Thursday, December 15, 2016

Karl du Fresne: The road toll statistics they tried to bury

I checked the latest road toll statistics a few days ago. Interesting.

For the year from January 1, road deaths were up from 291 last year to 300. For the 12 months to Tuesday, they were up from 315 to 328. For driver fatalities, the figures were up from 138 to 151 (for the calendar year to date) and from 146 to 170 (over 12 months).
These are not big increases, but they appear to be more than mere statistical blips.

Even more interesting are some of the figures from a Ministry of Transport booklet called Alcohol and Drugs 2016.

Most of the tables in the booklet pull together figures covering the years 2013-2015 without breaking them down year by year. They reveal that alcohol and/or drugs contributed to 12 per cent of fatal smashes.

This might come as a surprise. Given the official obsession with alcohol as a risk factor (all those checkpoints, all those TV ads, all those earnest lectures from senior police officers every holiday period), I imagine most people would have thought the ratio of deaths attributable to booze must be much higher.

But what especially interested me was whether road deaths involving alcohol had decreased since the legal blood-alcohol limit was lowered on December 1 2014.

This is information of some importance, since the objective of the law change was to reduce the road toll. But you have to turn to page 8 before you find any figures relating to the year after the new limits kicked in.

These reveal that the number of alcohol-affected drivers involved in fatal crashes actually increased from 70 to 90 in the 12 months after the new law came into effect.

This was not what we were led to expect. It is the opposite of what the new limit was intended to achieve, which was to deter people who had been drinking from getting behind the wheel.

Opponents of the law change argued that it would punish safe, law-abiding motorists while hard-core drink-drivers would continue to flout the law with impunity. That appears to be precisely what has happened.

Drink-drive fatalities last year were the highest since 2010. In the 20-24 age group, the number of alcohol-affected male drivers involved in fatal crashes increased from 12 to 22 – that’s nearly double. For men overall, the number was up from 56 to 82.

If the numbers had gone the other way, I’m sure the ministry would have been shouting from the rooftops. As it is, it’s hard to escape the impression the figures were buried. 

We shouldn’t be in the least bit surprised that the law change hasn’t delivered the promised improvement. Control-freak policy-makers and poll-driven politicians refuse to accept that human behaviour can’t conveniently be changed by legislative decree.

That’s also apparent from the anti-smacking law (on average, one child continues to be killed by domestic violence every five weeks while responsible parents risk prosecution for disciplining out-of-control kids with a harmless slap) and from laughably ineffective dog-control rules, which have entered a whole new realm of fantasy with the expectation that owners of dangerous dogs will obtain special high-risk dog owner licences, submit their dogs to good citizenship tests, have their properties inspected and demonstrate they understand their legal obligations.

Yeah, right. Can’t you just see gang members meekly queuing at council offices to fill in the forms and register their blood-flecked pitbulls for obedience training?

Now here’s the key point. Any benefits arising from lower blood-alcohol limits – and so far there don’t seem to be any – should be weighed against the social downsides. As we brace for the annual bout of Christmas finger-wagging, we should ask whether New Zealanders’ enjoyment of life has been unnecessarily diminished just to satisfy the bureaucratic urge to regulate and control.

There’s an economic cost too. Country pubs - the heart of some rural communities - are going out of business and wineries can expect fewer summer visitors because people fret that a harmless tasting will push them over the limit.

Any supposed benefit must also be weighed against the undoubted change in the public attitude toward the police, who are increasingly resented as bullies and harassers - unwilling or unable to attend burglaries, but never short of the numbers to run alcohol checkpoints at all hours of the day, or to hamper law-abiding bar owners in their attempts to run a business, or to make the staging of public events such as wine festivals so onerous that some participating companies decide that it's just not worth the effort any more.

Karl du Fresne blogs at First published in the Dominion Post.


Brian said...

The Roll Toll and our Bureaucratic Nanny State.

Good bit of real journalism on a topic which is emotive, and begets many different viewpoints.

If the “authorities” would drop this rather silly obsession they have that this road or that road is dangerous, and realise that an inanimate object such as a road cannot be either safe or unsafe. We might just, start to place the blame and emphasis on drivers.

To continue to ring the familiar bell of removing alcohol out of the reach of everyone who drives a car as a remedy, reminds me of the famous Baseball Player Babe Ruth, who, on being asked what he thought of prohibition; remarked “Well it’s better than no beer at all”!

We had a few years ago, a road safety expert address our local group; but when I suggested that to reduce speed related accidents by placing a governor on every car. He was aghast at such an idea, saying what about if one was passing a vehicle with an approaching car coming from the opposite direction and unable to speed pass 100kph to avoid an accident! However I could not find any excuse in the road rules to exceed the speed limit of 100kph.

