Tuesday, 13 September 2011

We might as well just start digging

Well the Ministry of Transport has come up with some figures that show Auckland’s urban roads are the most dangerous places to drive in New Zealand. To those of us who have driven on Auckland’s urban roads this comes as no surprise. In fact, given New Zealand’s poor standards of driving and Auckland’s population it would be odd if it were otherwise.

However some of the other figures released are a little harder to explain.

For example when we look at all roads in each area and not just the urban ones, we find that Auckland is not the riskiest place in the country to be driving. That honour goes instead to Waikato. Now there ain’t much in it; just about 50 deaths over a period of 10 years that makes them worse than Jaffaland, but considering how many fewer people there are in the Waikato area you would have to wonder why this is.

I realise Waikato is a major transit point for vehicles travelling between Auckland and points south, but this does not explain why Waikato road deaths are more than twice those of their near neighbour Bay of Plenty. Granted the Waikato region has a larger population, but it isn’t twice that of BOP. In fact according to the 2006 census it is only about 45 percent larger which should mean that road toll ought to have been more like 450 for the ten years rather than the 677 that it was. Considering population estimates for the BOP region have predicted it would virtually catch the Waikato region in 2009 this suggests their road crash statistics really are out of control.

The implication is that either the roads in the Waikato region or the driving skills of its residents are much worse than anywhere else in New Zealand. I have done a lot of driving on Waikato roads, especially over the last four years and I would say they are pretty good by NZ standards. That is to say they are no worse than many other locations and actually much better than many. So that only leaves the driving skills, unless there is some kind of mysterious Taniwha hiding in the Waikato river that leaps out and grabs cars, pulling them into the paths of others.

My first instinct is that this mysterious Taniwha comes in a brown bottle and isn’t L&P. However on browsing the stats for myself I found there was no significant difference between the percentage of Waikato drunk drivers and those from Bay of Plenty. In fact the more I look at the figures the less I can see any explanation for the difference. Drivers in Waikato don’t seem to be especially worse at any of the usual things like poor observation and poor handling than their counterparts in the Bay. I can only assume those East of the Kaimais are better at turning a potential crash into a lucky escape, so in that respect maybe Bay of Plenty drivers are slightly more skilled.

However if we are to improve our road safety or more accurately, reduce our road carnage, then it is going to take more than some nob in a blue uniform with a radar detector writing out tickets for people exceeding the speed limit by less than the normal tolerated variation in their speedometer.

Accidents seldom happen on roads. Let’s start calling them what they are; fuck-ups, brain explosions, or for the more sensitive – crashes or smashes. That is step one. People need to realise that making a mistake when driving is not a goofy moment you can gloss over because it didn’t end in a crash. The more appropriate reaction when one screws up on the road is to accept responsibility for it and make sure you don’t do it again. A mistake while driving should send a shiver down your spine cold enough to wake your ideas up and realise that you and others have had a lucky escape and you might not be so fortunate next time. And if someone hoots at you for some dumb-arsed act on the roads, adopt a ‘mea culpa’ stance and bloody learn from it. REMEMBER what a dork you felt and don’t go there again.

Unfortunately Kiwis don’t use their horns to deride cretinous driving and so those few who do usually get a myriad of hand and other signals in return. Sometimes they will even get a punch in the gob from some knuckle-dragger whose fragile pride is hurt by them drawing attention to his feeble attempts to drive. If it became the norm to be hooted at by 20 other motorists every time you did something dumb and dangerous, there would be more hooters than nitwits and it just might begin to turn attitudes around. That and some meaningful responses by the judiciary for reckless and stupid acts on the road.

Yeah right, that’ll happen.  No point in wasting our time waiting for that to happen. We may as well just start building another couple more cemeteries in the Waikato region.

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