Speed, booze, no belt only part of the story

Jack Crawford, of Dunedin, surveys the myriad causes behind the high road toll.

Not many would disagree with the tenor of your editorial (28.12.17) or your reaction to the events leading to its genesis. However, like editorials on the same topic in the past, it fails to even hint at the complexity of the underlying problems that contribute to the toll of lives lost on our roads.

In the public's mind, the trifecta of ``speeding, drinking and failing to wear seatbelts'' is the cause of the high road toll. Yes, excessive speed can kill; often, though, this is speed too fast for the prevailing conditions, not necessarily exceeding the prevailing speed limit. The higher the speed, the bigger the mess; simple physics tells us that.

Simple physics also tells us that mixing vehicles of considerable disparity in mass (hence kinetic energy; trucks v cars; cars v motorcycles) on the same narrow strips of bitumen is also a recipe for carnage in the event of a crash.

And now, we are determined, it would seem, to add thousands of cyclists to this unhealthy mix!

The recently proclaimed adoption of the slogan ``Any number is too many'' by the Otago Regional Council is delusionary in the extreme, as aspirations go. A zero road toll could only ever be achieved by chaining people to their beds, locking their doors and immobilising every single means of personal conveyance (including horses) in the entire country.

Many vehicle crash reports gracing the pages of the ODT in recent years have quoted the local police as saying that ``it is not thought that speed or alcohol was involved''. That surely has begged the question, usually unanswered ... ``well, what was, then?''

Inattention? Many modern vehicles, equipped as they may well be with all manner of electronic stability aids, innumerable airbags, etc, also feature large central touch screens on their dashboards, requiring much distraction to operate them, and a proven cause of some crashes. Adding of course to the concurrent distracting presence of the ubiquitous smartphone.

Poor skills, then? Most modern vehicles are a breeze to operate; driver involvement in the task is minimal and true vehicle-control skills are rarely called upon, thanks to the combined efforts of both vehicle and roading engineers.

But in rural NZ, even on the state highway network, such important skills can be a sudden necessity, due to intermittent loose surfaces, unexpected potholes, gravel verges, icy patches in winter, and the narrow, winding and undulating nature of many of those roads.

The current love of SUVs (the sale of which is actively encouraged by your newspaper) is also a factor; no amount of electronic wizardry can stop a vehicle with a high centre of gravity from going out of control and rolling over when things go pear-shaped. Those pesky laws of physics, again!

And, while you may rail against ``aggressiveness'' (and rightly so), you should bear in mind that one man's aggressiveness is another man's affirmativeness. There IS a difference; one born of anger, the other born of concentration, understanding and skill.

Timid and incompetent driving by those blissfully ignorant of the dynamics of the traffic flow around them is also a major hazard out there.

The elephant in the room is that many drivers are psychologically or attitudinally unfit to be driving ANY vehicle on our roads; such individuals are a danger at ANY speed!

The ``conversations'' that you implore us to have should involve all of these factors, plus myriad others.



The 'affirmative' male driver must be the King of The Road, assertive, not aggressive, until the affirming female passes him.

I couldn't agree more with Jack. Same situation here in Australia. Despite safer cars and better roads, it is the driver that is the weakest link. The appalling skills of drivers is unbelievable. Situational awareness, spatial orientation and decision making skills are generally very poor. Drivers are getting barely component instruction. They might know the road rules, but these other skills are lacking. Not to mention that automatic transmissions are causing more and more accidents. It used to be restricted to the elderly but now it is rife across all age groups where drivers have become so incompetent that they can't discriminate between the go and stop pedal!!! My car's transmission is bio-mechanically interfaced to a wetware intelligence system, which, after basic instruction, is a self-learning system, not a dumb flaming auto!!