge my parliamentary colleague, Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven, Secretary for Transport Alan Thompson, members of the National Road Safety Committee, stakeholders, officials and members of the media.

And as today, December 13, is the 2nd New Zealand Drowsy Driving Awareness Day, I also want to particularly acknowledge Martin Jenkins, who is, of course, New Zealand’s champion of raising awareness of driver fatigue.

Having had the pleasure, as I said, of launching the See you there… Safe as! programme of pre-policy engagement with stakeholders and the community, I am also very pleased to be able to report back to you on the results of that engagement.

I can still remember the morning of the launch vividly. It was extremely cold, wet and windy, a morning that pretty much set the pattern for the rest of the year it seems! But while the weather has tended to stay depressingly the same since then, discussions on road safety as a result of the programme have certainly moved on.

Road traffic crashes result in more years of life being lost than any other source of injury in New Zealand, and are the leading cause of death for children. Quite apart from the traumatic impact of these crashes on the families and communities of those killed and seriously injured, these crashes place a major burden on our health system and our economy.

As you know, the Government is committed to getting this toll down. Our stated goal of no more than 300 deaths and 4500 hospitalisations a year by the end of 2010 remains our firm focus. It would be great if we could do even better than that. No one should ever be killed or injured when going lawfully about their business on our road network.

In October this year the Government considered a paper from the National Road Safety Committee. This proposed a comprehensive work programme to complete implementation of the Government’s Road Safety to 2010 strategy. The programme drew on the results from the series of stakeholder and community engagement workshops and from discussions on the associated website.

The results of the engagement process to date --- and I need to remind you that the See you there… Safe as! programme was just the start --- have given us much food for thought.

Two conclusions I have come to are:
·There is no clear consensus, even among road safety professionals and lobbyists, on what the road safety issues are, let alone on what should be done to address them; and
· We need to keep working together with all those stakeholders and people in the community. We need, in fact, to build a nation of road safety experts.

One example of the need to work together is the issue of speeding. The positions people take on managing speed are very diverse. Some people say that speed is the most critical issue, and others say that the current focus on speed is inappropriate, as the actual causes of crashes, including driver fatigue and driver distractions, are many and varied.

There is a similar range of public views on the legal blood alcohol content limit.

Such issues are among the reasons the Government believes there needs to be a substantial improvement and expansion of road safety education at all ages. The Road Safety Education Strategic Document launched today explains this in detail.

In saying that we need to improve and expand our education programme, however, I want to be very clear that we are building on extraordinary efforts that have been made so far.

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the tremendous contributions made by the New Zealand Police, the Ministry of Transport, Land Transport New Zealand and Transit NZ to bring the road toll down to the point we are at now –- a record low toll despite traffic growth of around 40 percent over the past two decades.

We are not going to stop doing any of the things that have got us this far, but we also need to do some things in new ways, as well as do new things.

To this end, I understand that the Secretary for Education will be joining the National Road Safety Committee from today. This will give the road safety community direct access to the considerable knowledge, skills and experience available from this Ministry, across the whole spectrum from pre-school to adult education. The Ministry will be made very welcome.

I will shortly hand over to Harry Duynhoven, but before I end I want to mention three specifics:

· The first is that the Government will be introducing legislation next year to deal with drivers who are impaired by illegal drugs, and also to make it compulsory for people to undergo an impairment test who are under suspicion of driving while impaired by drugs.

· And, secondly, while the Government will not be introducing demerits on speed camera offences, we will be substantially increasing the use of demerit points in a new penalty system that will be developed for us to consider in the middle of next year. The Government doesn’t want drivers writing out cheques, but we do want drivers to change their behaviour. Demerit points are a proven way to change driver behaviour.

· And, thirdly, following the successful initiative from February this year to reduce the speeding tolerance to 5km around schools, from February next year NZ Police will be asked to adopt a further reduction in the tolerated speed around schools to 54km an hour. The safety of our children is paramount.

I would like to thank you all very much for being prepared to work together with us on a task which is so important to the well-being of all New Zealanders. I hope that you all have a great Christmas break and that I will “See you there” in the New Year – “Safe As!”