NZ Truck & Driver News

Bits of Bollocks: Road Safety
Posted: 14-Apr-2018 |


Again, road safety has been in the headlines for months now. The government is focussed on bringing down the road toll. In some cases the ambitious yet somewhat naive goal of zero deaths by 2020 has been aspirated by Associate Transport Minister, Julie-Anne Genter.

This week in 'Bits of Bollocks' we will have a look at the road safety debate and cut through the bollocks.

1. Speed Kills so let's Kill Speed

Did these road safety gurus never hear the great quote 'an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind' retribution against speed itself won't solve the problem. All jokes aside, While it is true that speed is a factor in fatal accidents, research suggests that the great majority of crashes occur whilst under the speed limit. Lowering the speed limit to 30-70kms an hour depending on the area will only lead to frustration by drivers, causing them to act more recklessly.

2. Median Barriers are God's Gift to Man

Whist these road safety additions are certainly effective they are not a silver bullet. Median barriers have been shown to reduce the chances of a fatal accident, when a driver makes a mistake it is less likely to turn fatal or affect other motorists to the same extent. The reason being the driver does not pass the centreline into oncoming traffic therefore preventing head-on collisions. They would also be a welcome addition according to drivers who are having motorists drive into them almost weekly.

However, this does not mean the government need neglect other crucial factors namely: road quality, shoulder width, driver behaviour, tourist drivers and intoxicated drivers.

3. Trucks are to Blame

Here at Road Torque we have droned on and on about this point ad-nauseum and yet it still rears its ugly head.

Yes, trucks are involved in a lot of crashes. However, 80% of the time the fault does not lie with the driver of the truck. A large majority of the time it is another motorists fault, either from careless driving or making mistakes.

Expect to see this number reduced when the government gets on to introducing road upgrades, building newer safer motorways and maintaining the ones we already have better.

4. Driver behaviour is the only problem

The thought that a large majority of fatal accidents can be reduced to one or two people's incompetence is a very narrow one. People are going to make mistakes while they are driving, this is a given and if you think that you never make mistakes then you are mistaken.

In the study of human behaviour there is a name for how we rate our competence vs the competence of others, it's called the Dunning-Kruger effect. This is the tendency for people to rate their abilities as better than they are, whist underestimating the competence of others. In fact, there is often an inverse relationship between the two, the lower the ability the more grandiose feeling of superiority.

The long and short of it is that we are very unreliable at assessing the driving abilities of others and tend to rate ourselves as good to excellent at driving. For this reason, changing driver behaviour is very, very difficult as people think they are already driving safely.

The truth is, people are on the whole adequately safe drivers, save the small number of reckless or intoxicated drivers. The problem is when adequately safe drivers make mistakes, which is likely to happen at some point to everyone. On a safe road this could mean mild-serious injury to the driver at fault and any passengers they are carrying. On an unsafe road it could mean multiple deaths in multiple vehicles.

5. There is only one solution

The true problem at the heart of the debate is that there is a single solution to these issues, be it changing behaviour, lowering the speed limits, getting rid of trucks, maintaining the roads or introducing new safety features. The best case is for us to assess where the problem truly lies and adopt an evidence-based approach given the findings. From there we can accurately judge how much spending need go on each initiative and the cost benefit of doing so.


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