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Our Comments Truth will out

Friday, 4 February 2005 11:30 p.m. Subject: Police Misinformation Continues

From Alan Wilkinson:

Police Superintendent Steve Fitzgerald claimed on recently television that if the police had not instigated the highway patrol and rigid enforcement of speed limits from 2001, we would now have 600 deaths per year on our roads. But in 2000 there were only 462 down from 740 in 1990 - a steady reduction of about 28 deaths per year over that decade. So by 2004 we could have had only 350 road deaths if the trend had continued unchanged. That is far fewer than the actual 435 we did have in 2004 and hugely less than the nonsensical 600 that Mr Fitzgerald grabbed out of thin air.

Now Deputy Commissioner Long tells Denis Welch [Listener, March 5-11] that each kilometre [per hour] you reduce the mean speed saves 20-30 lives per year. Again this is simply refuted by the facts. The three-fold increase in speeding tickets issued since the 2001 "speed kills" programme was introduced has reduced the average speeds drastically - on the open road from consistently in the range 102-103 km/h over the previous decade down to 98 km/h in 2003. There has been no reduction in fatalities. In fact, as shown above, fatalities trended higher while average speeds were reducing sharply. Moreover, in previous years, fatalities trended down while average speeds did not. The historic New Zealand data shows absolutely no correlation between average speed and fatalities.

When imported second-hand cars were permitted in the late 1980's and the open road speed limit was raised to 100 km/h, road casualties began a long steady decline matching the improvements in vehicle and road qualities. This decline ended with the 2001 changes. Injuries have risen sharply as shown by both police crash statistics and ACC claim statistics. Fatalities have also headed upwards. Detailed official New Zealand data and charts are available on our website at www.fastandsafe.org.

The simple truth is that the "speed kills" has been a misdirected, dismal and expensive failure. Traffic police managers may deny the obvious but the public are no longer fooled. We are entitled to have senior policemen tell the truth and not self-serving political fabrications, particularly in election year.

Police Minister George Hawkins has had the misfortune to preside over a second policy disaster to add to his "leaky buildings" fiasco. His also employs an outstanding ability to avoid seeing or acknowledging the obvious.

Monday, 31 January 2005 11:30 p.m. Subject: NZ Drivers Slandered

From Alan Wilkinson:

Catherine Masters (see NZ Herald, 29 January 2005) cites an instructor wanting to give everyone driving lessons, an academic wanting to be a control-freak traffic psychologist and a policeman needing to excuse Waikato’s bad accident record.

They murdered the facts and slandered our drivers. The facts are simple. World-wide, traffic fatalities have been declining for at least half a century with better road and vehicle engineering. There is little difference between all of the developed countries when adjusted for population, vehicle numbers or distance driven.

Given the pitiful quality of New Zealand roads, we do well. Visitors have a dismal crash record. Few New Zealanders have accidents or difficulty driving overseas.

Rigid speed limit enforcement by the NZ police produced no change in fatality trend but a large upward trend in crashes and injuries in every district. Waikato got it sooner - with the introduction of hidden speed cameras. Excessive speeding tickets just mean more traffic injuries but no fewer deaths. Speed enforcement must revert to common sense prosecution of dangerous driving. It should be a defence against prosecution under any regulation imposed for safety reasons to show that your actions were safe in the circumstances.

Upgrade SH1 to at least a four-lane divided highway between Hamilton and Whangarei and between Wellington and Palmerston North. Extend that throughout the North Island. Make independent skid resistance testing mandatory on all roads with results published immediately. Encourage private toll roads and lanes and give operators freedom to be innovative and efficient. Do more to stop seriously unbalanced people from driving.

Make land transport faster, safer, cheaper and more flexible. Cater for different needs. One size does not fit all, yet that blinker ruled our transport bureaucrats for the past 15 years. LTSA failed and has been binned. There is hope.

Sunday, 10 October 2004 12:40 p.m. Subject: Harry Duynhovan calls for a new approach to road safety

See Sunday Star-Times story today and David Farrar's commentary.

From Alan Wilkinson:

Unfortunately I'll believe it when we see it as far as policy reform goes. There are too many financial and career vested interests in the "speed kills" industry now, and too many brainwashed voters after years of taxpayer megabucks funding LTSA lies on TV.

I think we can read this mostly as a bit of precautionary butt-covering ahead of election year. Maurice Williamson used to perform the same act.

The facts are clear and simple - four years of rigid enforcement of speed limits has resulted in a slight upward trend in fatalities and a huge upward trend in injuries.

