Heading down the uncertain Covid-19 road

Here we are again, staring down the Covid-19 virus while trying to keep businesses and the economy going.

We had hoped the “all of Government” team that responded to the lockdown and alert level changes last time would have learned from that. We believed there was a plan for the inevitable emergence of Covid-19 in the community.

Having dealt with this week’s change in alert levels around New Zealand, and in particular, the move to Alert Level 3 in Auckland, it doesn’t feel that way.

That’s not to say the Government isn’t working hard. It is just that they are once again retro-fitting the policy and planning to the announcement.

We have seen that on the enforced Auckland border checkpoints – designed to stop the spread of Covid-19 by keeping Aucklanders within their city boundaries, and stopping anyone who doesn’t need to enter those boundaries from getting in.

Good in theory, but despite the Health Minister signing an order that allowed for the free movement of freight, that was not the reality. Trucks got stuck for many hours at the border check points and there has been a lot of lobbying this week to try and ensure a lane for trucks to reduce those wait times. In fact, we believe trucks should have a dedicated lane and shouldn’t have to stop at all as they pass through or leave Auckland.

Long delays in traffic present a number of issues for the supply chain. These include potential damage to perishable goods, health and safety considerations for drivers who are restricted by the hours they can work, and missing deadlines to ports and airports for exports and imports. Some trucks also carry livestock and the health and safety of that stock must be considered.

It’s a balancing act to try and get what we want in the midst of all the other demands. The Police have been very helpful. But they have also pointed out that there are social media forums where truck drivers are offering to guide people in and out of Auckland by avoiding the checkpoints, or pick up passengers on back routes and take them across the border.

This behaviour is very damaging to the trucking industry and to the work we are trying to do to get better access for trucks through checkpoints.

If people don’t play by the rules, then the Police will have to consider stopping trucks.

I would urge all employers to speak to their drivers and to check social media and stop this commentary where they can. It helps no one. This is a deadly virus and we must do everything we can to keep it at controllable levels.

We want everyone to stay safe at this uncertain time and we are aware that time delays put enormous stress on drivers. If costs are incurred by businesses due to Government restrictions, these costs must be passed through the chain. What’s more, drivers cannot be put at risk working long hours because of the Government’s restrictions and rules.

Today we will find out what will happen with the status of Level 3 in Auckland and Level 2 throughout the rest of the country. Given the rapid increase in community transfer case numbers, it seems prudent to prepare for the worst.

If parts, or all of the country, are elevated to the next alert level we will be lobbying for all freight to move freely. This is essential to keep New Zealand functioning at some level.

We also need the road transport industry to do its bit. Follow the rules and if it costs more, pass that cost on. The Government needs to understand the economic consequences of their actions, or give us all access to the money tree.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Eight deaths a national disgrace

In the past 12 months, eight people have died on State Highway 5, or the Napier to Taupō road. That’s a stark statistic and frankly, a national disgrace. This is a national issue, as that road connects the central North Island with the east coast and importantly, Napier Port. And it’s deadly dangerous.

Last week, I took a look for myself and I was disturbed by what I saw. With Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, Deputy Mayor Tania Kerr, and truck driver Antony Alexander, we drove some of the parts of the road where there have been fatal accidents. We stopped and observed how vehicles handled potholes and the uneven surface.

The Hasting District Council has been beating the drum locally to try and get Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) to do something about this incredibly dangerous road. Deputy Mayor Tania Kerr lives just off the road and had some horror stories to tell. Antony Alexander drives it 12 times a week and he believes the Government could take the cost of those eight lives and spend it on the Napier to Taupō road to help prevent crashes. According to the Social Cost of Road Crashes and Injuries report, a fatal crash costs $5,071,600. Eight times that could surely reseal the road completely.

The RTF has also tried to take the unsafe state of the road surface up with NZTA, because truck drivers are constantly telling us how uncomfortable the road makes them. NZTA’s response was so unsatisfactory, we wrote to the Transport Minister – a detailed letter that was very specific about our concerns. Unfortunately, that letter is dancing its way around politicians and officials like a hot potato.

To not put too finer point on it, the surface is rubbish, both in summer and in winter. It lacks traction, making it like an ice rink for cars and trucks. This is down to the engineering and design of the road surface. It has been so patched up it looks like a patchwork quilt, and this makes the surface even more dangerous as vehicles bounce around and drivers lose control.

The type of seal used is subject to the temperature variations the area experiences and this has been drawn to the local NZTA representatives’ attention on many occasions. Using the inappropriate bitumen mix leaves the road sensitive to temperature variations, which is a primary contributor to flushing and the chip seal not sticking to the base.

When a truck comes into the path of an accident situation, by taking evasive action the lack of adequate run-off areas on the road, poor shoulder designs, and steep shoulder gradients often mean the truck cannot avoid spinning out of control.

We don’t believe our concerns can fall on deaf ears any longer. People are dying.

This Government has spoken at length about how much it cares about road safety and reducing the road toll. This is not a road where wire rope barriers and median separations are going to improve safety.

We are calling for NZTA, as a priority, to concentrate on resealing State Highway 5 – and where required, redesigning dangerous parts of the road. We believe they must provide a quality road surface that can tolerate the temperature variability in this region, as well as rehabilitating the road shoulders and shoulder gradients, and attending to the vegetation impacting the safety of this important section of the state highway network.

Hearing from road transport operators and drivers across the country, we know this isn’t an isolated incident. The RTF is collecting information on other dangerous routes so we can highlight the risks posed and the costs borne by our industry. We hope officials and politicians will be listening before there are more deaths and injuries.

A RNZ journalist came with us last week and you can listen to that piece here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

RTF commends roadside drug testing law

Last year, 103 people died in crashes on New Zealand roads where the driver was later found to have drugs in their system. Unfortunately, this is an upward trend and is surpassing those killed with excess alcohol in their system.

In comparison, there have 22 deaths in New Zealand from Covid-19. No untimely deaths from accident or disease are good. And I’m not saying Covid-19 doesn’t deserve a lot of attention. But it is time to start turning some of the of politicians’ time, tax payers’ money, and national angst that the pandemic has garnered to other issues of importance that are seriously affecting – and taking – the lives of New Zealanders.

The Road Transport Forum (RTF) was very happy to see a new law introduced to Parliament yesterday (Thursday 30 July) to give Police the power to conduct random roadside drug testing of drivers. We have been lobbying for some time for the introduction of adequate roadside drug testing, as drivers on drugs present an increasing risk to our professional drivers.

We commend Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter and Minister of Police Stuart Nash for the introduction of the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill. Once passed, it will allow Police to test if drivers are under the influence of drugs on the road side, just as they do now for alcohol.

Those of us in the safety sensitive industries are very concerned about this Government’s plans to legalise recreational cannabis, so it is imperative some steps are in place to ensure employers can meet workplace health and safety laws. This is one step in that direction.

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 on the road with won’t be impaired by drugs, as there is no adequate testing regime for them.

Overseas, there is roadside drug testing but until now, there has been a reluctance in New Zealand to introduce oral fluid tests to quickly check drivers for drugs such as THC (cannabis), methamphetamine, opiates, cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), and benzodiazepines, which are the high risk drugs and medications used by drivers in New Zealand.

This Bill won’t be passed before the election, but the RTF hopes it will be high on the list of legislation to progress once the next Government is formed. We have a ridiculously high road toll in New Zealand and drug use is a big contributor. We need to do something about it.

We will be holding Julie Anne Genter to these words from yesterday’s press release:

“Road safety is a priority for this Government. No loss of life on our roads is acceptable and we’re committed to taking action to stop unnecessary trauma.”

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Data allows better decision making

One important thing the Covid-19 experience has taught us so far is the value of data. A lot of figures get thrown around daily but the important ones are the percentages – what percentage of the population has it; what percentage recover from it; what percentage die from it; and what is the R-value – the effective reproduction rate, or the number of people a positive case infects? The rest is just white noise and numbers used to push a particular agenda.

