The speed “tolerance” triumvirate: Police, AA and now… the NZ Herald

The amount of popular backlash against the Police’s failed “no tolerance” experiment has been palpable, and we’ve seen it expressed here too.

The New Zealand Herald editorial swims upstream, as they seem to think is their job, and thinks it is too early to call the experiment a failure, in spite of no evidence to support it works.

It is never advisable to judge a policy on what will probably turn out to be a short-term abnormality. Therefore, the New Zealand First police spokesman, Ron Mark, was on thin ice when he suggested a zero-tolerance speed campaign over the Christmas-New Year period had been a “failed experiment”. The basis for his statement was a road toll which, at 17, was more than double that of the previous year. All the previous evidence, however, has indicated that a lower tolerance to speeding on holiday weekends led to improved driver behaviour.

On those grounds, it seems likely that the Christmas-New Year toll was an aberration. So, too, the provisional toll of 297 people killed on the country’s roads last year, a sharp increase from 2013’s 253 deaths. The latter was the lowest toll in 60 years, and part of a steady decline from a peak of 843 deaths in 1973. Betters cars and better roads have played a major part in this, as has a sustained campaign against drink-driving.

Speed, however, has remained a vexed issue. Hence there has been a progressive lowering of the police’s tolerance, culminating in the zero tolerance policy. This has been criticised by many motorists. Some of their complaints are lame. Those who say it has resulted in them spending too much time with their eyes on their speedometers betray a fundamental lack of driving ability. Nonetheless, it is clear that the police must re-examine where they are enforcing the policy.

What arrogance.  The editor is basically calling the New Zealand public liars and bad drivers.  How helpful is that?   It also ignore the empirical result:  there is no observable effect other than angry drivers and more income through fines.  

The “swimming upstream” bit out of the way, the editorial finally settles into what the public have been saying.

Strict laws and heavy penalties will never, in themselves, produce a better attitude to speeding. Nor can the police ever be visible enough to enforce such an attitude. Much of the response must involve discretionary policing that focuses on those going dangerously faster than the flow of traffic. Those exceeding the limit by a small amount but creating no danger to other road-users should warrant a warning, not a ticket. Police statistics show that while more people are being caught speeding, they are not speeding by as much. In other words, the message is getting through, except to the small minority who should be the police’s target.

The Automobile Association was also on the right track when it suggested there should be an increased number of median barriers on highways. These, whether concrete, semi-rigid or cable, are not cheap. But they appeal as a means of curtailing the number of head-on crashes involving overseas tourists. The outcome of these impacts is generally more serious than other types of collisions. Improving the country’s roads in this manner offers the most rational response to what has become a notable problem.

The problem is idiots.   And stretches of bad roading.

We all know this.  Yet the Police, AA and now the Herald all want to hold on to the no tolerance speed anyway. All it does is erode goodwill with the public for no other observable public benefit.

And the editorial is getting it between the eyes from drivers too.


Enough is enough.

No more reduced speed tolerances.


– NZ Herald


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  • Cadwallader

    The truly galling issue here is the tolerance to accuracy the editor grants his superb journalists when they draft up their fables as news!

    • Quinton Hogg

      So for the foreseeable future we can call the editor of the Herald, Aesop?
      For what it is worth I decided while traveling to and from the ‘Naki over Christmas that if had to get past another car or a truck, then if I needed to accelarate up to 120kph then so be it. Mind you I was careful to decelerate as soon as I had passed the one being passed.

      • Cadwallader

        The general speeds on South Island roads, particularly in Mid-Canterbury on the Plains seems to still be about the 120kph despite the current money-go-round operated by the traffic police. In fairness to the locals down this way the roads are straight and even-surfaced so 120kph doesn’t seem untowards.

  • redherring

    Now even if I set cruise control at 100 km/h on the safest stretch of motorway in the country I have to watch the speedo more regularly, as my speed creeps up by 2 or 3 notches down hill (to a speed that used to be well within the tolerated limit).

    And passing lanes are a joke with cars doing 102 km/h passing cars doing 98 km/h then dropping back to 100 km/h straight afterward.

    • Backdoor

      If the car ahead is doing 98kph then why would you want to pass it?

      • IN my experience he is the guy that was doing 80 before there was a passing opportunity.

        • Captain Darling

          Oops just seen your comment HL, which i pretty much repeated above. Great minds.. etc etc.

      • redherring

        My point exactly (I am not saying I would want to pass it). It is ridiculous and we now have a nation of speedo watchers rather than hazard watchers.

      • BlitzkriegNZ

        I would, by going 120.

      • Captain Darling

        Because before the passing lane, he was probably doing 80kph, the inconsiderate beep beep.

  • MrBarrington

    This morning’s cartoon in the Herald reflects some of the public backlash on The Plod…

    Seriously though… there is a portion of the driving population that are ‘bad’ drivers, however, to label all drivers are inherently bad is both factually wrong and insulting. I think it would be fair to say that most drivers are now focusing more of their attention on the speedo than before, although whether this has an impact in terms of accidents it hard to know without some serious data analysis and research.

  • Backdoor

    Where is the evidence that the police “no tolerance” policy failed. Can we exclude the possibility that, had it not been for the policy, the death toll would have been higher?

    If it takes 10 minutes longer to get from Auckland to Hamilton, is that a problem? Surely it is our attitude to driving that is the issue. That macho belief that we are really great drivers.

    If we follow the logic presented here in respect of the speed limit to other offences, then we could claim that the Police should not prosecute for theft if the value of the items stolen is less than $100. Or prosecute an act of assault if the victim did not suffer an injury that did not heal within 30 days.

    • Where is the evidence that the police “no tolerance” policy SUCCEEDED. Can we exclude the possibility that, had it not been for the policy, the death toll would have been LOWER?

      Then let’s go with your theory and halve the speed limit:
      Then if it takes 80 minutes longer to get from Auckland to Hamilton, would that then be a problem?

      • symgardiner

        And where is… “All the previous evidence…” the Horrid says that “…indicated that a lower tolerance to speeding on holiday weekends led to improved driver behaviour.”

      • Nothelen

        Slower speeds are definitely a problem. You can see what has happened in Jakarta for example. As the traffic slows it then takes longer to get to your destination. You then get a situation where there are now more cars on the road at any given time so the situation just compounds the problem. With a faster flow of traffic many of the cars have completed the journey and are safely parked at home.

        I am of the view that the Xmas experiment is just madness. I saw examples of foreigners driving in a risky manner, saw excessive speed and even car blatantly crashing red lights at 2am New Years day.
        I very much doubt the 100/104/110 KpH thing had much of an effect on the toll, nor will it in future. The problem lies elsewhere.

    • RightofSingapore

      Extract from a Stuff article in Dec 2013:

      “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. No-one died over the 2013 Queen’s Birthday weekend.

      Endorsing the policy, Police Minister Anne Tolley said the reduced tolerance had already proved effective, citing the example of last year’s Easter road toll, when there were no deaths. She did not mention the three deaths this Easter.

      Labour weekend has proved even more variable. Total crashes fell by just one in the first year the lower tolerance was applied, fell again in 2011 and then went up in 2012. Statistics for this year have not yet been released.

      Over Christmas-New Year, total crashes fell in the first year of the lower tolerance, went up again in 2011, and fell again in 2012.

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

      The reduced tolerance appears to have no bearing on the road toll, if the annual road toll is declining anyway even without the reduced tolerance, then naturally we’d expect the holiday road tolls to be lower and vice versa-this holiday road toll is higher but that against the backdrop of a higher annual roadtoll anyway for 2014.

