New Zealand has a horrific road safety record. We lag well behind many other OECD countries including our neighbours Australia and many countries in Europe. However, in the last 12 months, the road safety space in New Zealand has changed. An increase in deaths and serious injuries over the last four years (likely to be five at the end of 2018), along with a change in government, has led to an increased focus on road safety.
Our current road safety strategy, Safer Journeys, runs from 2010–2020. It is based on the Safe System approach, a part of Vision Zero. However it doesn’t go far enough. It lacks a clear vision in relation to deaths and injuries, talking of a road system increasingly free of death and injury, but with no targets for reductions and associated timescales.
Earlier this year the new government released its policy statement on land transport, with safety and access as top priorities. It also included a commitment to explore whether a Vision Zero approach to road safety could work for New Zealand.
Vision Zero is a concept that first originated in Sweden in the 1990s, and has been picked up by other countries and cities around the world at an increasing pace. At its heart is the principle that life and health cannot be exchanged for other benefits within society.
Work has now started on the next national road safety strategy and associated action plan, but whilst that is being developed we are already seeing some measures being implemented at a local level.
Last month, Auckland Transport announced plans to reduce speed limits on some of the region’s roads, including making the central business district (CBD) a 30km/h zone. Consultation will happen before the end of the year on a bylaw change to enable this to happen. The move was welcomed by Brake and many other organisations, but has faced some public backlash.
We already have 30km/h limits in parts of Christchurch and Wellington, and these are making a difference. It is vital we continue public communication and awareness-raising of how speed contributes to crash outcomes, and why 30km/h limits are so important in urban areas and outside schools.
Much of New Zealand’s road network is classed as ‘open road’, often rural, with undivided lanes and a 100km/h speed limit. It’s not surprising that around 70% of road deaths occur on open roads. We’ve recently seen an increase in engineering improvements to some of these roads, with measures such as median barriers, rumble strips and wider centre lines being implemented.
There is a long way to go to reverse the trend we’ve seen over the last few years and much more needs to be done in all five pillar areas: safe roads and roadsides, safe speeds, safe vehicles, safe road use and post-crash response. However, momentum is building and there is a sense of optimism among the road safety sector that we are moving in the right direction and we can save lives and reduce injuries.