Evidence base means better buy-in for change

It’s good when government officials listen to industry. It means better policy and greater buy-in, if people feel they have some control over their own destiny.

It’s also good when policy, law, rules and regulations are shaped by robust evidence – it makes for credibility.

So, the Road Transport Forum (RTF) is working with Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) as it looks at developing a replacement for the Operator Rating System (ORS) that has been used by Transport Service Licence (TSL) holders to understand how the regulator views their performance around compliance. ORS formally commenced in 2004 and many questions raised about its fairness have been raised over the years **.

RTF has been involved in workshops with NZTA to talk about how the system could work best for all.

We believe carrot works better than stick when it comes to applying road safety regulations to the road freight transport industry.

Trucking companies want to see their drivers return to base safely after every journey, without incident, and with no negative impacts on the safety of other road users. We want a safety system for commercial heavy vehicle operators that is based on most people doing the right thing, but has the capacity to work with those who fall below an acceptable safety standard.

New Zealand is highly regulated and road freight transport is bound by various laws (Acts of Parliament), regulation and rules. Businesses work best when regulation allows for innovation and productivity and doesn’t hinder individual freedom. The regulatory environment in New Zealand is expensive and that means costs for the end consumers that may not compare favourably with overseas competitors.

We want to see a transparent, risk-based regulatory approach, backed by evidence. The evidence shows us for example, only seven percent of accidents are as a result of faulty machinery, while 93 percent have other causes, including driver behaviour. We wouldn’t want to see an over-emphasis on compliance around machinery and gear when we know focusing more on human behaviour and driver distraction would yield us much greater improvements in reducing accidents and incidents on our roads.

The big opportunity in reviewing the ORS is to examine the data held by NZTA, to ensure the emphasis is on the right place. The industry must have confidence in the data and its interpretation and therefore, any subsequent actions taken by the regulator.

Another opportunity arising from this process could be a co-operative compliance model where an industry master code of practice is developed in line with an ORS replacement. This could be practice and process advice to guide operators in meeting standards and achieving best practice to improve safety outcomes. Independent assessment would be a vital component of such a structure, as would regulatory oversight, and any incentive offerings for operators going beyond compliance and being able to demonstrate an improvement in safety outcomes – both individually and industry-wide.

The road freight companies who are committed to safety for their staff and service for their customers could use best practice as a selling point for their business, as more customers seek assurance around the ethics of their business partners. We believe however a new system looks, regulator recognition of better practices through incentives should be key.

An ORS replacement is about the development of a shared lens between the road freight industry and the regulator. The aim of that lens is to improve safety and ensure that regulation is fair, reasonable and effective for all parties.

Where an operator doesn’t meet the standards, and subsequently compromises safety not only of their own staff, but of other road users, we support the regulator taking the appropriate action.

The goal is to end up with fewer accidents and incidents based on good operator performance, safer roads for everyone, and a regulatory environment that allows businesses to do what they do best.

We are committed to engaging in that process.

–  Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

** It’s important for operators to note, while the ORS has been suspended, NZTA continues to collect data on all TSL holders and is using its own internal assessment tools to judge compliance and take appropriate actions.

Lack of investment in roads will cost us all

We continue to see evidence of the importance of roads in New Zealand. We have a geographically challenging country and the way we all connect to one another is via roads – 93,000 kilometres of them.

Last week, the 2017-18 National Freight Demand Study was released, showing road transport is the major mode of travel for all our domestic and export food and goods, carrying about 93 percent of the total of 280 million tonnes moved during that period.

On a tonnes per kilometre basis, road transport has grown 16 percent between the 2014 and 2019 reports, while rail has dropped 17 percent. The official word in the report is that the drop in rail freight reflects the impact of the Kaikoura earthquake, and the reduction in coal traffic in 2017-18. I guess you have to grasp at excuses when the evidence doesn’t support the ideological direction of the Government. The contention of the RTF is that the improvement of truck payload efficiency is the real reason for the shift between rail and road. Over the past six years, HPMV and 50Max gains have been realised in dairy, logs, livestock, aggregates, and petroleum distribution, as new vehicles have replaced older, less efficient ones.

