Delivering the right message on drugs and driving

Governments past have dealt to deaths on New Zealand roads caused by drinking and driving with a comprehensive system of testing, evidence gathering and punishment. This has been backed by extensive, and expensive, advertising campaigns that resonate through all communities. Who doesn’t remember the brilliant “you know I can’t grab your ghost chips” drink-drive campaign of 2011? It became a pop culture phenomenon. Advertising is still centred around “mateship” and a collective responsibility to stop people drinking and driving. No New Zealander can get in a car after drinking too much and not know they are doing something wrong.

It is time for this Government to apply the same principles to the serious issue of drugged drivers. The number of deaths caused by drugged drivers – 71 last year and 88 the year before – means there must be better testing to get these people off our roads. Testing for drugs is not always undertaken and so these figures will be only the tip of the iceberg and they only reflect deaths, not injuries.

The number of people being killed by drug impaired drivers is higher than by drivers above the alcohol limit. Something has got to change.

So far, a soft approach is being taken, possibly because of Government plans to decriminalise marijuana.

If decriminalising marijuana is to be seriously discussed by New Zealanders next year, the Government is going to need to act on a regime that tests road users appropriately. Employers and workers in the safety sensitive industries, such as road transport and handling dangerous goods, need a system by which they can monitor and enforce workplace safety, or they will have WorkSafe to deal with. Without consistency and standards, Kiwis might have little confidence in voting for anything other than the status quo.

It is important to note that truck drivers are in the unique position of sharing their workplace – New Zealand roads – with the public. While the road transport industry follows workplace health and safety laws to ensure drivers are not drug impaired, with extensive testing regimes including pre-employment, random and post incident/accident drug testing, there is no guarantee that those they are sharing the road with won’t be impaired by drugs as there is no adequate testing regime for them. There needs to be a standard approach to testing all drivers for impairment as a result of drug use.

In an accident where a car versus a truck, the car invariably comes off second best. Media headlines focus on the truck, but much of the time, the blame for the accident falls with the car driver. While people in cars have the misconception that trucks are dangerous, truck drivers see every day dangerous car driving.

The Government needs to change its single-minded road safety focus, which is tunnel vision on speed and getting vehicles off the road, and take a holistic look at all the other contributing factors to accidents, one of which is drivers impaired by drugs.

In this area there seems to be more sympathy for the rights of drug-using drivers than on the safety of those who share the road with them, or the rights of those they kill or injure. Time for testing, cost of testing, and “pressure on the system” to come up with any kind of punishment are being put up as barriers to doing anything.

The Road Transport Forum fully supports a comprehensive roadside drug screening policy as a first line tool for early detection of impaired, or potentially impaired, drivers. This should without question, be part of an overall aspiration to mitigate risk on New Zealand roads of injury and death caused by drugged drivers.

Roadside drug testing should include the Compulsory Impairment Test (touch your nose, walk a straight line, stand on one leg), screening with some of the new oral technology and saliva wipes, and where necessary, an evidentiary blood test. This should be backed by the same advertising attention that has been paid to telling all New Zealanders that driving while drug impaired is dangerous and results in loss of lives.

Let’s get serious about road safety.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Road safety solutions need wider focus

There has been much debate this week about lowering speed limits on roads throughout New Zealand. In talking about the economic impact of such a move, there seems to be some belief that this means not caring about the deaths and injuries on New Zealand roads. Quite the opposite is true – at the Road Transport Forum we want to ensure a safe workplace for truck drivers, a workplace that has a positive impact on their well being, and a workplace that allows them to go home to their families at the end of their work shift. For much of that shift, their workplace is the road.

In New Zealand, debate on significant issues has taken an ugly turn. If you don’t agree chapter and verse with the Green anti-road/anti-motor vehicle movement, all manner of insults come your way, often in shouting capital letters. You are a “car fascist” or part of a “pro-death lobby”, to name just the tip of the iceberg of insults, many personal. This is frankly, ridiculous, and not healthy. It does not allow for progress, or good policy making. And if these people looked up, they would see that much of what they rely on to go about their everyday life travels to them by trucks.