    • John Dodd

      The obsession with speed has little basis in fact
      The difference in speed causes the problems

      • kohibruce

        The empirical evidence based analysis cited in the article on the link goes right over the heads of the people (NZ Police etc.), who promoted this dangerous and simplistic policy. An excellent illustration of the “peter principle”.
        The number of accidents recorded over the holiday season was a predictable outcome of the police campaign.

    • Sir Brucey

      Funny I thought the police were already ignoring minor household burglaries but seemingly following up on attempted burglaries of large commercial and retail premises. So in effect the police are already doing what you attempt to ridicule. I am pretty a similar attitude exits towards semmingly minor assults and police discression.

  • JC

    Lets face it.. in the face of a dramatically falling road toll the police have become less relevant to road safety. Increased driver age and education plus a phone in virtually every car means the public are perfectly able to police the roads themselves by phoning in the hoons in real time.

    Its then just a simple matter of the cops doing their job and targeting the dodgy drivers.. the ones who never pay attention to the rules anyway.

    Let the cops recommend the cheapest and most reliable in car cams and urge drivers to phone in their complaints and then lets see.. we mightn’t have enough cops to chase every transgressor but there’s no reason why a complaint with cam evidence shouldn’t be taken to an address and the transgressor bailed up at a later stage.


  • symgardiner

    Yesterday driving from Whangarei to Auckland there were numerous cars and trucks travelling at 80-90km/hr. When you got to a passing lane there would be 6-12 cars banked up behind. Previously all would lift their speed and little old slow coach would be left to trundle on their slow and merry way.
    Now people would pull out to overtake, lift their speed to exactly 100km/hr and only 2 or 3 cars would actually get passed. And that’s if little old slow coach didn’t get a breath of life and speed up on the passing lane.
    In my opinion it is far safer to have a good 20-30km/hr speed differential, whip passed and then resettle into the speed limit.
    What the Police are doing here is destroying goodwill and co-operation of the public towards them. This is a very slippery slope. We don’t want our police to be viewed like the US public view theirs.

    • Second time around

      In principle that is true, but there are a number of passing lanes that are on curved roads and hills and are short- they’re for passing sheep trucks and the like, not for scooting past annoying motorists doing 90k. It would be difficult to get one rule to fit all types of passing lane.

      • symgardiner

        You hit the nail on the head… “one rule to fit all” aint going to work. That’s why you leave it up to drivers to make decisions and nail those people being completely stupid.

        • Elinor_Dashwood

          Who decides whether people are being “completely stupid”? You are basically proposing leaving it to the whim of an individual policeman. So one person could get prosecuted while another does not, for exactly the same behaviour in very similar circumstances, simply because one policeman takes a different view from another policeman as to what constitutes “completely stupid”. Do you think this is any more likely to engender public trust and confidence in the police, than if they all enforced the same objectively and democratically determined standard?

          • symgardiner

            It’s what is happening now except that our NZ Police have decided to draw the line without sound reasoning.
            And yes… I’m happy for young fellas in hotted up cars to be busted more than Toyota driving family folk. That may be unfair but so be it.

    • Albert Lane

      And just south of Wellsford, the speed limit is 80 kmh, and it goes for miles. But wait !! There’s a lovely passing lane going north. We can get past that slow campervan doing 70. Uh Huh !! It’s a good passing lane, and it’s on the open road, but 80 is the law. Who made all that up? A genie ass no doubt.

  • As long as Plod believes that we are safe at 100km/hr and dangerously fast at 101km/hr we will find it near impossible to respect him!

  • Michael

    Hold on a second…didn’t Dave Cliff clearly state that the speed tolerance was back to 4kmh over summer like the previous year?

    • RightofSingapore

      Officers have discretion to issue tickets for 1kph over the limit-like when is an officer going to use his discretion not to issue a fine? Especially with the whole “speed kills” stuff being forced down their throat by Police top brass. Revenue cameras are at 4kph tolerance until Feb 1.

  • TSD

    We are being told about safety by a News Paper editor? Wow. I’m sure they have extensive knowledge of human Factors, Slips and Lapses etc. I guess they could always just make facts up, it is after all the new norm.

  • El Diablo

    All the previous evidence, however, has indicated that a lower tolerance
    to speeding on holiday weekends led to improved driver behaviour.

    I’d like to know what evidence the Herald was referring to hear. I can clearly recall previous occasions where the police lowered the tolerance to 4km/h and yet the accident toll still increased from the previous period.

  • Joe_Bloggs

    Of the 17 deaths on roads over the Christmas-New Year period how many occurred at speeds of between 101 and 104kph? I suspect precisely zero – but this isn’t reported anywhere in the MSM. So how many tickets were issued for speeds of between 101 and 104kph? I suspect the number will be greater than zero.

    Also not reported anywhere is the fact that this most recent holiday period is 2 days longer than 2012/3 or 2013/4.

    Nor is there any reporting of the number of years experience of driving on NZ roads for each driver involved in a fatality relative to the years’ experience of drivers who drive without accident.

    Nor is there any information on deaths per million kilometres driven during holiday periods.

    So many factors contribute road fatalities that the raw numbers of deaths per holiday season simply don’t tell the story. And a zero tolerance focus on speed simply doesn’t begin to address the issues of driving fatalities during holiday periods.

    • Elinor_Dashwood

      You are quite right. More information and better analysis is needed before conclusions are jumped to.

    • Captain Darling

      Spot on Mr Bloggs, in fact this holiday period was 3 days longer than last year.

    • Mike Webber

      When the police say speed was a factor, they are doing their old trick of adding excessive speed for the conditions to actuall speeding. This is dishonest as if a crash happens under the speed limit but too fast for the conditions the limit has nothing to do with it. Their own statistics show only 5 to 6% of accidents are caused by actuall speedind.

    • El Diablo

      Very true. The way road fatality statistics are reported it is obvious to me that they are deliberately obfuscating.

      The number of people who got killed over the holiday period is a completely meaningless statistic given that it is so small it falls into the margin of error. 17 people got killed this year and 9 last year. Does that mean our roads are twice as dangerous this year, or we are all driving twice as badly? Of course not.

      It’s complete BS and yet that’s all the media and police talk about. Let’s get some real statistical analysis done. I’m pretty sure it will soon show what a con job the focus on speeding just over the limit is and how it is nothing but a way to fleece us of more of our hard-earned coin. That’s why they won’t do it.

  • Cadae

    “… who say it has resulted in them spending too much time with their eyes on their speedometers betray a fundamental lack of driving ability”

    Wind gusts and sudden wind pauses can significantly change speed, even side-on wind – I’ve experienced sudden and significant changes of speed on Wellington motorways due to side-wind pauses that put me over the limit without moving my accelerator.

  • jess

    This argument is ridiculous.

    There is no zero tolerance policy as the stuff article clearly pointed out.

    All they are saying that there is no blanket 10kmh tolerance, i.e if you do 60kmh past a school during term time the officer can give you a ticket.

    Anyone who thinks they will pull over Joe Blogs doing 105kmh on the motorway to give him a 30 dollar ticket is dreaming.

    • Bazz Stewart

      Well said! Cracks me up all these whiners calling it revenue gathering, simple DONT BREAK THE LAW ie speed limit and you’ll be just fine xD.

      • Aucky

        I have yet to hear of anyone pinged for doing 51kms an hour or 103kms per hour and you can bet your bottom dollar that the media would be full of hard luck stories had bucket loads of tickets been issued.

        Anyone here got a story for us?

        • Aucky

          Eight hours later………….zero response. Thought not. Time to move on.

  • Garbageman

    Driving to Riverton from Invers in the holidays thought i would check out the speedo via the solar powered speed indicators on the road side all 3 were out of action during the busiest times of the year, of course it would be mad speculation to think this was part of their revenue gathering schemes but sure enough within minutes in a nice modern car we were scooting along at about 110, dont know if plod was around my tin foil hat kept obscuring my vision

  • Coffee Connoisseur

    I’d be interested in seeing the trends in revenue gathered from fines over the last several years. If more motorists have been driving at lower speeds overall its not hard to draw the logical conclusion that the overall revenue from these fines could be trending down also. might provide a more accurate reason for the new zero tolerance policy.