Policy has been made for years on the basis of completely invalid misinterpretations of statistical evidence. LTSA's track record is stunningly abysmal. Nothing will change until the public force the government to completely restaff the policy-making agencies with competent, independent people and break the vice-grip that State of Victoria hardline advisors have on NZ traffic policy advice.

I agree with John Kipping, the first question is where and when do speed limits play any useful role?

I have been reading the latest indepth, sophisticated statistical research from the US which has failed to find any relationship between speed limits and fatalities. I am looking for a way to pinpoint just how the misdirected "speed kills" policy has increased injuries so dramatically in New Zealand.

The main statistical error being made by traffic accident researchers is the "ecological fallacy" of presuming that individual characteristics can be derived from group averages. This applies to all factors - road, vehicle, weather/visibility, traffic and driver.

It seems to me that the most useful results are going to come from examining why individuals are normally so good at judging and managing their own risks and then just why they (very rarely) fail.

It is clear that there are quite different risk profiles for different categories of all the above factors and that it is simply invalid to ignore these.

My current thinking is that the major problem with speed limits is that they attempt to impose the same speed solution on all subgroups and this is suboptimal almost all the time.

People who want to go slower (typically females, van-drivers, less affluent, less educated, elderly) feel pressured to go faster and people who want to go faster (typically male, car drivers, more affluent, more educated) feel impatient and bored.

Similarly, inability to go faster on safer sections of roadway increases the pressure to maintain higher speeds on less safe sections or in less safe conditions.

Thursday, 17 June 2004 11:06 a.m. Subject: Transport bureaucracy reorganisation

From: Alan Wilkinson

The most worrying statement from the Government on their shake-up of the transport bureaucrats is that there will be few redundancies.

LTSA has been incompetent from day one: the list of its stuff-ups would fill a book, from the mythical lifetime driver's licence through to its current fiasco-ridden vehicle ownership register and vehicle recall systems. That is not the worst, however.

It has been selective with the facts and deliberately misled the public on many important issues - some of which we have detailed on our website at www.fastandsafe.org. It has failed to maintain even a facade of critical independence from the enforcement agencies so the Government has lacked an objective policy advisor. LTSA was obsessed with defending its own policy positions aligned with the police - an untenable conflict of interest.

Heads must roll to achieve necessary and meaningful reform. Years of incompetent management can only have attracted a staff to match. They must not be allowed to burden and frustrate the new management.

Saturday, 12 June 2004 3:20 p.m. Subject: LTSA Advertisements

From: Alan Wilkinson

I've done some research on the LTSA braking advertisements and reached the conclusion that they are almost certainly faked.

Full details are on www.fastandsafe.org but in brief:

According to LTSA's own theoretical braking charts, a car travelling at 60 kph will stop in 50 metres and a car travelling at 65 kph will stop in 55 metres so theoretically if you placed an object at about 51 metres you could get the result advertised. However, the variability between driver reaction times is such that only two thirds of drivers would stop even within 20 metres of each other and for the same driver the reaction time is halved when he is expecting trouble and improves further with practice on multiple tests.

Moreover the variability between vehicles, tyres and road surfaces is huge - up to a factor of 4 on slippery surfaces. So the chances that they could set up an obstruction and get the exact comparative result they wanted on a single attempt are miniscule.

In any case, the message they are presenting is simply false. Minor variations in speed are insignificant alongside the other variables that affect emergency stopping distance.

Wednesday, 9 June 2004 5:41 p.m. Subject: Safe Speed

From: Alan Wilkinson

We just need one simple law change to get rid of the scare-mongering nonsense being trotted out by the traffic police and LTSA.

It should be a complete defence against any driving offence if the driver can prove in court that the actions s/he took were safe. Like any other accused, s/he should have the benefit of any doubt.

At a stroke, the present evil empire of mindless rigid enforcement would collapse. Their focus would be forced onto activities with provable safety benefits. LTSA's incessant shonky statistics would be exposed and refuted under cross examination and from proper expert testimony in court.

No-one who claims to be concerned with road safety could reasonably object to such a law. Of course many will. Because they are not. Either they are politicians wishing to abuse motorists for their own failure to provide good quality roads after years of stealing money from motorists. Or they are bureaucrats building empires and power - whether in traffic police, LTSA or courts. Or they are some of the brainwashed public who love a good frothing of moral outrage irrespective of the facts which are available for public inspection at www.fastandsafe.org.