Good policy and law making requires thorough and robust research relevant to the New Zealand context; a look at all contributing factors to a problem and matching the best options to those; stakeholder and public engagement; listening; and accepting opinions and advice that might be contrary to your own. Unfortunately, we are seeing less of this and more reactionary moves with unintended consequences.

To wake up on Wednesday morning and read that the Government wants to crack down on the road toll by dropping speed limits across the country is concerning. The statistics presented don’t give the full picture of what’s happening on New Zealand roads. A desktop mapping tool has been used to determine “safety” of roads. This data needs checking in the real world to make sure that what it is proposing makes sense. If decision-making rests on these maps, we are in trouble.

Of course, safety has to be the number one priority on our roads. But speed isn’t the cause of 75 percent of accidents, according to Government statistics. Let’s focus on the most dangerous 10 percent of roads, as well as all the other causes of accidents, to find the best ways to improve road safety.

To be very clear, the contributing factors to our road toll that need to be considered before hasty decisions are made include:

  • Speed
  • Road conditions and infrastructure
  • Vehicles – age and condition
  • Driver behaviour – including breaking the law by not wearing seat belts, using mobile phones, using drugs and alcohol with resulting impairment, driving without a licence, etc
  • Technology – improvements in vehicle safety; better road surfacing and infrastructure
  • Education, training and licensing
  • Enforcement – more laws and rules require more enforcement

It is concerning to see speed being the sole focus at the expense of what we believe is another critical factor in ensuring road safety – road conditions and infrastructure. This does not mean driving to the conditions. This means the conditions of the road are so poor, the road becomes dangerous even for the most sensible and unimpaired drivers. It means that no matter how well engineered a vehicle is, it hasn’t been engineered for the conditions on some New Zealand roads. It means those roads need to be brought up to a safe standard.

This does not mean the trimmings of median and side barriers, rumble strips and shoulder widening – which the Government is spending $1.4 billion on over three years – will magically make these roads safe. To quote truck driver Antony Alexander in the June issue of New Zealand Trucking magazine: “No driver ever said: ‘A rumble strip and bright white line makes me feel so much safer’.”

The New Zealand Transport Agency’s (NZTA) Speed Management Guide, was a 10-year plan to target five percent of the highest risk roads, now all of a sudden that scope has been increased to 10 percent of roads over three years. The focus was not supposed to be on speed alone, major roads were to be upgraded to make them safe at higher speeds, but we have seen very little of that happening. In fact, in the past couple of years we have seen a de-funding of the roading budget.

In a press release yesterday the Selwyn District Council signalled NZTA funding cuts on local roading improvements could put motorists at risk.

“Vital projects which we were planning to improve the safety and efficiency of roading network, particularly our roads feeding into the Christchurch Southern Motorway, have been halted unexpectedly due to a shortfall in national transport funding. This puts our residents and other motorists at risk on main roads that are in desperate need of safety upgrades,” the Council said.

This is the big picture we should be discussing. New Zealand has 53,425km of sealed roads that are essential to our way of life and that we all share, not matter what mode of transport we choose. Can we grow up New Zealand and have a fruitful discussion about how we use these roads safely, an issue which is clearly on many people’s minds?

  • Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Professional road users committed to safety

During Road Safety Week 2019, I would like to acknowledge the great work many in the road transport industry are doing to ensure the safety of both their staff and all other road users.

Individual transport companies have staff and vehicles that travel millions of kilometres each year. Safety has to be a top priority when your machinery and people are travelling such vast distances. I got a first-hand run down of what companies are doing when I met with Greg Pert and Jackie Carroll from Tranzliquid (pictured) in Tauranga this week. Theirs is just one example of how companies integrate safety into their operations and their choice of investment in equipment, to ensure their staff get home safely after every trip.

Tranzliquid has combined new technologies and driver training in a commitment to safety. Staff are trained on “observation, anticipation and planning” so that they can manage risks and drive to the conditions.

We know that speed, fatigue and inattention are the big causes of accidents. To combat fatigue, Tranzliquid has designed a system that steps drivers through processes, while driving, to avoid fatigue. This includes a connection with the dispatcher at home base.

Safety features on vehicles now include:

  • Collision avoidance
  • Lane departure
  • Blind spot proximity
  • Disc brakes
  • EBS/ABS
  • Drag torque – anti wheel lock (in snow for instance)
  • Under run – side
  • Under run – front

They know of an incident where the under run on a truck proved life-saving for a car driver who fell asleep and hit a Tranzliquid truck.

Their business aim is to protect their drivers, other road users, their cargo and equipment and they are focused on happy staff and a downwards trend of accidents or incidents.

But they also say, there is only so much businesses can do and road conditions and congestion are impacting on productivity because they cannot move freight around fast enough.

If you can’t maximise the benefits of your clever trucks, there are consequences down the line, including an impact on the wider economy. For example, you might have 30 loads to get to Auckland but you can only manage to get 26 there, due to traffic and road works. The customer and carrier both incur additional costs in delays, and the loss of productivity and efficiency for the transport company reduces their ability and incentive to invest in new equipment and vehicles.

The road transport industry can only do so much to ensure safety. I am constantly being told that drivers are noticing the deteriorating condition of the roads, which will affect the safety of all people using them. Let’s not forget the behavior, skills and attention of all drivers on our roads.

As an economy that relies on goods being transported – to ports and airports for export and around the country for everything that keeps the country ticking – it is essential that the Government invests in more than just median barriers and rumble strips. Shifting the dial and reducing accidents rates and death on the roads involves focusing on many different aspects as outlined above. It will take a long time. It’s a responsibility that falls on all of our shoulders as road users.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Let’s take a serious look at road safety

April 2019 was the deadliest month on New Zealand roads in 10 years – 45 people dead, and many more lives impacted. It’s tragic and it brings into focus the need for something to be done about New Zealand roads and the way we drive.

It’s equally important that when tragedies occur, we don’t have a knee-jerk reaction. It’s essential to look at the “why?”. Once we understand that, we are best placed to take a strategic, long-term view to provide lasting solutions.

The Government has indicated road safety is a priority and the Road Transport Forum is encouraged by this. We certainly want to be at the table when solutions are designed, as we represent the commercial road users who keep the New Zealand economy moving by getting all the essentials delivered to your door, or your store.

In December last year, Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter announced a $1.4 billion, three-year programme to make New Zealand’s highest risk roads safer.

They said, the Safe Network Programme will make 870 kilometres of high volume, high-risk State Highways safer by 2021 with improvements like median and side barriers, rumble strips, and shoulder widening.

Once complete, the improvements are expected to prevent 160 deaths and serious injuries every year.

Absolutely, this is important. But we need to be careful not to think a bit of window dressing will provide long term solutions. The links between road use, driver behaviour, and road safety need to be fully explored.

A strategic look will determine things such as:

  • Statistics – what’s causing these accidents? If it is a drunk driver, no amount of road improvements will matter. If it is road design and increased use, then let’s find the best solution.
  • Is more traffic on the road causing more wear and tear that is not being addressed in time? Where’s the strategy to ensure roads remain fit for purpose, that is, to keep the New Zealand economy moving for commercial road transport users, as well as provide access for tourists and private road users.

Recently, I had the good fortune to spend a couple of hours with John Hickman, of J.D. Hickman in Taranaki. John is a legend in the road transport sector, building up from his original one truck to over 100 trucks today. John is very concerned about the state of New Zealand roads. In a quiet tour of the surrounding highways and local roads, John was able to point out to me their appalling conditions – see the photo above. He’s concerned for his drivers having to drive on sub-standard, poorly constructed roads for hours each day, and for his vehicles and the wear and tear and additional costs that are occurring. Newly built highways, such as the poor quality Kapiti Expressway, demonstrate there is something amiss in our road building. What’s of even greater concern, is a reduction in the highways budget of 15% since the Government took office. Part of the safety equation is well designed, modern highways.

The RTF urges Wellington decision makers to consider long-term strategies for a safe, efficient and sustainable transport network that meets economic realities and business growth plans. There are already many parts of New Zealand where the strain is evident and the economy is impacted by traffic delays.

We are concerned that the ongoing disruption at the New Zealand Transport Agency – currently without a permanent chief executive or a Board Chair – threatens to put the vital issue of roading infrastructure, and with that road safety, out of sights and minds.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum