Each year we traditionally see a rise in road crash fatalities from October onwards as the weather improves and people head off on holiday and generally travel more.
This year with so many more people holidaying within New Zealand, the traditional end of year upsurge is likely to be even more pronounced and could possibly erase some of the gains we made earlier in the year.
Download full NZ Road Toll Infographic (8.8 MB)
As you’ll see from the above infographic, significant resources and interventions have been applied on our roads to reduce crashes and deaths. The adoption of Vision Zero in 2019 has the potential to be a game-changer. Where previous safety initiatives have focused on reducing crashes; Vision Zero accepts that crashes are going to happen. People will continue to make mistakes on the road and that's unlikely to change, but we can change the severity of the crash so that people don't die or become seriously injured as a result.
System designers are responsible for the design, operation and use of the road transport system and, as such, are responsible for the level of safety within the entire system.
Road users are responsible for following the rules set by its designers. If users fail to comply with these rules due to a lack of knowledge, acceptance or ability, the system designers are required to take the necessary further steps to counteract people being killed or injured.
So, let’s look at how road users can play their part within our existing system.
All roads aren’t equal
Firstly, let’s recognise that not all roads are created or used equally. Despite only making up around 11% of New Zealand’s road network, roughly 50% of road crash deaths and just over a third of serious injuries occur on state highways.
This is because highways carry more traffic at generally higher speeds than other roads. What’s more, the risk of a crash when travelling on a 2 star state highway is double that of travelling on a 3 star state highway and almost four times that of travelling on a 4 or 5 star State Highway.
What this means is that when you’re travelling on a narrow carriageway with little or no roadside shoulders, frequent roadside hazards such as trees, power poles, cliffs, drains or ditches, and the route is winding you need to be extra careful. The risk is real with around 30% of state highway travel occurring on such roads (http://www.kiwirap.org.nz/index.html).
Mind the bend
Bends are key, as over 40% of open road deaths and serious injuries are the result of lost control or head-on crashes on bends. The key contributors to these are speed, fatigue and distraction.
Pushing too hard through bends - or in general - to get to your destination quickly not only increases the likelihood of a crash, it’s also quite exhausting.
If you’ve only been driving short trips to work or around town over the last few months this is particularly relevant. Driving requires a high level of concentration and focus, and a long drive can become tiring. Add in a full load with passengers and luggage, and the vehicle performs differently – not to mention additional distractions from noise and other activity. The best approach is to minimise distractions and take regular breaks.
There will be a lot more traffic out there in the next few months and it’s worth remembering that even though you may be at the top of your game, other people can still make mistakes. Their mistakes can put you and those travelling with you at risk; people can simply not see you, misjudge your speed, or the gap available to them, they can misjudge a curve and end up swinging wide or cutting the curve. In the next few months 100 people could be killed on our roads, please don’t let it be you or anyone dear to you.
Dr Fergus Tate is Technical Director - Transport. He is widely acknowledged to be a leading expert in road safety in New Zealand and has applied his expertise to some of the most innovative road safety projects in New Zealand. These include the introduction of the New Zealand Road Assessment Programmes KiwiRAP and road Infrastructure Risk Rating (IRR), as well as Rural Intersection Active Warning Systems (RIAWS) and out of context curves.