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George Hawkins No, Minister
George Hawkins (Minister of Police) Fast & Safe Response

Dominion-Post op-ed (1 June 2004):

Drivers who get tickets have only themselves to blame, writes Police Minister George Hawkins.

Only if they voted for you, George.

 

WHAT is it with New Zealanders who speed? Why do speeding drivers think they have a God-given right to risk their lives and that of others? Why is the level of driver understanding about speeding so poor?

They don’t and it isn’t. 99.25% of New Zealanders alive today will not die in a road crash in their lifetime. Most of these care about their own safety and that of other road users. They understand both far better than a bunch of chair-bound Wellington bureaucrats. They drive New Zealand’s winding, dangerous roads far more safely than overseas tourists do. They don’t need bureaucrats to limit their speed to within 10 kph on winding roads. Why should they need it on straighter, safer stretches?

 

I thought a Land Transport and Safety Authority advertisement on television recently may have been on to something when it chose a physics professor, of all things, to try to sell the science behind speeding. The ad showed two cars approaching a truck. Car No 1, doing 60kmh, braked and hit the truck at 5kmh. Result? A caved-in front bumper. Car No 2, doing 65kmh, hit the brakes at the same time over the same distance. But that extra 5kmh meant it hit the truck doing 32kmh. Why? Physics. Result? A much more serious crash and possibly injuries for the occupants of the car.

Farcical pseudo-science – an instance dependent on a particular, carefully-chosen, braking range. The scenario was chosen to obtain a desired result and has no general applicability.

The real-life general conclusion is that safety depends on appropriate separation and clear distance ahead for the speed chosen. That would be a helpful message. Instead, our money is wasted on propaganda exercises attempting to establish current speed limit settings as some kind of universal truths. This isn’t science, it’s religion.

 

Can a small difference in speed mean the difference between life and death? Yes, absolutely. There's no arguing with the science. For us non-physics professors, simply put, the speed you're driving at will account for how far you travel before you have a chance to react to a hazard, how hard you hit anything and how likely you are to be injured or killed when you hit it.

Rubbish. How hard (or whether) you hit anything will depend on the conditions – driver, vehicle, road – and whether you have driven with appropriate separation and caution for the conditions.

 

The faster you go, the more likely you'll crash, and the more likely the risk of serious injury or death.

More rubbish. Motorways are the fastest roads and the safest by any measure.

 

You don't need to be technically minded to realise that travelling too fast for the conditions ("speeding") puts you and your passengers at risk. Or, for instance, that you and your passengers are more than twice as likely to be involved in a fatal crash if you travel at 120kmh than at 100kmh.

Meaningless drivel. See the “Silly Statistics” page on www.fastandsafe.org. It depends entirely on where, when and under what conditions whether 120 kph is more dangerous than 100 kph.

 

Speeding means you're also a risk to other road users because they have to try to get out of your way.

If any other road users have to “try to get out of your way” this is very bad driving and an offence no matter what speed you are doing.

 

The risk of death to pedestrians also increases as speed increases: from a 10 per cent risk at 30kmh, to 70 per cent at 50kmh, 90 per cent at 60kmh and 96 per cent at 70kmh.

Good drivers don’t hit pedestrians at any speed. Design of vehicle also has a severe impact on pedestrian risk – eg height/shape of bonnet, bull-bars.

 

Despite all this, you often hear people complain if they're caught speeding and ticketed. They seem to expect a sympathetic response, rather than the opposite. How often have you heard someone complaining they were pinged doing "only" 70kmh in a 50kmh area?

We are not interested in sympathy, we want action to stop the misdirected enforcement policies, George.

 

It's amazing that the people at the LTSA, the police, ambulance crews, emergency room staff and everyone else sick and tired of cleaning up after speed-related accidents, haven't pulled out their collective hair over these attitudes.

Emotive claptrap. Only a tiny fraction of serious accidents are caused by exceeding the speed limits.

Reducing speed limits and tolerances has caused crashes and injuries to increase both in New Zealand and overseas without reducing fatalities. See www.fastandsafe.org for full details.

 

Worse, some Opposition MPs have indulged in a campaign of whining about police enforcing our country's speeding laws. Their standpoint suggests that drivers should be able to exceed the speed limit, and that police should be criticised for doing their job.

The Government is getting twitchy now that the public are starting to realise the deceits the police and LTSA have been propagating.

 

They have fed the fallacy that police have a sinister "quota" system of ticketing, some sort of plot willingly engaged in by police to fill government coffers. It's that kind of deliberate programme of misinformation for political gain that fires up the talkback callers, the writers of letters to the editor and the likewise discontented.

No. The traffic police want to continuously increase their powers, their budgets, staffing and resources. They have done so substantially and successfully. This is fact, not misinformation.

 

Such attitudes ignore Police Commissioner Rob Robinson's repeated disputing of the quota claim and the explanation that it is recognised that police, as part of their working day, will be expected to stop a number of speeding drivers.

Even Greg O’Connor of the Police Association has publicly choked on this denial. Serving police officers have contacted us to complain about being taken off criminal work and forced to chase traffic infringement notices.

 

Yes, you probably will receive a ticket if you speed, but this will happen only if you choose to speed. In other words, if you choose to break the law, you know there are likely to be consequences. In fact, a 10kmh "over the speed limit" tolerance is in place. Then there's the highly offended "there should be more discretion" singsong. Such people inevitably support discretion for themselves but not others. Other speedsters cause accidents, not them. Apart from the obvious flaws in that line of reasoning, the fact is officers can, and do, use discretion.

Hogwash. The public fully understands that discretion is now “out the window” even if the Minister doesn’t.

 

The financial obligation speeding motorists put us all under should not be discounted. As ACC chief executive Garry Wilson pointed out recently, speedsters were responsible for more than their share of the $334 million ACC spent last year to support road accident victims.

More hogwash. “Speedsters” is undefined, unmeasured and the statistics about them are figments of imagination.

 

When it comes to changing peoples' attitudes to speed, a look at some recent figures makes illuminating, if sad, reading. Sad, because always behind such lists lie tragedies, lives lost and, for those left behind, lives forever altered. In 2003:

* Speeding was a factor in 167 deaths, 623 serious injuries and 1967 minor injuries

Speed is a factor in every crash – you can’t have one without it. Yet somehow the authorities contrive to invent statistics in which it is only a minor factor. But they don’t define speeding objectively (eg as exceeding the designated speed limit) to do so, presumably because that would reduce the “speeding factor” to an unacceptably low number for propaganda purposes – probably to less than 5% of crashes.

 

* The social cost of speed-related crashes was estimated to be about $890 million

More hogwash statistics – see above.

 

* Almost 80 per cent of speeding drivers were men.

Focusing on speed and the introduction of the Highway Patrol has halved the number of high-speed offences.

Well, this is a new “police statistic”. I’ll have to investigate it. On past history it will turn out to be as flawed as the rest.

 

There are people alive today, families still together, people without injuries, because of these initiatives.

Untrue. Firstly, these misdirected policies have increased injuries without reducing fatalities – see above. Secondly, this huge waste of resources has meant that other ways of increasing safety such as better vehicles, roads and driver training have been missed.

 

There is no apology to be made for focusing on speeding drivers.

We, the public, are sick of all this official deceit. We want our road transport to be faster, safer, cheaper and more flexible.

The LTSA is an incompetent, out of control monster that is a hindrance to all of these needs. It should be shot and buried.

If this Government doesn’t recognise this and act, it is likely to be shot and buried itself at the next election.