Celebrating our true road safety heroes


This Road Safety Week we are elevating and celebrating our true safety heroes. These are the unsung New Zealanders working every day behind the scenes to reduce the pain and suffering from road crashes.

Who are these people? They’re not the group that currently dominates much of the conversation in New Zealand media, dismissing safety targets as unachievable, opposing lower (and safer) speed limits and claiming that the solution to improving road safety is more driver training and cracking down on all of the other ‘bad’ drivers.

We know that driver training and education - in the right form and at the right time - does work. It works and is critical while people are learning to drive, progressing through the stages of the Graduated Driver Licencing System, as they work towards earning a full licence. But contrary to conventional wisdom, many peer-reviewed international studies* clearly demonstrate that skills-based driver training does not work to improve safety once a person is licenced. Even worse, studies show that advanced skills-based driver training actually increases crash rates. There is an inverse correlation between advanced driver training and improved safety outcomes, in particular for men over 40 years of age.

*Global Road Safety Facility: Guide for Road Safety Interventions: Evidence of What Works and What Does Not Work(external link)

We also know that a 40% reduction in death and serious injuries on our roads by 2030, which is New Zealand’s Road to Zero target, is achievable. We know this because similar reductions have been achieved in other OECD countries – in many cases they now have death and serious injury rates half those of New Zealand. These results have been achieved through their equivalent of the same kind of interventions being implemented here through the Road to Zero safety strategy.

So, who are our true road safety heroes the people who are doing the right thing and supporting what works?

They are mums and dads helping their kids progress through the licensing system. They are community leaders, iwi groups, disability advocates, teachers, driving instructors, school crossing patrols and safety campaigners. They are the people that support and advocate for lower speeds around schools and in their communities. 

What would these safety heroes say to the opportunity of saving more than 50 lives a year in New Zealand by reducing our average driving speeds as a nation by as little as 5km/h?  

The evidence is overwhelming from the many countries that have lowered their speed limits* - small changes in average speeds make a huge difference to road safety, as well as improving environmental outcomes, with little or no impact on productivity. A 3% reduction in average travel speeds typically results in a 9% reduction in death and serious injuries.

*European Transport Safety Council: Reducing Speeding in Europe - PIN Flash Report 36 (February 2019)(external link)

Iwi groups, parents of young children, disability groups and community groups are some of the biggest supporters of safer speed limits in Aotearoa. These are our safety heroes, yet their voices are too often unheard in the current debate.

The current level of harm on our roads is simply unacceptable. Last year 319 people lost their lives on New Zealand roads, with seven times that number sustaining serious injuries. These losses have a devastating impact on the families and wider communities of those who have died and those who have been seriously injured.

No more. We should no longer tolerate the fact that people are dying and being seriously injured every day on our roads – it is not inevitable. We should no longer accept that serious crashes are just another part of road travel, and we should stop referring to the loss of human life on the roads as a ‘toll’, as if we are prepared to pay in lives and limbs as the price of travel.

Together, we can stop people dying and being seriously injured on our roads, but it will take everyone to get to no one. 

Let’s empower and listen to those people who can make the most difference – our real safety heroes and leaders - those groups and people who are demonstrably safer and are advocating and supporting the changes that make a difference to road safety. It is time for their voices to be heard as loud if not louder than those that gain most from retaining the things the way they are.

Mā tātou e kore tētahi e hinga
It takes everyone to get to no one.