At the Road Transport Forum (RTF), we believe good policy and law is developed from the best data – as granular as you can get it, and thoroughly analysed. That’s not just numbers, but what the numbers mean, what patterns of behaviour are behind the numbers, and what behaviour can be influenced and changed.

Unfortunately, in the road safety space in New Zealand, we don’t believe decision making is data or fact driven. The data isn’t granular enough for a start. When we go to look at truck accident rates, we find categorisation includes other vehicle clusters, such as camper vans, so we don’t get an accurate picture.

The current Government obsesses over reducing speed, but we believe that’s a once over lightly approach and in fact, road design and engineering, and driver behaviour are the biggest contributors to road accidents.

We need an accurate picture so we can see where we need to improve safety and change culture.

This week, Success Formula and the RTF hosted a trans-Tasman webinar to present the findings of the Australian NTI’s 2020 National Truck Accident Research Centre Accident Investigation Report. This is an excellent report and it is inspiring to see how road freight transport in Australia has been able to improve its safety performance over time against comparable economies with the use of incredibly detailed data.

My co-hosts from NTI, Adam Gibson, Transport & Logistics Engineer and author of the report, and Chris Hogarty, Chief Sustainability Officer, believe there is scope for New Zealand to do better when it comes to truck road safety. New Zealand has a three-times higher long-term trend of truck occupant deaths/year than Australia.

From this engagement with our friends across the Tasman, we can see that insurers have the best data, because they are always measuring risk. We would love to see similar data available in New Zealand and I’d like to call on New Zealand insurance companies to help with that. New Zealand Government data just doesn’t measure up.

In the Australian report, the data is incredibly detailed, down to the day of the week and time of day accidents involving trucks occur.  For example, in Australia, one in five (21.1%) of truck driver deaths occurred between midnight and 6am. This time period accounts for only 13.5% of truck movements which equates to a 55% higher risk of a truck driver dying between midnight and 6am than the daily average. This kind of data allows operators to think about parking up trucks between 10pm and 4am, unless they really need to be on the road for a delivery within that timeframe.

It also shows us that in 80 percent of all serious crashes involving cars and trucks, the car driver was at fault.

The biggest challenge ahead they see is driver distraction, often from mobile devices. The research found that the number of truck driver deaths caused by distraction more than doubled in the past two years and that 82 percent of the crashes involving truck drivers aged 25 years and under were caused by distraction.

The data may not always show us what we want to see, but it gives us a chance to better influence the causes of road accidents and deaths.

In New Zealand, reducing speed on open roads will not change road safety outcomes. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to a poorly analysed problem.

The RTF would like to have accurate data to shape the way we build skills and competency in drivers to make them safer on the road, and to enable the Government to better understand road safety.

Trucks transport 93% of the total tonnes of freight moved in New Zealand and that is only going to increase as the country embarks on stimulating economic growth post Covid-19, with more exports and big infrastructure projects. Trucks are important to this country’s future prosperity, so it is worth some time and effort to improve safety outcomes for both truck drivers, and all those they share the road with.

The Australian report is available here. The webinar presentation recording is available here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Debate on drugs essential

Debate on legalising recreational cannabis is hotting up, as the general election on 19 September nears. It will be put to a referendum vote.

The New Zealand Drug Foundation’s Vote Yes campaign has a lot of money, high-profile people, and adept social media skills behind it.

The Say Nope to Dope campaign is backed by a number of conservative and faith-based groups, which doesn’t perhaps make it representative of the wider population who may be considering a no vote.

At the Road Transport Forum, we are asking that people get informed before they vote in what appears to be a binding referendum.

We are not telling people how to vote. We are encouraging people to ask questions and be clear what they are voting for with the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill.

There are unintended consequences that have shown up in other countries where recreational cannabis has been legalised, including increased road accidents and deaths. We don’t think this has been made clear.

As the road is the workplace of the people we represent, road safety is of critical importance. Truck drivers share the road with all other users and no matter how much professional drivers control their own behaviour, they can’t control the behaviour of others on the road. That makes them vulnerable.

