The hockey stick of road deaths

Colin Espiner features again, this time actually switching from a repeater to a reporter.  He’s reports on the police cherry picking road death statistics to support their 4 km/h speed tolerance claim.

Police out in force this weekend targeting drivers breaching the speed limit by even a couple of clicks but there is no conclusive evidence yet that the new lowered threshold saves lives.

A summer-long reduction in the traditional 10kmh speed tolerance to just 4kmh has started, with police citing previous success during long weekends when it has been applied and the chance to save lives over the holidays.

But an analysis of crash statistics by the Sunday Star-Times since police first started using the low tolerance three years ago shows mixed results.

When announcing the summer campaign, assistant commissioner of road policing Dave Cliff said research showed dropping the tolerance during Queen’s Birthday weekends in 2010 and 2011 resulted in the number of fatal and injury crashes falling by 25 per cent compared to the previous two years.

But he chose to omit last year’s data, when seven people died. Two died in 2010 and one in 2011, compared with 10 in 2009 and three in 2008.

The public have already decided this is a revenue gathering exercise.  Although this hasn’t splashed back on Government yet, a robust implementation with little discretion shown by Police makes this issue a potential “light bulb or shower head” election issue.

Cherry picking stats to back your case is a huge mistake to make.  Tut tut.

Overall, total injury crashes have been falling each year for the past 10 years – well before the lowered tolerance was introduced.

The Ministry of Transport attributes this to a combination of safer vehicles, improvements in the roading network, and increased enforcement.

The MOT expected the road toll to fall on average by 10 deaths per year even without additional enforcement, following a trend that has been in place since 1973 – when New Zealand posted its highest-ever road toll of 843.

While MOT data shows just 13 per cent of fatal crashes were attributable to speed Land Transport Safety Authority spokesman Andy Knackstedt said there was “a wealth of evidence” that showed even very small reductions in speed led to reductions in fatalities and serious injuries, and that lowering the enforcement tolerance meant lower mean speeds.

Automobile Association spokesman Dylan Thomsen said police risked losing public support if they ticketed too many drivers over the summer travelling at a fraction over the limit – particularly around motorways and passing lanes.

It is obviously wrong to “hope” for more fatalities these holidays, but in a sense that would put this experiment where it belongs – in the stupid ideas pile.

Of course slowing down will save lives.  If we all drive at 5 km/h, everyone can see there will be no deaths resulting from crashes.

But the frustration of drivers attempting to overtake safely without exceeding the 4 km/h tolerance will surely be a factor in creating more risk, rather than reduce it?

I have a great idea – if this is all about saving lives, and not about revenue gathering, I propose an urgent amendment to make any speeding offence under 15 km/h over the limit one where you get demerit points only.  Beyond that, double or triple the fines.

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