We are in a country where the incentive to produce more restrictions on human freedom clashes with common sense. Regretfully with more and more Government intervention into our lives; individual responsibility will continue to diminish in favour of the rule of bureaucratic socialism. However our leaders are fascinated with the idea that all accidents can be eliminated if we all abide by the rules, they will never accept the fact that we are, by nature, different individuals.

Happy Christmas...and have an Islay Single Malt at Home!!


Warren S said...

If 300 people were killed in one or two plane accidents there would be hell to pay; many Inquiries etc. But NZ'ers seem to 300 road deaths each year without qualm.

In Auckland it is well past time for the Government/NZTA to switch their investment from expensive, low benefit motorways to much more space efficient public transport and especially to a fast train service to the Airport. Multi-lane motorways do nothing for quality of place and can no longer handle the current traffic level at peak. The motor vehicle only mode has become a victim of its own success, so we urgently need a choice of mode and in world terms this means rail which to date has been spurned by the present Government. They need to do much better.

paul scott said...

Karl within your article, I reference you to semantics with cause to effect implications.

These are not your associations, but associations delivered in the alcohol messaging system designed to symbolise that all and any alcohol level equals cause of accident.
That is
" .. alcohol and/or drugs contributed to 12 per cent of fatal smashes "
how do we know that alcohol contributed, or shall we just assume .

" .. road deaths involving alcohol "
What level of blood alcohol means it is "involved", and why

" .. deaths attributable to booze "
What level of alcohol can call for its attribution of death, and why

" .. the number of alcohol-affected male drivers involved in fatal crashes "
Does the definition of an alcohol affected driver mean anything over zero /?

and so on.

Data cause and effect.
The new black box legislation for cars reveals that 50 % of men in vehicle accidents had stopped talking to their passengers for over three minutes.
Therefore accidents are caused by men who are tired and sleepy, and lethargy fines should be imposed. .

Unknown said...

I totally agree with you Paul. Many things can be 'proven' with statistics.

Possibly the reason more people are being found to be driving over the limit is that the limit has been lowered. Therefore those who were previously under the limit and, if they crashed, would not have been counted as a drink-driving statistic, will now be so counted even though the behaviour has not changed, merely the arbitrary limit at which that behaviour is deemed to be criminal has changed.

Far better to look at road crash statistics from the point of view of numbers of vehicles on the road compared with numbers of road deaths. If you do this you will find that we have decreased the road death percentage remarkably based on either vehicles on the road or road kilometers travelled. Drivers should be congratulated for that instead of being slated continually for poor driving. Actual road deaths have been nearly twice the current level during the past 40 years despite there being far fewer vehicles registered at that time.

My wife and I are both commercial passenger transport drivers. Last week we were both run off the road by trucks approaching on the wrong side of the road. I witnessed a near crash in Rotorua when a vehicle passed me at around 80 kph as I was stopped at a red traffic light, which had been red for around 20 seconds. The car went straight through the intersection, missing a car legally travelling across the intersection by about 20cm. That is what should be prosecuted, not the safe, responsible driver who is safely driving home after half a glass of beer too much even though he may be slightly over some arbitrary limit.

Anonymous said...

As a person who has held a drivers licence for nearly 60 years, and has been accident-free and has never even had a parking ticket, I despair at the quality of driving we see nowadays. Drivers on the phone or texting. Slow drivers who drive in the "fast lane" on motorways. Failure to stop at red lights. Slow vehicles speeding up at passing lanes and then slowing down at the end of the passing lane. And as a person who does a lot of long-distance driving, what don't I see? I don't see traffic cops. On a drive of 300 km, the average would be one cop. We need to bring back traffic cops. And now that so many drivers are texting etc, many modern cars have heavily tinted drivers windows, and for all you know it could be six-year old child driving, and you certainly can't see if the driver is drinking or on the phone or texting. And while we're talking about it, notice how many rentals are on the road. You can easily tell them. The drivers drive on the open road at 80 kmh. They apply their brakes at every single corner. They never pull over to let traffic pass. And...... most importantly, how many of them are being driven by people who have just arrived in NZ, and haven't slept for over 24 hours? I was the first driver to a head-on collision where both drivers were German. One going to the airport and the other driving from the airport. When the one driving from the airport drove on the wrong side of the road, the driver of the other car automatically pulled right, rather than left, and...... crash. And with the dreadful increase in suicides, we don't know how many crashes were suicide (autocide). So bring back the traffic cops. Put the bad drivers off the road.