We have started a social media campaign, designed to ask questions so that people can be aware of some of the unintended consequences of this Bill. For example, as currently drafted, the Bill gives no consideration to workplace health and safety. Also, where risk increases, costs such as insurance, and liabilities, such as Board liabilities, increase. Insurance is risk-priced – risk goes up, premiums go up.

Social media engagement can be brutal and it is worth remembering some people are incentivised to lobby for one side or the other.

The environment in New Zealand now is if you don’t agree with someone, or you dare to ask a question, often innocently because you want more information, you are cut to shreds. Free speech is in real danger, as is independent thought.

We can draw on information from other countries that have legalised recreational cannabis and we should learn from others experiences. In US publication FleetOwner we saw an article Do marijuana legalization efforts give a false sense of safety? It talks about the lack of awareness about the impacts of cannabis on driving and draws on the experiences of Darrin Grondel, vice president of traffic safety and government relations for the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, in relation to the impact of marijuana usage on commercial vehicle drivers. Here’s an extract:

Grondel explained the legalization of marijuana has made much stronger strains of the substance more readily available, and has expanded the consumption possibilities.

“It is actually much more dangerous because of the concentration levels that we’re seeing in marijuana,” Grondel said. “We’ve seen marijuana go from 3 to 6% THC concentration, to almost 30% in flower and then to 93 to 94% concentration in some of the oils.”

“Those concentrations have a deep impact on the level of impairment,” he added.

Fleets and safety managers should be aware of the variety of methods with which someone could ingest marijuana. The traditional pulmonary method is done through smoking, vaporizing, dabbing and even inhalers.

Due to the commercialization of marijuana, many products can now be ingested through oral or digestive products, often referred to as edibles or drinkables.

We have research that backs what we are saying, particularly from the parts of the US, and Canada, where recreational cannabis use is legal. But in an emotional debate such as this, every person seems to draw on their own research. Bombarding people with research is unlikely to sway them. We prefer to rely on rational thought processes for those who still have some questions – we want them to be able to ask those questions and look for the answers themselves.

It is worth noting Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency has available a research report you can read here. To put to bed the comments of many of those who didn’t seem to think drug driving was a problem, in 2017 and 2018 road deaths involving drugs (not just cannabis, but sometimes a combination including cannabis) were higher than road deaths where the driver was above the alcohol limit. An easy summary is available here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Shovel-ready – the misleading catchcry of 2020

On Monday this week, New Zealand’s capital city ground to a grid-locked halt for five hours because of a small slip on State Highway 2. This shows us a number of things to be concerned about.

The city predicted to be hit by a big earthquake any day now has no transport resilience; the management of the response to the slip leaves us wondering about the capability in New Zealand to build all this new infrastructure cash is being splashed at; and the needs of a handful of cyclists seemed to take precedence over the many motorists trying to get north of Wellington city on both SH1 and SH2 from 2.50pm, when the slip was first reported, until 8pm, when traffic cleared.

On RNZ the next day, in explanation of the magnitude of the five-hour snarl-up, the safety of cyclists – with their cycle lane on SH2 closed by the slip – was cited by NZTA as one reason for closing one traffic lane to cars and trucks. NZTA conceded that closing one lane on a highway in peak hour traffic causes major issues and is a vulnerability for Wellington. There was no mention of the existing cycleway that runs adjacent to this part of SH2. It is apparently a bit rough and is being upgraded, but surely it could be used in this kind of situation?

Every winter this road has a slip at least once, causing this kind of traffic mayhem. A lot of commuters reported this was the worst wait they’d ever had. While the slip appeared very small, there was apparently a lot of instability in the bank running alongside the highway. It was also difficult for crews to access the site and get the appropriate gear there due to the built-up traffic.

This highlights the dangerous lack of resilience in the roading network and the clear need for the Petone to Grenada highway, which has been put on ice by the Government. This is despite it being listed as a top priority in the Wellington Lifelines report – to safeguard New Zealand’s economy in the event of a magnitude 7.5 earthquake on the Wellington Faultline. Our economy certainly can’t take another hit right now.