This picture, with the backdrop of a tightening economy, suggests the Government should be recognising the correlation between our roads and our way of life.

Sadly, this is not the case. While the Government has quite rightly focused on some aspects of road safety, they don’t seem to connect the importance of the roads themselves, to the safety of the people using them.

We are seeing this in the lowering of speed limits on main highways all around the country. In the South Island, residents are petitioning the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) to scrap proposed lower speed limits on State Highway 6, from Nelson to Blenheim. NZTA cites accident numbers to say the road is unsafe and is proposing reducing the speed from 100 km/h to 80 km/h. If approved, the entire length of SH6 between the two towns, about 110 kilometres, would be not more than 80km/h at any point. NZTA says the “technical assessment of the state of the road” was the reason behind the proposed reduced speed limit.

This is also happening on State Highway 1, around Warkworth and Puhoi north of Auckland, where there is a proposal to reduce the speed limit from 100 km/h to 80 km/h, for 15 kilometres. This is our main state highway north out of our major city, Auckland.

And we are seeing road closures because of a lack of investment. The Manawatu-Taranaki-King Country regions are being significantly impacted by two state highways closed by slips – SH4 between Whanganui and Raetihi and SH43 between Mangaparo and Kururau Road, part of the Forgotten Highway. These road closures are of considerable concern to businesses and residents in these regions, who are facing long and expensive detours. People are losing money, daily. This is busy dairy and logging country and it’s a busy time of year. For years, locals on SH4 have been warning the road needed attention. Now, they are looking at a year, if not years of it being closed. There are school children on one side who cannot get to school on the other side of the slip. This doesn’t just affect this region. It has an impact on all of us when goods we rely on have to travel further to get to us. That means they cost more, at a time when household budgets have very little slack.

What we are seeing is death by a thousand cuts – of our roads and subsequently, of our back pockets. Not fixing roads and lowering speed limits to accommodate not fixing roads will slow us down and cost us more. The Government says it’s nine minutes here, or seven minutes there, but it all adds up to a total journey. As the Nelson locals say, it also causes perverse behaviour. When people are slowed down, they do stupid things.

There’s ideology, not strategy at play. There is no big picture thinking – what is the total impact of dropping the speed limit to 80 km/h on 110 kilometres of road that is used to transport for example, valuable horticulture products to export markets? If two main roads are closed for a long period of time, what is the total impact to all New Zealanders of the additional business costs that generates?

While the Government would have people believe less trucks on the road is a good thing, it’s not. It’s less jobs. It’s less money in rural and provincial New Zealand. It’s decline not growth. It’s the inconvenience of not having what you want when you want it. It’s higher prices for essentials like food. And at the end of the day, it finally impacts those in the cities as well.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Spend that cash

On Tuesday, the Government slapped itself on the back and congratulated itself on a massive $7.5 billion surplus – the biggest surplus since 2008 prior to the global financial crisis.

This is against a backdrop of the lowest business confidence since just after that global financial crisis; a massive dive in rural confidence tagged to farmers’ concerns about the Government’s policy direction; and a slowing economy in the provincial regions that previously, had been booming.

There is something wrong with this picture. The adage that perception is reality rings true. Most of New Zealand is feeling the pinch, but the Government continues to tell us everything is OK.

For some time, we have been calling for the Government to urgently spend some money on roads – making existing roads safe and building new, four-lane roads where they are most needed. It is our roading network that keeps our economy moving and growing and food on our tables. People and goods need to get from A to B in the most timely, safe, cost-effective and efficient manner. Even if you are giving a nod to the environment, that makes the most sense, as congestion and delays on the road only increase the emissions the Government is trying to reduce.

But with the ideology in play, circular reasoning is being applied around the negative impacts of cars and trucks, rather than their essential role in our high standard of living. This sees a reluctance by the Government to follow all the expert advice that says, “spend some money on infrastructure to boost the economy”.

Back in June, the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council warned that New Zealand is at an “infrastructure crisis point”. It said there is “no overarching vision or leadership in New Zealand for infrastructure development”.

You would think this would raise some concerns, given the Government’s heavy reliance on advisory groups at the expense of core government agencies such as Treasury, who are surely recommending spending some money to make some money.

Last week, we saw stark evidence of the impact of not spending on infrastructure. A key part of the State Highway network collapsed, literally (pictured above – photo from Mark Brimblecombe). Locals say Parapara Road, on State Highway 4 between Whanganui and Raetihi, has been problematic for the past 15 years.  A sizeable crack appeared last week and then the road broke entirely, with hundreds of cubic metres of soft earth slipping and sliding and cutting off vital transport links for an indefinite period.

Drone footage and photos of the slip illustrate how significant it is. The slip is still moving and it is not going to be fixed any time soon, if ever.

This leaves farmers, school children, ambulances, and freight companies facing major detours for an indefinite period of time. The recommended detour route will add at least one hour to every journey. About 1000 vehicles use the Parapara Rd daily, about 10 percent of which are heavy vehicles. Health care professionals are looking at helicoptering out critical patients, as a road journey will now be so long. This is a critical situation.

Steve McDougall from McCarthy’s Transport has been quoted as saying the company’s logging trucks will now have to connect with State Highway 1 at Bulls, or State Highway 3 via New Plymouth, to travel northwards. He says this will have a catastrophic effect on the business that will cost between $30,000 and $40,000 per day. It will reduce productivity – less trips will be possible each day. That cost will be passed on to the forest owners and the end user customer.

The cost of not investing in roads ultimately hurts all New Zealand families. Basics, such as food costs and access to health care cause the initial pain, but the cost across the supply chain of all goods just goes up and up.

We cannot have major roads collapsing. Look at how long it is taking to find a fix to the Manawatu Gorge. The Government needs to apply some basic economics to its thinking. How much cost are they prepared to add to every Kiwi household so they can say, “look how much money we’ve got in the bank”?

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Road builders in la-la land

I am once again, disappointed – and dismayed – to find Wellington policy makers driving ahead with significant changes to critical infrastructure without fully understanding user needs.

This week, I found out that at this late stage of the Manawatū Tararua Highway build – the Manawatū Gorge replacement – the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) is proposing what was going to be a full four-lane piece of highway (two lanes each way) will reduce to two lanes at a pivotal point, for three kilometres.

This is at the steepest point and will slow down trucks using the road, create congestion, and impact safety.

Not only that, despite engagement with, and outright pleas from our industry, a Stock Effluent Dump Site (SED) has not been included within the scope of works – NZTA previously advised it was included – no land has been purchased for this, and it is off the table.

To rub salt in that wound, the NZTA has asked truck drivers to use an existing SED near Woodville, knowing it is not safe.

This defies logic and all the road safety rhetoric. Ridiculous statements from a safety review of the more recent design work which say that going to one lane for a short section “reduces the perception that the new road is a motorway” and is “more in keeping with a rural look and feel for the road, to better fit in with the character of the landscape” reflect that ideology, not fit-for-purpose design, is behind these changes.

Let’s be clear, this is a highway and first and foremost, it should be built properly, for purpose. It is a key east-west connection for the Lower North Island to get New Zealand’s food and primary products to market. First build the road. Then if someone wants to spend millions of dollars making it look pretty, go for it. But don’t make that part of the road building costs. For most of us, a drive through the New Zealand countryside is pretty enough.

A single lane each side at the road’s steepest point is an unnecessary design approach given the carriage way appears to be wide enough, as shown in this flyover. Most light vehicle users will be frustrated to be caught behind a truck when they find their passing opportunity evaporate in front of their eyes. This could well cause safety issues.

On the matter of stock effluent, it has been made clear to the NZTA that the existing Woodville SED is unsafe – as the photo above shows – because:

  • The turning space in and out of the facility has a concrete curb that the units have to drive over causing judder bar effects (these have been asked to be removed previously)
  • The fence separating the temporary exit is not consistent causing a narrowing toward the exit point (this has been advised previously)
  • The culvert on exit needs lengthening 2 -3 metres, as it does not allow 5-axle trailers the correct cut required to exit safely (this has been advised previously).

With no safe stock effluent dumping sites accessible before taking on the hill, effluent spillage all over the new road is likely. This may incur infringement notices, which will be heavily defended by our industry due to the deliberate oversight of this issue by NZTA.

I sometimes wonder if I’m in an alternate reality where the cost of living is of no relevance, food is unnecessary, and we are all walking and cycling in happy unison. But in the real world, I’ll keep asking for us to get this right first time – if the project is not funded correctly, it will slow down our economy and cause frustration to all drivers on that road.

The RTF is concerned that the current course of action will only see a mammoth cost in the years ahead when the under specification will have to be corrected. Our view is that NZTA needs to ask the Government to increase the construction budget to get this road built right – it is after all, the only new road build currently on the books.

Kiwis expect to see first-class infrastructure and high quality roading, given the increases in petrol tax and Road User Charges that they have had to endure.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

 

Finding road safety solutions should be more democratic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story behind the headline statistics

There’s an old adage: There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

As this Government continues to push a negative narrative around trucks and roads, favouring its investment in rail, public transport and cycle ways, we are seeing a lot of statistics being thrown around.

The Road to Zero consultation on road safety, released this week, is a bit of a case study.

In Focus Area 3, Work-related road safety, firstly, it says: While trucks are not involved in significantly more crashes/km than other types of vehicles, these crashes are far more likely to be fatal, accounting for over 20 percent of road deaths. This is a highlighted statistic.

There are no details such as, who was at fault? What caused the crash? If a car crosses the centre line and crashes into a truck, sheer physics tells you the car will come off second best. But this does not mean the truck driver was at fault. Also, that leaves another 80 percent of road deaths caused by something else.

The discussion document goes on to say: We need to improve our understanding of the size of the challenge. To properly address the problem of work-related road safety, we need to clearly understand it. While we can piece together data from a range of sources to get an understanding of the total level of harm, we do not currently have the full picture of the key risks at play and harms that are occurring. Improving this data will help us to better target our efforts on work-related road safety, giving us a better understanding of the causes of work-related crashes, the types of vehicles involved, and the industries and sectors that have the highest levels of harm. There are also opportunities to work with the private sector to better share and coordinate work-related road safety information.

We agree with this. Let’s look at all the data before throwing stones. Let’s get the full picture behind the headline statistics.

Unfortunately, we live in an era where the headline wins and no one cares about the rest of the story.

Another case in point happened last week (12 July), with Justice Minister Andrew Little quoted as saying professional drivers who kill on New Zealand roads should be held to a higher legal standard of accountability than other road users. This is despite there being three existing laws that already allow this. The Road Transport Forum (RTF) has asked Minister Little to provide evidence to back his opinion.

While the Government stresses its focus on road safety, it rejects investment in quality roads. It’s not just truck drivers pointing out the poor design of some roads, and the dangerous deterioration of others.

The Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council says New Zealand is at an “infrastructure crisis point” and advocates for the 12 roading projects presently on hold or under review to proceed, possibly with private investment. But the Transport Minister Phil Twyford says that would be “really bad policy”. He says none of those roads would have enough traffic on them to pay for them. By that count, the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which had a 0.8 benefit/cost ratio, would never have been built.

This Government’s approach to road safety can be confusing and conflicting. It seems to be captured by the “climate emergency” agenda and a desire to get any fossil-fuelled vehicles off the roads. That’s all very well if you live in the centre of a big city and have choice. But it takes choice away from those of us who live in the suburbs, provinces and rural New Zealand and those who drive the economy by getting the exports we rely on to survive, to market.

The full suite of transport modes that don’t rely on fossil-fuels simply do not exist. And it remains to be quantified just what it will cost to run everything on electricity, and if there is even the capacity in New Zealand.

The Road to Zero name is in itself, confusing. Zero implies none, yet the strategy aims to cut road deaths by 40 percent in the next decade. This is a laudable goal and the RTF will be making a submission.

Discussion doesn’t mean we don’t fully support a road safety plan that reduces deaths and harm. It means we want to hold this Government to account on its road safety promises.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

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

Let’s tailor road safety solutions to our unique environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Nick Leggett, CEO Road Transport Forum

Where the rubber hits the road

One of the best parts of my job is getting out and about to speak to the people running freight companies and finding out what’s going on where the rubber hits the road. Yesterday, with the National Road Carriers chief executive David Aitken, I was able to spend time talking to five Auckland-based companies about opportunities and issues, and there were many recurring themes that line up with what the Road Transport Forum is advocating for on the industry’s behalf.

We saw a tremendous commitment to health and safety and looking after staff. Technology that detects driver fatigue is definitely life-saving and even those who weren’t so keen on it in the first place, have experienced its benefits first-hand. This technology alerts drivers who may close their eyes due to fatigue by shaking their seat, an alarm noise, and an alert to their company so someone can check they are OK. Even the best of drivers can experience fatigue, so it makes sense to invest in solutions like this.

One of the companies we visited, Mainstream, is bringing some creative thinking to health and safety and instead of the traditional high-visibility vests, they have designed their own high-vis shirts. They are made from recycled plastic, so get the environmental tick, and model a rugby league shirt because Mainstream also sponsors the Kiwis and Kiwi Ferns rugby league teams. The photo is me and Mainstream managing director Greg Haliday with one of the shirts.

Yesterday, we saw good companies, employing plenty of people and looking after their employees, and running businesses that keep New Zealand moving. If you look around you, pretty much everything that makes your everyday life tick over came to you via a truck.

So, it is disappointing to hear about some of the issues that are rooted in the anti-road ideology of the current Government. Resoundingly we heard:

  • Infrastructure – the state of some roads is unsafe due to lack of spending on upkeep, poor design and the wrong surface for the environment, and change of use (what were country roads in Auckland now major thoroughfares due to urban sprawl) – this is coming from people who have been using these roads day-after-day, year-after-year
  • Road user charges (RUC) and fuel taxes are increasing, but less is being spent on roads that need to be upgraded/improved/built and in fact, vital major roading projects have been de-funded
  • Money that should be used on roads is being siphoned off for political gain on cycle ways and rail – while rail is part of the transport network, those that use it say it is slow, expensive, unreliable, and up to 50 percent of the time, late
  • Getting the right staff – who pass pre-employment drug testing – requires better immigration pathways so drivers from countries such as the Philippines can be guaranteed a long-term career and a settled lifestyle
  • The emphasis on road safety needs to be broader than speed – professional drivers see distraction as the biggest threat to them eg. car drivers on mobile phones, and they see little policing of that and the other big threats, alcohol and drug abuse
  • Legalising recreational marijuana use and the impact that will have on safety sensitive businesses such as road transport, given the lack of any regulatory regime for road safety behind that.

The romantic notions this Government has around rail is a real concern. Rail can never match the efficiency and speed of road freight. It can’t deliver door-to-door. It’s not suitable for essential goods that must be transported within tight time frames, such as medicines and fresh food. Yet the Government plans to pour billions and billions of dollars into a rail infrastructure that is well past its use-by date. This is at the expense of roads, that all New Zealanders use to get where they need to go and receive all the goods they need to live. It makes no sense at all.

– 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