Finding road safety solutions should be more democratic

We are seeing democratic processes being eroded around the world, but we don’t want that to happen in New Zealand, do we?

This week, RTF has experienced a situation where government has chosen process over form on the very serious issue of public consultation about road safety and strategies to reduce the road toll. And we have been told, repeatedly, we must follow the process for submissions on the Road to Zero strategy.

This would be ok, but for the fact that the process is flawed and seems to ignore some basics of democracy and government engagement with the people.

There are three main flaws – internet accessibility; the ease with which the survey process they have opted for can be skewed; and the depth of the process that is allegedly looking for lasting solutions to a complex problem.

The process involves filling in a commercial online survey tool of the type you rate a hotel/airline/restaurant/shopping experience etc. To be fair, it does give you an option to attach a document. But you must fill in the online survey, or your submission is not valid – we were told by the Ministry of Transport, “we are not processing submissions outside of the tool”.

Commercial online survey tools are easily skewed by interest groups who get on line and fill out hundreds of surveys, so it is disappointing to see the government put so much reliance on them. We feel this issue is a lot more serious than a hotel/airline/restaurant/shopping experience where “95% of people rate our business as extremely excellent”. The insistence with which submitters are told to complete the survey suggests there are a bunch of nice infographics in mind to be littered across social media endorsing whatever the pre-determined policy direction is. It doesn’t feel very democratic.

Which brings us to accessibility, in a country that does not have fast internet access everywhere, and an online survey that would be daunting to some age and socio-economic demographic groups that may not have computer access.

What about the rural parents who have lost kids in road accidents, but don’t have great internet access? This survey approach excludes them.

If I want to hand-deliver a hand-written note, barefoot, having walked kilometres to do so, democracy says Wellington officials should duly note my salient points, not turn me away and tell me to fill in an online survey.

And to the third flaw – there is more to finding long-term, effective solutions than agree/disagree statements. Complicated problems such as the high number of deaths by accident on New Zealand roads, require more rigour than this.

Truck drivers who spend their working life on the road tell us the big issues impacting their safety are the condition of the roads themselves, and the behaviour and driving skills of other drivers.

We get the feeling these are not problems the government wants to know about when they can do a survey that tells them “95 percent of people want us to build more cycle ways”.

Public consultation is not a referendum and should never be treated as such. Its purpose is to provide the opportunity for anybody to have a say on an issue that is relevant to them, in the form they choose. It is a basic democratic right of any Kiwi to express the depth of their view, and it’s their right not to be herded into a tick-box exercise that merely meets the needs of those running the process.

Those in the central Wellington bubble need to get out more and speak to real people who are, at the end of the day, paying their salaries.

If you want to read our full submission it is available here.


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