On Monday, motorists trying to get to Petone and beyond in the Hutt Valley were advised to take SH1 and then go across SH58. That just caused SH1 to gridlock and added 40km-plus to people’s journey home. Another reason to get the Petone to Grenada highway out of the mothballs, and of course, to get Transmission Gully finished.

The situation with SH2 can only be described as chaos, with no clear strategy or plan of action for something that is a regular occurrence in winter and could cost lives in a major earthquake.

Added to the mess that Transmission Gully has become – with a finish date moving out all the time to now possibly 2023 – it is hard to have confidence in the big picture planning for New Zealand’s transport network, particularly for our major cities. When it comes to Auckland, I only need to say “light rail” and you get the picture.

The situation in Wellington is sadly reflective of many parts of New Zealand’s road network. Operators are constantly telling the Road Transport Forum how much harder it is to get their trucks from A to B, or the damage their gear suffers and the additional cost pressure that puts on them. The state of the road – be it poor maintenance or limited capacity – is usually to blame for these pressures.

With our current track record, there are some big question marks hanging over New Zealand’s ability to recover from the economic hit caused by Covid-19 by building infrastructure. We don’t have the expertise, and with our borders closed indefinitely as we try and eliminate Covid-19, where are we going to get the necessary help from?

Each day another announcement is made about money being spent somewhere on infrastructure. New Zealanders need to mark all these announcements and hold those making them to account to actually deliver; to have the capability to plan, design and manage these projects; and to have the people on the end of all those shovels to do the work.

Shovel-ready may well be the most misleading catchcry of 2020.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Know what you are voting for

It seems every time you tune into social media you get hit with the New Zealand Drug Foundation’s ‘Vote Yes’ campaign to legalise recreational cannabis.

The Drug Foundation wants people to vote yes in the upcoming election referendum. A yes vote will allow the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill to progress through normal processes into law.

It’s not the Road Transport Forum’s place to tell people how to vote in a referendum. But because there will be an impact on road safety, and the road is the workplace of those in freight transport, it is our place to ask people to be well informed when they go to vote.

The first step is to be clear that this is a vote for recreational, not medicinal cannabis use. Medicinal cannabis is legal in New Zealand via prescription from a doctor. If people tell you they need it for pain relief, or stress, or any other ill, tell them to go to the doctor and get a prescription.

Also, be aware there will be a whole lot more expensive bureaucracy put in place to manage recreational cannabis. That means even more public servants. The bill references a Cannabis Advisory Committee, Cannabis Appeals Authority, and Cannabis Regulatory Authority for starters. How much will all that cost and will it be funded by the tax payer?

In a country that has worked hard to stop people smoking, it will bring smoking back.

But most importantly from our perspective, the RTF believes the Bill, as drafted, gives no consideration to the principle of safety – on the road and in the workplace. We all share the roads – that’s pedestrians, cyclists, car and truck drivers – and everyone wants their loved ones to come home from work each day.

Already the number of people being killed by drug impaired drivers on New Zealand roads is higher than those killed by drivers above the legal alcohol limit. There have been years and years of media campaigns to stop people drinking and driving, but still they do it. So, what is planned to educate people on taking drugs and driving?

Higher risk on the roads automatically means higher insurance premiums across the board – insurance is risk priced and you pay on probability. When households and businesses are already managing tight finances, they shouldn’t be surprised by expenses that should be made clear up front.

In the lead up to the election, there will be a lot of media coverage of this issue. This week I was pleased to see responsible media giving the side of the story that highlighted impacts of drug use and road safety.

Stuff ran a piece from the Timaru Herald which gave some community views on the referendum, including that of former police officer Mark Offen.

He said: One of the common effects of cannabis was slow reactions which impaired evasive action and could be lethal on the road.

“Behind the wheel of a car it can become a lethal weapon.”

He said a more efficient testing kit on the roadside was needed as currently an alleged offender had to be taken back to the station to be tested.

