Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Frank Newman: Straight talk - Slogans are not solutions

The Road to Zero: The ambitious aim of reducing road deaths to zero. 

It’s an admirable aspiration, but delusional – and even the government's spin doctors know it. That’s why the “zero” goal is in fact a 40 per cent reduction in death and serious injuries by 2030, 

Even that is wishful thinking. 

Slogans are not solutions but slogans epitomise the Ardern administration: “The team of 5 million”; “The Road to Zero”. 

It’s mindless rubbish, but it’s also insulting. Clearly, those who are actually paid to dream up this “creative” nonsense, think we believe it. Sadly, they may be right enough to get away with it. And having a paid-off, biased left-wing media helps them convince enough lemmings that the promised land beyond the seaside cliff is better than a life where one must think for oneself.   

But should we expect anything more substantial than slogans and puff from an undergraduate with a Communication Studies degree in politics and public relations, and work experience incubated within left-wing politics? Of course not. Clearly, in the make-believe world of Jacinda Ardern, words speak louder than actions.

The Ardern government has been little more than slogans and Orwellian contradictions tailored to a gullible audience: The team of five million – defined by race. A Public Interest Journalism Fund - that prioritises government policy before public interest. 

And so it is with the Road to Zero.  In December 2019 the Government published the strategy for 2020–2030 and an initial 3-year action plan that expired on 1 January.

It states, “The strategy outlines a plan to stop people being killed or injured on our roads. It includes our vision, 7 principles, 5 focus areas and targets — including the target of a 40% reduction in death and serious injuries (from 2018 levels) by 2030.”

How’s that going? 

Not so good.  

In 2022, 378 people died on our roads, the same number as in 2018. That’s zero progress on the road to zero. 

If the Hon Michael Wood were to be questioned about this – and likely he won’t by the recipients practising Public Interest Journalism – he would probably say something like this: 

“It’s a problem we inherited from the National Party but excellent progress has been made. As tragic as the loss of life is, many more people would have died had the policies not been in place and even greater gains will be made when the full effects of these visionary policies flow through to positive results”. 

And maybe he would be right. Maybe 151 fewer people will die on our roads each year by 2030 and just maybe no one will die on our roads by some unknown year in the future. Or maybe it will just be more huff and puff like Kiwibuild which promised 100,000 homes and has delivered 1,366 to date. Maybe the Road to Zero is just more political hot air.

Here’s what the Road to Zero has achieved. It has produced a strategy document. 

The problem is words and pictures don't save lives – they don't even fill potholes!

There seem to be a couple of initiatives that are being put into effect. The first is “action” point 3 on the 15-point plan.

“3. Introduce a new approach to tackling unsafe speeds (‘Tackling Unsafe Speeds’)”

That’s why they are reducing speed limits, to a level that puts mobility scooters at risk of speeding infringements. That’s not going down well with those who realise a more sensible solution is to build safer roads and safer cars. How many people will die on the road south of Whangarei because Labour has canned the four-lane highway so they can build cycleways for escooters?

The second is “action” point 9.

“9. Strengthen the regulation of commercial transport services.”

That’s where the road regulators come up with the bright idea to get the older trucks off the road, so they send a memo out to the vehicle testing stations to get tougher on Certificate of Fitness checks. They are so tough that the owner of a transport engineering company remarked that he had six vehicles in his workshop that day for “rust issues” that were barely visible. The engineering company is doing well at the truck owners’ expense because the politicians like Michael Wood need to have a blah blah blah answer if he is ever asked how the Road to Zero is going. 

Minimising deaths on the road is a very commendable goal and would be very achievable, if no one were to actually use the roads.  

The real world is always about minimisation and trade-offs, and in that regard one can have more faith in the very smart car makers coming up with solutions aimed at eliminating human error. 

What can be expected from our politicians is that they provide roads that are safe, but then, these are the same people that are challenged by potholes, so expecting safe roads may be a bit ambitious and their Road to Zero is a road to nowhere. 


Frank Newman, a writer and investment analyst, is a former local body councillor.


Anonymous said...

It's funny but everyone I speak to knows this is rubbish in action (except a city councillor who has drunk the koolaid).
I spoke to her in a casual setting and the subject of speed humps all over the city street came up. When I asked what's the point as we have speed limits and they can be enforced she said the police can't be everywhere at 3 am when the kids are racing around. I said they can try a bit harder. And why does everyone have to put up with speed bumps all day for a few clowns in the middle of the night? It does nothing to calm driver behaviour.
One of our busy roads has vehicles crossing the centre line several times an hour into oncoming traffic to avoid the bumps. That is a great safety feature of unintended consequences.
NZTA have lost the plot to the young, woke and stupid. It's all downhill from here on the stupid roads.

DeeM said...

I wonder how many road deaths are caused by hitting a pothole and losing control. This sort of statistic would be classed as misinformation because it makes our current muppets look even more incompetent than they already are.

Maybe Jacinda's slogan for the next election should be "All blow, but no go".

Anonymous said...

No DeeM, I'm sure the potholes are planned as a safety measure - there to wake us all up like those other side of lane vibration measures they install. They will become especially more useful as we all get lulled into sleep as we travel the open road at 80kph.
But as for those blindingly inane and expensive TV/YouTube adds - its way past time they were ditched. How those were approved as sending an appropriate message surely typifies the incompetent woke think that is prevalent these days in all Govt Depts.

Robert Arthur said...

Over 30 years ago I attended a govt seminar at which some huge reduction in the then 800 road toll was set as a target. I considered it pie in the sky unless all vehicles had speed limiters, and said so.
Somewhat to my surprise huge reductions were achieved for the first many years. Cars became wider and heavier and safety measures came in: universal seat belts, anti burst locks, telescoping steering, universal radial tyres etc. And drink drive was enforced. Roads were much widened and straightened and sight lines extended. But most of all the effective reduction of speeds by rigid enforcement of speed limits using plain cars, radar cameras etc. However gains from further reduction are likely to be modest. Todays vehicles are very controllable at ruling speeds. The main problem today is driver boredom and distraction. Encased deep within the bodywork, isolated from road noise and feel and external reality, drivers are prone to distraction. This is provided by absurdly complex dashboard car and entertainment controls. heating, air con, mirror adjustment, window controls, many of which require pronged focus. Then there are phones and GPS. With drivers utterly bored at yet lower speeds all these distractions will become increasingly attractive.
And nowadays instead of concentrating on traffic developments vast attention is required to lane markings, traffic behind in a left lane, now ever changing multi figure speed, and a vast range of other signage.
So overall further safety gains will be very limited.

As for potholes, the problem is largely with the vehicles. Absurd low section tyres and fragile alloy wheels have no place in NZ, except on the race track. Motorists from 30, 40 or so years ago remember the endlessly potholed state of many main roads after extended periods of rain and or holidays. Because every repair now involves barrier vehicles and the placing and recovery of scores of cones, repair of a single hole is now a major exercise.

Frank Newman said...

Hi Robert. Thanks for the comment. I agree inattention and distraction are significant issues. The more innovative car companies are focused on that very issue (e.g. semi-autonomous driving). In the short term, "further safety gains will be very limited" but would accelerate in an enabling regulatory environment.

Robert Mann said...

Wasn't the 'zero road deaths' slogan announced by that yank "green" woman MP? If so, shouldn't she be named in any discussion of this ludicrous slogan?