This sort of initiative troubles me for several reasons.
It overplays the impact speed plays on road safety. Speed should be appropriate to the conditions, which also include driver or rider competence, and the capabilities of the vehicle being used. A clapped out old dunger being driven by a person whose abilities are impaired for whatever reason is likely to be unsafe at any speed. Any difference between 104 or 110kmh will be miniscule, if it has any measurable effect at all.
It’s easy to enforce a speed limit. Lock in 106kmh on a speed gun or radar, stop any driver who appears to be over the limit, and ticket them. Unless the vehicle that has been stopped is fitted with some sort of accredited speed recording device, the motorist has no defence for their reckless behaviour and has to swallow a significant fine and demerit points.
Even attentive motorists don’t know how fast they’re actually going unless they have a GPS. Most vehicles have speedometers with a built-in error of about 5-10% faster than reality. If they see a Highway Patrol vehicle, motorists generally slow down to about 85kmh rated, which is probably just over 80kmh actual. Most highway traffic rolls along at about 96kmh anyway by motorists whose speedos tell them they’re doing 100kmh.
The effectiveness of a single factor campaign is immeasurable and at best speculative. About 270 people died on New Zealand roads in 2012, or about 0.75 of a person each day. This means that over a 10-day Christmas holiday period, the expected death rate should be about 7.5 people. Allowing for increased road use by people on holidays and perhaps a bit of bad weather thrown into the mix, rounding that up to 9 should not be an unreasonable expectation. Too high? Emotionally yes. Realistically, no. The actual number may be higher than 9 or it may be less.
If it’s significantly less one year, then it will be significantly higher another. Averages are funny like that. An average life span for people is about 70 years, balanced from people who die at birth to those who live to 110 years. Slow news over the Christmas holiday period makes the road toll the lead item on news bulletins, when in fact the actual mortality rate for that period may be no different to other times of the year. Some people also believe in Santa Claus, possibly including senior Police officers, but I hope not.
Road accidents are caused by several factors, with driver inattention being the largest. Alcohol and other mind-altering substances contribute significantly to driver inattention.
Travellers get impatient. One road law I really like that’s enforced in several US states, requires vehicles that have three or more vehicles following them to move over and let those vehicles go past. Kiwi motorists wouldn’t have a bar of that. New Zealander drivers have no interest in what is happening behind them, particularly if they’re towing a caravan or leisurely enjoying the countryside. Queues of traffic behind slow vehicles can extend for kilometres. Inevitably slow vehicles speed up when passing lanes appear, and ignore slow vehicle lanes because “those are only for trucks”. Patience may be a virtue. So is a Death Ray Gun.
Initiatives like this Christmas speed initiative appear to be about easy revenue collection rather than road safety. Given that there is no robust rationale, it’s an easy claim for people like me to make. The public will remain politely silent on this matter, rather than being labelled as irresponsible speed freaks or child killers.
I have no doubt that the Police genuinely want to make our roads safer places. However road accidents will always happen and sadly people will die as a consequence. Reductions in road deaths in recent years are commendable, but trying to attribute these reductions to single causes is not. Motor vehicles have become notably safer over the past 15 years, now routinely fitted with airbags, ABS brakes, and so on, and are likely to have a greater effect on safety than the millions of dollars invested in the “drive social” campaign.
I find an obsession with a trifling amount of excessive speed hard to understand when the single largest contributor to road accidents – driver or rider competence – is ignored. Apparently dealing with that is too hard. I don’t understand why recidivist drunk drivers should be welcomed back onto our highways and byways, or why all motorists shouldn’t be required to re-sit each of their license classes every five years. Maybe if they did, then people wouldn’t drive with their parking lights on.