It’s worth a read here.

I also saw in the North Canterbury News the story of a Rangiora man seriously injured in a road crash caused by an alcohol and cannabis impaired driver. You can read Trevor White’s story here.

Trevor lived to tell his story, but many don’t. We don’t want New Zealand’s truck drivers, who are just going about their work delivering all New Zealanders the goods they need, to be the casualty of poorly thought out laws.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Show me the money tree

As I look this week at another bunch of speed limit cuts around the country, I have to say, show me the money tree.

Anyone who thinks we should be slowing down the economy in the middle of a global pandemic that is putting companies out of business and workers out of jobs like never before, clearly has access to a money tree in the garden.

Driven by the ideological imperative of taking cars and trucks off the road to make way for cyclists and pedestrians, seldom does this decision-making consider economic impacts.

Commercial road users, who pay for their road use, feel the pain of reduced speeds on their bottom line. Time costs money. Slowing down freight on New Zealand roads costs everyone. And that’s in peace time. Now we face COVID-19 time when to survive, New Zealand is going to have to be able to move exports and imports as quickly and cost effectively as possible. That will be by road – 93% of the total tonnes of freight moved in New Zealand goes by road.

The Government continues to lower speed limits around the country in a piecemeal fashion, with no consideration of the big picture for those who move freight from one end of New Zealand to the other. Modelling showing a minute lost here and a minute lost there does not match the reality of extra hours on the road when you are criss-crossing regions with wildly varying speed limits.

We appreciate that in some cases, lowering speed limits might well have an impact in reducing the road toll. But time and time again, in our submissions and meetings with those who have already decided to lower the speed limits before they go out for consultation, we hit a brick wall when we talk about driver behaviour being the cause of death and injury on the roads. That’s drugs, alcohol, distraction and ability. A lot of government research focuses not on the cause of the accident, but why there was an impact severe enough to result in death. If you look at it that way, the law of physics suggests any speed of a moving vehicle will be a problem.

The sole focus on speed limits will do more harm than good.

I discovered this week we are not a lone voice. Northland Age editor Peter Jackson penned a well-written piece about speed limit reductions in Northland. He said:

“If the Government really wants to make back roads safer it will have to seal them, widen them, and get rid of more corners than anyone can begin to count.

“That’s not going to happen, but reducing speed limits is not a reasonable alternative. Rather it is yet another exercise in wasting money for no benefit. Worse, it could have the opposite effect to that intended.”

Quite rightly, Mr Jackson points out that rates will be diverted to: “be wasted on a forest of speed limit signs that most will ignore”.

He goes on to suggest: “What Parliament needs is a special Common Sense Unit, whose role will be to weed out the dumb ideas before they start costing money on projects that won’t work.”

You can read the editorial Are speed limits the answer? here. We concur with Mr Jackson.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Don’t let important issues get buried under Covid-19

With media around the world focused, it seems, solely on the subject of the global pandemic Covid-19, it is easy to forget that life goes on and there is a general election in New Zealand on 19 September 2020.

On Friday last week, 1 May, Justice Minister Andrew Little released the complete and final version of the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill. This replaces the previous draft – which RTF had criticised as woefully incomplete – and will not be further updated before it is voted on by the public in a referendum at the 2020 general election.

The wording of the cannabis referendum question has also been confirmed as a straight Yes/No question:

Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?

Yes, I support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill

No, I do not support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill

I worry, that at a time when people are both consumed by the health crisis that is Covid-19 and are largely being fed news specific to that only, this important referendum vote will not be exposed to the sunlight necessary for informed choice. Covid-19 is not the only health risk we should be focused on.

There are many aspects of this legislation that concern those of us in safety sensitive industries. And our objection to this legislation is based on the principle of safety – on the road and in the workplace.

There is no consideration for workplace and road safety in a country where the number of people being killed on the roads by drug impaired drivers is higher than those killed by drivers above the legal alcohol limit.

We have some of the strictest workplace health and safety laws in the world where responsibility ends with business owners and boards. You can bet this legislation will mean massive increases in insurance premiums.

