Truck driver hero celebrated

It’s fair to say that 2020 has not been a great year for many people, with Covid-19 bringing fear, anxiety and lockdowns around the world.

So, it’s good to know there are some local heroes out there focused on good works and keeping us safe.

And after this annus horribilis, it was good to have something to celebrate last week when I presented the award for the Castrol Truck Driver Hero to Deane Rodgers at an event in Cromwell in the South Island (pictured above).

Each year, this award goes to a truck driver who has gone above and beyond during the course of their normal work day to help people and keep them safe, often at their own risk.

Summerland Express Freight driver Deane Rodgers is a deserving recipient of the award and it was great to spend the evening with him, his partner Karen, and the Summerland team who came to the event to support him.

Deane’s quick thinking prevented a potentially large fire, but put him at great risk at the same time.

Travelling through South Canterbury earlier this year, with a load of infant formula destined for Christchurch, Deane looked in his mirrors and saw his trailer on fire.

He looked around him at the tinder-dry fields of wheat crops and grass, noted the strong wind blowing, and thought it was too dangerous to pull over to the side of the road and risk a bigger fire.

He knew the Makikihi Country Hotel was about five kilometres ahead and it had space to park a flaming truck so he took the calculated risk and bravely drove there; risking his own life. He rung the fire brigade to meet him, ignored all the other road users trying to warn him, and made it to safety for all. Farmers in the area have thanked him for preventing what could have been a catastrophic fire.

Deane put others before himself and used his 33 years of experience driving trucks to pull off an incredibly risky manoeuvre. As a professional driver, he knew what was possible. It was a great pleasure to thank Deane in person for what he did.

We’re a bit biased at the Road Transport Forum in that we see the good work truck drivers do every day in keeping the supply chain well-oiled so New Zealanders get all the food and goods they need. We know they help out on the road wherever they can. And we’ve done some research that shows many New Zealanders agree with us that truck drivers are skilled, safety conscious, professional and considerate.

That’s good for us to hear, because there is strong anti-truck sentiment from the current Government that doesn’t seem to be evidence-based. We hope the next Government sees the value truck drivers bring to the all-important supply chain.

– Nick Leggett, CE, Road Transport Forum

Where’s the $1.4 billion for safer roads?

The new standing joke in the Road Transport Forum’s (RTF) office is that we will receive an email from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) saying, “Dear Nick, we have reduced the speed limit across all State Highways in New Zealand to 80km.”

Of course, they wouldn’t be this direct because it would create massive outrage. Instead, it is happening by stealth, empowered by the politics of the Road to Zero policy which has been directed by Transport Associate Minister Julie Anne Genter.

The idea that you can lower speed limits and install rumble strips and median barriers as the way to improve safety, in lieu of safe new roads, was always fanciful. However, there has been an effective delivery of lower speed limits in an incremental way across the nation. We have pushed back, along with National Road Carriers, NZ Trucking and Road Transport Association NZ. Slowing road transport down will slow the economy down, and we can least afford that at this point in our Covid-19 battered economy.

So, on the install side, how is NZTA going? In December 2018 a $1.4 billion Safe Network Programme for New Zealand’s highest risk roads was announced by Ministers Phil Twyford and Julie Anne Genter.

The Safe Network Programme was going to 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.

The programme was going target an estimated $600 to $700 million of state highway safety improvements and $700 to $800 million of local road safety improvements. Once complete, the improvements were expected to prevent 160 deaths and serious injuries every year.

Two years later, do you think we are able to find out what money has been spent and where? Have we seen a corresponding reduction in deaths as a result of what has been spent to date?

This was a big-ticket announcement and it was heralded as being the major part of the Government’s roading agenda. We have not been able to find evidence the money has been spent and nor can we find a project report, or overview.

However, we have been able to find evidence on the state of our roads. Many industry members give industry associations regular feedback. We see the physical signs of poor-quality roads all over the country. We see the huge 55% growth in maintenance and repair costs for intercity fleets between 2015-2019 – as per the Waikato University operator comparison report. And then we also stumble across NZTA’s own self-assessment.

Their recently published National Pavement Condition Report showed that between 2008-09 and 2018-19, the volume of resurfacing work completed was 33 percent below NZTA’s own targets for the maintenance of a safe network. Over the same period, the volume of foundation replacement work was a whopping 50 percent below NZTA targets.

Since 2015, the proportion of the road network not meeting the minimum standard for skid resistance has more than doubled to over 500 lane kilometres, the average seal life remaining has reduced by 50 percent, and four out of five measures of roughness and rutting have got worse by an average of 14 percent.

Even for those that don’t fully understand the science behind road engineering, and I count myself in that category, these are extremely concerning figures.

It looks as though NZTA can’t deliver on a $1.4 billion new safety programme, that should be two-thirds completed by now. Worse, for our industry, they can’t deliver on basic road maintenance. That costs all motorists in terms of wear and tear – and safety.

When we write to brief the incoming Minister of Transport about industry issues in a month’s time, NZTA performance on roads will be a key issue that we raise. Be assured, we will continue to raise it until road transport operators start to see the positive impact of the additional funds that have apparently been directed into road maintenance in the last couple of years.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Rail not the great hope for safer roads

It was interesting to see the Government’s response to our recent request to spend some of the “shovel ready” Covid-19 cash on urgent road repairs for unsafe roads was to promote rail for moving freight.

Together with the Automobile Association, Association of Consultants and Engineers, Civil Contractors NZ, Employers and Manufacturers Association, and Infrastructure NZ, the RTF has written to Ministers and spoken with their representatives about the dire state of New Zealand roads. This has generated plenty of media and public debate this week, with the six organisations representing a broad range of interests, including private car users.

Speaking to RNZ, Transport Minister Phil Twyford said: “Our record investments in rail will help take pressure off our roads by moving more freight to rail. It’s going to take more than a few years to undo a decade of neglect.”

In the same RNZ piece he said the government agreed there had been underinvestment for a decade prior to 2017 so had increased highway maintenance spending on average by 36 percent. If re-elected, I would up that another 17 percent.

Yet early in the first-term of this Labour-led coalition government he said: “there has been an over-investment in roads and motorways for decades in this country”.

We hope the increased spending promise means he’s had a change of heart from his earlier views. The six organisations that have asked for urgent road repairs have all been hearing from our members what damages and costs they are incurring because of sub-standard and unsafe road surfaces.

The pro-rail brigade actually believes that in a long, skinny country with 93,000 kms of road and 4,000 kms of rail tracks, that rail can make a dent in the effectiveness, convenience and efficiency of road freight. This is despite all evidence to the contrary. Even in European countries with vast and efficient railways, freight movers pick road over rail.

In New Zealand, the National Freight Demand Study, commissioned by the Ministry of Transport and released in October 2019, showed that freight delivered by road was 93% of the freight task, up 16% since 2012, while rail was 5.6% of the freight task, down 17% since 2012.

It is also interesting to note, again from Ministry of Transport data, the tonnage of dairy being transported on the rail network has dropped from about 3.9 million tonnes in 2013 to 2.3 million tonnes at the beginning of this year.

Ultimately, the market will decide which is the best mode for transporting their goods. Road offers door-to-door delivery, even in the remote parts of the country; is more resilient in weather events, natural disasters, and Covid-19; and is reliable for time-sensitive perishable goods.

Only 3-7 percent of the road freight task is contestable by rail. Conversely, most rail freight is contestable by road, except maybe coal transport across the Southern Alps – trains are good for that because of the weight of the coal.

Roads are the lifeblood of the economy. All road users pay for them and we all benefit from them.

Over $2 billion in taxes (petrol tax and road user charges) is collected each year for the National Land Transport Fund to fund roads. But this is now being used to fund modes of transport that make no contribution. This cross-subsidisation is at the expense of roads and hits consumers in the back pocket.

The truth is that we don’t need rail, or public transport, over roads. We need a good balance of all three. RTF supports public transport and rail, particularly rail for public transport.

What we have an issue with is the defunding of roads for pet projects in rail that cannot provide a viable return on investment, or the efficiency, effectiveness, reliability and cost benefits of road freight.

The Government is slowing down the economy by not spending on roads. Slowing down movement of goods, particularly essentials such as food and medicines, impacts on the cost of living for all New Zealanders. Every delay in delivery costs someone.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

The road out of this mess

How do we get out of this mess? Billions of dollars have been spent by the New Zealand Government on Covid-19. That cannot go on for the years it might take to either have a viable vaccine, or to learn to live with this and other epidemics.

We’ve heard a lot from the Government about investing in infrastructure to boost the economy and getting started on “shovel ready” projects to counter rapidly increasing unemployment and financial pain. Big announcements need to be backed by delivery.

The visual that comes with the term “shovel ready” is people behind shovels building something. The reality seems to be a bit of a stretch from that – projects have to go through all the consenting processes and there have to be skilled people behind those shovels. With a closed border, getting workers is an issue.

Together with five like-minded organisations with an interest in the state of New Zealand’s roads, we wrote to Government Ministers and suggested they could add road maintenance projects to the “shovel ready” list. The advantages of these projects are that they can start immediately; provide value for money; enable job creation; and offer scalability, geographic coverage, and year-round work.

All the organisations have been hearing from our members that the poor conditions on New Zealand roads are becoming a greater cost. It’s not only a cost to businesses, but also to road safety. People die on unsafe roads.

The road maintenance programme over the past decade can be characterised by under-investment and declining levels of service on both the state highway network and local roads. The decrease in spending has meant that the volume of resurfacing and foundation replacement work has been significantly below the targets Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency sets for network sustainability. Foundation replacements were 50 percent below target for the period.

A study conducted by Waikato University this year for the RTF, showed transport operators have had a 55 percent increase in their repairs and maintenance costs between 2015 and 2020. This is largely due to poor road conditions causing damage to trucks. Interestingly, trucking operators have had a five percent increase in road user charges (RUCs) in eight of the past 10 years. Essentially, they keep paying more, but getting less value from roads.

At a meeting this week, Ministers’ representatives told our group – which includes Civil Contractors New Zealand, EMA, Infrastructure New Zealand, AA, and the Association of Consulting and Engineering – that there had been a 36 percent increase in road maintenance over two years. But that is not what road users are seeing. We are talking about road surface conditions, not the barriers and other trimmings that have been put in place in the name of safety.

Based on road maintenance cost and outputs data for recent years, we estimate that an additional $300 million per annum will be required for the next three years to return the network to an appropriate standard.

Our plea to have the ready shovels applied to road maintenance fell on deaf ears. This is despite there being an unprecedented length of the road network currently operating in a sub-standard condition.

We have also been told to wait for the release of the draft Government Policy Statement (GPS) on Land Transport. The RTF submitted on this and said: The 2021 GPS policy was written for a more settled economic climate and we wonder how much of it will continue to be valid within the foreseeable future.

Covid-19 has changed the shape of things and Government Ministers and their policy-makers need to be re-thinking how and where money is spent to deliver infrastructure projects, based on sound economic principles, that will enable economic recovery.

This might require agility governments are not known for. But there is too much at stake here to get this wrong. Roads have played a critical role in the response to Covid-19, getting essential goods moved around the country. Roads will continue to be the base of economic growth for years to come, getting exports to ports and airports to earn money for New Zealand, and moving New Zealanders to and from work. Road spending needs to be commensurate with the task.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

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