One of the great privileges of my life is membership on the Hawke’s Bay Regional Transport Committee. As its name suggests, it is concerned with transport issues in Hawke’s Bay.
One of these issues is road safety. We angst at length about the road toll and how to reduce it. We discuss enforcement, publicity campaigns, engineering solutions to make roads safer, and improve driver awareness. We consider everything under the sun.
The problem is that we don’t address the fundamental issue … the fact that a good proportion of New Zealanders are bad drivers and a reasonable number are appalling .
This would not be of major significance if they were severely penalised for bad driving, and if they failed to reform or improve, were booted off the road permanently. The truth is that cars and roads are infinitely safer than they were forty years ago. If everyone observed the road rules there would be no accidents. 99.9 % of all accidents are due to human error, with the remainder attributable to acts of God, if he exists, or bad luck if he doesn’t.
The problem and solution is exemplified by a recent newspaper report in which a young woman driving at 189 kilometres an hour down the motorway with a breath alcohol reading over the limit was fined $1,250 and disqualified from driving for eight months. This is hardly draconian and it sends a clear message: You are a naughty girl! Don’t do it again for eight months and, assuming you are on the average wage, you can’t go shopping for a fortnight. The solution might be to confiscate the car, fine the young madame six months pay, and disqualify her from driving for five years.
Current thinking is to attack the symptoms. Reduce the allowable level of alcohol, raise the driving age a token amount, and start collecting unpaid fines. In parts of Europe they have a system where fines are payable forever, so that when an irresponsible youth becomes a responsible member of the community and gets a house, a job and a mortgage, the fines collector taps him on the shoulder and holds out his hand. This encourages the now model citizen to encourage his children to observe the law, since they see first hand that actions have long term consequences.
In our system, once the Hoon has clocked up a few thousand in fines there is every incentive to get more fines, since the judge writes them off when they become astronomical. What really grates, in terms of natural justice, is the ability of the Hoon to have thirty grand worth of fines forgiven, and next day win Lotto.
Any law needs to be sensible and enforced. New Zealand is wonderful at making new laws at the drop of a hat, many of which are unconstitutional, unworkable and/or plain stupid. The latest classic being The World Rugby Cup Clean Stadium Legislation, which makes it illegal to advertise certain products within one kilometre of a world cup stadium. This is to protect the advertising exclusivity of the sponsors. If I lived in the zone, I would make a point of breaking the law. No one in Wellington has the right to tell me what I can or cannot advertise within the limits of public decency.
By contrast the road rules are sensible and well thought out, but the penalties for their infringement are insufficient.
The Transport Committee will continue to sit and pontificate till the cows come home. Meanwhile, many more people will die and be maimed on our roads, not because the roads are dangerous or the vehicles unsafe, but because our leaders lack the imagination and will to address the fundamental issues and enforce and penalise.
Yet another reason why all thinking people are anarchists and shun committees like the devil, assuming the devil exists, or like the plague, if he doesn’t .