We have a drug problem in New Zealand. Road freight transport companies know that and have drug testing regimes to ensure safety within their companies. But if this legislation passes, there will be no guarantees for those professional drivers going out onto the road where there are other road users who are legally high.

We care about road safety and cannot see how this Bill will in any way contribute to safer roads.

We want political parties to be clear on how road and workplace safety, particularly in safety sensitive industries, will be managed on the back of this potentially binding referendum (if the current Government is re-elected).

We want to know exactly what is planned by all parties for this draft legislation and the referendum result.

We want the public to understand this referendum is about recreational, not medicinal marijuana.

This is a huge social shift for safety sensitive issues such as road freight transport. We don’t want these implications buried under the Covid-19 blather.

This is another very important reason for New Zealand to come out from under the carefully crafted daily messaging around Covid-19 and get back to some kind of normal life where people can focus on other things that matter.

We would contend that the health impacts of this legislation are also worth consideration, expert opinion, credible data and open debate.

The full Bill and information about the referendum is available here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Country’s fastest roads are saving lives

My holiday reading included a Stuff article stating that two of the country’s fastest roads are actually saving lives.

“No one has died on either the Cambridge section of the Waikato Expressway, or the SH2 Tauranga Eastern Link Toll road, since they opened just over two years ago, figures released to Stuff show,” the article said.

These roads are rated at 110kmh. The increased speed limit of 110kmh was implemented on 11 December, 2017, on both sections of road.

In the article Police credited good road engineering for the safety of the roads.

We have also seen on the newish Kapiti Expressway north of Wellington. With a speed limit of 100km/h, there have been no fatal crashes between March 2017 and February 2019, and less serious and minor injury crashes than the previous route over the same period, which has speed limits of 60-80km/h. In 2015-2016 the previous route had a lower speed limit and one fatal crash and more serious and minor injury crashes than the expressway. This demonstrates better design and engineering of roads leads to fewer accidents, injuries and deaths.

This is in line with experiences in other jurisdictions – if the road is well engineered, safety is improved. The most notable example is the Autobahnen (highways) in Germany, where much of the roads have no speed limit. The number of crashes, and injury and death rates from those crashes, is lower on the Autobahnen than on either urban or rural roads in Germany.

The German government adopts the principle that motorists can decide for themselves what is the appropriate speed for the conditions and their skill set; they can calculate their own risk.

Sweden has the lowest road toll in the EU. 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.

In fact, moves to lower speed limits in Europe centre more on environmental arguments – less CO2 emissions at lower speeds – than on a road safety focus, and they are often politically motivated.

If we look at the French Government – its 2018 decision to cut the speed limit on country roads by 10km/h, to 80km/h, was a major factor in the rise of the gilet jaunes (yellow vests) protest movement. Many people in rural France saw the move as an example of President Emmanuel Macron’s urban elitism – a failure to understand the needs of people outside cities, who are totally reliant on their cars.

While there is no doubt that excessive speed causes road crashes to have consequences on the serious end of the scale, the New Zealand Government’s laser-like focus on speed alone, is concerning. The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) believes 87 percent of New Zealand roads have speed limits too high for the conditions. They cannot seriously think it is viable to reduce speed limits on 87 percent of our roads, and keep our economy as an export nation moving and growing.

Most other developed countries have faster speed limits because they have better roads. The equation is not difficult to grasp – well engineered roads are safer. We believe that rather than slowing us down on the road, and subsequently slowing down our economy, the Government needs to be strategic and transparent in its decision-making. We need a long-term plan around what New Zealand requires from its transport network and investment has to be evidence-based.

The other holiday reading has of course, been the tragedy that is unfolding daily in Australia as bushfires grow and merge and more people, animals, homes, towns, and regions are impacted.

I want to do a shout out to the truckers of Australia who have been pulling out all stops to get water and essential supplies to those people, animals and areas who need it most.

This is a clear example of how vital roads and trucks are in times of natural disaster as the most reliable lifelines.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum