When it comes to road safety we’ve all been very good at attributing blame, and not so good at collective responsibility. Vision Zero changes this because our starting point is the consensus that the acceptable number of deaths on our roads is zero.
To get to zero we all need to take responsibility. The Safe System is almost holistic in this regard because it has four key elements working together: safe roads and roadsides, safe speeds, safe road use and safe vehicles.
Extreme and minor illegal driving behaviour can cause fatal and serious injury crashes, but so does a minor lapse in concentration or mistake. No one is perfect. We all glance away from the road: change the radio station, adjust the air conditioning, check what gear we’re in. But our humanness shouldn’t result in death.
The difference in approach can be viewed through the example of the tragic death of a driver who fell asleep at the wheel and drove off the road. Traditionally, we would say driver fatigue caused death.
Under the Safe System approach, driver fatigue resulted in the crash, the speed limit was likely too high (for the environment) resulting in the horizontal fence rail causing the death. In terms of responsibility, the road and roadside didn’t help avoid the death and the vehicle didn’t protect the occupants.
Let’s look at two of the four elements of the Safe System.
Newer cars have crash prevention features that help prevent death or serious injury. Research shows that people are twice as likely to die in a crash if the car they’re travelling in was built before 2000.
This is where vehicle ratings come in. Star ratings estimate the probability of death or serious injury in the event of a crash. A 5 Star rating is the benchmark and vehicles are classified by how much worse than the benchmark they are.
- 4 Star – at least 10% more likely to cause death or serious injury than the benchmark
- 3 Star - at least 30% more likely to cause death or serious injury than the benchmark
- 2 Star - at least 60% more likely to cause death or serious injury than the benchmark
- 1 Star - at least 90% more likely to cause death or serious injury than the benchmark
Analysis of New Zealand’s 2.9 million fleet of cars, vans, Utes and SUV’s shows that only 13% have a 5 Star rating. In comparison 37% have a 1 Star rating and the majority (62%) of drivers aged 25 years and younger drive a 1 Star car.
When we look at the safety profile of vehicles involved in a death or serious injury crash (DSI), 48% were 1 Star vehicles.
The Ministry of Transport has work underway to improve the safety profile of New Zealand’s fleet including raising the safety standard of vehicles coming into the country and lifting demand for these vehicles.
As per the current TV advertisements we can all play our part by making the ANCAP star rating a key purchase consideration – especially for our kids, who are the most vulnerable – can we afford not to have them driving a 4 or 5 Star car?
Not all roads are created equal and many of our roads were never designed for high speeds and traffic volume. Our road network has been assessed for risk by evaluation of the road’s features, this classification system uses Star Ratings.
The risk of an injury crash is twice as high on a 3 Star road as it is on a 4 Star road and twice as high on a 2 Star road as it is on a 3 Star road.
When viewed overall, you can begin to see the network’s strengths and weaknesses:
- 5% of the network is median divided
- 20% has forgiving and safe roadside conditions
- 96% has good delineation
- 98% has wide lanes
- 13% has good sealed shoulder width
Drivers and passengers face an increased risk of a head-on crash when travelling on undivided roads, particularly if these roads have high traffic flows. Meanwhile, the risk of being involved in a crash on a road with no sealed shoulders is greater than on a road with wide sealed shoulders.
This is clearly demonstrated when considering the data shows the Auckland region carries the same distance of vehicle travel on mainly 4 Star roads as the Bay of Plenty and Waikato do on 2 and 3 Star roads. There are 2.5 times more deaths on these roads as the Auckland region.
Can we fix it?
New Zealand doesn’t have an unlimited pool of money to invest in safety interventions on our road networks, so having this level of insight can help target investment in the right areas.
As such, the NZ Transport Agency has prioritised effort into where there is the highest potential for reduction in deaths and serious injuries.
Will it work? If we look at Norway, which is similar in population, terrain, size and vehicle fleet, the results are there. Norway committed to Vision Zero in 1999 and in 2017 there were 2.5 deaths per 100,000 while we had 7.8 deaths per 100,000.
Norway has implemented greater penalties for speeding, has 20 times more speed cameras actively monitored, a minimum driving age of 18 and maximum speed limits of 80km/h unless the road has a median barrier.
It’s going to take a shift in thinking to achieve this here. As practitioners, we need to challenge the default settings that are inherently unsafe and be ambitious about eliminating unnecessary death and injury from our roads.
Over time this will become the new normal.
Andrew Scott, WSP Client Director, has led some of New Zealand’s largest transport infrastructure projects. He’s passionate about delivering a safe transport system that is fit for purpose, suitable for all New Zealander’s, and reduces harm and impacts.
The views expressed are the opinions of subject matter experts and do not necessarily reflect those of WSP.