Let’s tailor road safety solutions to our unique environment

Be like Sweden they say. The Government is looking at adding hundreds of speed cameras, attracting much larger fines, as part of a road safety strategy borrowed from Sweden.

For left-wing governments, the Scandinavian countries are the holy grail. With tax rates that are double ours, Sweden has plenty of cash to create wellbeing.

They are of course, selective with the Scandinavian comparisons they hold up as ideal – Sweden is the ninth largest arms exporter in the world, for example. That’s probably not something this Government plans to replicate (though they are about to have a load of guns on their hands). In fact, it is a bit like comparing apples to oranges to compare New Zealand and Sweden.

In the next few years, Sweden will have more than 3000 speed cameras, scattered across about 9000km of road.

By comparison, New Zealand Police operate 56 speed cameras throughout the country.

Sweden has more than 2000km of motorway and a further 6000km of expressway. The speed limits on its motorway network are up to 120km/h. New Zealand has 360km of motorway, with a further 124km under construction. Our poor quality roads are no comparison with Sweden’s sophisticated roading network. Sweden has a lower road toll that us, but it did go up in 2018 and there are many factors leading to death and injury on the roads other than speed.

The aim of replicating Sweden’s speed camera approach is to reduce death and injury on New Zealand roads. The Government has decided to focus on speed as the main driver for our high road toll. There seems to be a blind spot when it comes to the dire condition of some roads and other factors that contribute to our poor safety record.

Because the Swedish cameras are heavily signposted, fines are up to four times higher than they are in New Zealand.

If someone is caught driving at 11-15km/h over the speed limit in Sweden, they are fined NZ$320, compared to just $80 here. The New Zealand plan includes replicating the high fines to encourage changes in behaviour.

The theory is, if people know there are so many speed cameras and they are given so much warning of the location of those speed cameras, they stick to the speed limit and therefore, don’t need to worry about those high fines.

While the Police currently administer speed cameras in New Zealand, the plan would be to transfer this admin to the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) to allow a greater alignment between road planning and improvements and the placement of speed cameras. This might be a big ask given the volume of fines already generated by the speed cameras we have – more than $80 million in mobile and static speed camera fines in 2018.

The Government’s argument that more damage happens in a crash because of the speed the vehicles are going at the time, is not incorrect. However, that does not mean speeding was the cause of the accident, that the speed limit was being breached, or that the speed limits on our roads are unsafe. This view ignores the safety engineering in modern vehicles, as well as all the other factors that cause road accidents including drug and alcohol use, fatigue, distractions like using mobile phones, and poor road conditions.

The road transport industry is certainly open to an approach that changes behaviour, reduces people’s dangerous driving and improves safety. But we believe the answer to our road safety issues lies in more than this tunnel vision on speed. There needs to be a big picture view and due consideration of all road safety factors.

Kiwis love their cars; their car means freedom. So let’s see if the Swedish approach can be a fit for New Zealand, and that there is enough money for appropriate education before thousands of speed cameras are put up around the country and Kiwis end up out of pocket. Let’s also be open minded about other solutions and accept that maybe we should tailor solutions specific to our environment. We are very different to Sweden.

  • Nick Leggett, CEO Road Transport Forum

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