    • Hard1

      We have been ordered to make more money. Let’s fine tune/invent a crime that targets people who have assets and money in the bank. They will have to pay our fines just to carry out their normal life, as they fear further trimming of the bank balance or being added to the delinquent debtors list, making life hell for many years.
      The following problems produce nil revenue therefore will be dealt with more thoroughly when the speeding stops. Theft, tagging, vagrancy, dumping, stealing cars, youth gangs, drug importing, stalking, restraining orders, tinnie houses, illegal guns, a gun register, arms offices run by police not civilians.

  • Albert Lane

    Don’t you just love the Police? One minute they tell you that you can drive at 10 kmh over the limit – but they don’t tell you whether that also applies to 50, 60, 70, 80 or 90 limits. You have to make up your own mind to decide whether the rule either did apply or it didn’t apply. Then they say that in holiday periods you can do 4 kmh over the limit, but again they don’t tell you that you can do 54 kmh in a built-up area, or whether it just applies to the motorways. Then they suddenly tell us that the limit is the limit. Can anybody please tell us who decides all these things? Is there a huge ghostly figure in their conference room who makes the rules? Or can it be that the bosses who decide these rules are simply ordinary humans who are totally out of their depth?

    • I.M Bach

      To my understanding it was a tolerance of 10%, not 10kph.

      • armotur

        You are probably right but I think Albert’s point remains very valid.
        I would like to know who mucks us around like this?
        Clear rules are what we ask for, not arbitrarily mucked about by some one trying to make a name for themselves. Dave Cliff is one IMO.

        • I.M Bach

          For sure, I wasn’t arguing the point. I’d have more respect for the police if they exercised some discretion. Sometimes you have to exceed the limit to perform a manoeuvre safely, often overtaking, and sometimes your vehicle gains a few kph on a downhill run, a tolerance simply makes sense and I thought 10% wasn’t too bad a deal. Cliff is just another puppet mouthpiece but the msm take his word as gospel, sigh.

          • armotur

            Thanks, and understand and agree.
            I now use the auto speed control much more as a result of this crap, My speedo reads 4km below actual so I adjust for that.
            But even with auto on the car will exceed the zero tolerance limit by 1 to 2 km/hr on gentle downhill parts.
            Sooooo! I find myself watching the speedo far more than I ever did before and thinking this is crazy stuff!!!

  • Steve

    I have a hunch that the majority of the police including the senior staff are cringing at the publicity this is generating. Most of them are wishing they were never saddled with traffic enforcement that was thrust upon them by a police minister who was trying to massage political statistics to justify his outlandish promises at the time.

    Speed doesn’t kill ( most of the time), it is collisions that kill, but you can’t raise revenue from bleating on about collisions because you can’t enforce the behaviour to prevent them. Collisions occur because one vehicle is in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is as simple as that. Nothing to do with speed. It is to do with poor decision making, poor judgement because of an absence of driving skills and an overconfident attitude.

    But good old speed. Yep, we’ve got lasers and radar guns and all this cool stuff that we can nail all the drivers we like. And when the going gets tough we just tighten the tolerance. Heck, the law says 100Kph so that’s it, we are the Police and we enforce the law. So off we all go, down this dead end path of speed kills, collecting the millions. Meanwhile collisions carry on killing, maiming and heaping misery upon society.

    This problem is not easy to fix given our existing roading infrastructure. Hundreds and hundreds of more dual carriageway is required for safe overtaking but that’s only the start. With a predominantly two lane national highway system and an increasing burden of traffic use plus a dumbed down driving public who are driving on average at increasingly slower speeds then the chances of one vehicle being in the wrong place at the wrong time is infinitely higher.

    When our son was growing up I got him into go karts. He got quite good at it over several years.. He was only 10 years old when he started but I am certain it gave him the grounding in skill and more importantly attitude.When it came time to get his real drivers licence I said to him,
    “You know how to drive and you know what works and what’s safe…drive as you like, but never , never, second guess an overtaking manoeuvre…..”

  • armotur

    To me it’s coming to this.
    The respect for the NZ police is diminishing because the public identify them as a “The NZ Police Transport branch of the Inland Revenue Department proudly focused on increasing the Tax take from the Public to support the Governments interest in ensuring their Surplus promises made by The National Government.”

    I am (just) a National supporter!

    The speed tolerance nonsense and the lower drink/drive limits really need to be addressed by the Government.

    The former by reining in foolish Police bureacrats. The latter by withdrawing the Labour initiated new Drink/Drive laws.

  • andrewo

    They’ve missed a trick. Like the global warming crowd they need to rename it, maybe call it ‘road accident change’ and then claim the increase in fatalities as a victory.

  • Curly1952

    I have a lot of respect for the NZ Police however the mish mash of messages over the holiday period and, by the sounds of it, a variance about how and when speeding tickets were issued doesn’t do anything to help me maintain the respect I have. One could become very cynical about the way they carry out their daily tasks.

    • Mark

      Cynical HAH!
      I’ve been a skateboarder,motorcyclist,security professional,recreational & professional driver,dog owner & gun owner.
      The Police only get the co-operation they are legally entitled to compel from me.
      They have over years systematically set about removing any vestiges of respect I had for them.

  • Mark

    Cynical HAH!
    I’ve been a skateboarder,motorcyclist,security professional,recreational & professional driver,dog owner & gun owner.
    The Police only get the co-operation they are legally entitled to compel from me.
    They have over years systematically set about removing any vestiges of respect I had for them.

  • paul468

    I like the new rules. It will bring down the average speed from say 105 to 95-98, and whatever way you look at it a head on crash at a lesser speed will do less damage. We just need to get our head around the idea that 100 is the maximum so drive at 95 if you have to. Excessively looking at the speedo to make sure you get that extra 1 or 2 km/hr under your belt is childish. Do you really think that it matters if you get home from work 45 seconds earlier ? So go ahead, get a speeding ticket and enjoy contributing to the consolidated fund, me, I’d rather help to try and make driving slower the norm. Also agree with Joe Blogs about the additional 2 days and not knowing how many kilometres were driven in total, so comparison is difficult.

    • Steve

      A head on crash is the result of a collision. Because one driver was in the wrong place on the road at the wrong time. Nothing to do with speed. Understand the cascade of events. A bad decision was made. If we overnight made the speed limit 120 then there would be less impatient drivers and less reluctance to accelerate hard and get the overtaking completed safely

      • paul468

        The point was that a head on crash at 95 will cause less carnage than a head on crash at 105. Factoid.

        • InnerCityDweller

          I’d wager a guess and say that a head on crash, ie car v car at either of those two speeds, is going to result in massive carnage. Unless of course you mean that one car moves, the other doesn’t.

        • Steve

          The point is that the cause of the crash was a collision, nothing to do with speed. Focus on the cause and as mentioned below, there’s not going to be much difference whether the closing speed is a combined 190kph or 210kph. The speed debate is a red herring diverting attention from the real cause of road carnage, inattention, poor judgement and over confident driving attitude.
          Don’t get into a collision situation in the first place

          • paul468

            Having been in a near death head on collision and driving nearly 1000 miles a week commuting for several years, my opinion is that driver fatigue is probably the bigger issue. Not sure if it’s possible but if you could measure tiredness at impact it would be interesting to see if it was actually a big problem. I know speed and alcohol are seen as major contributors but if you crashed with over the limit alcohol in your system and driving fast and then were overcome with fatigue; what is the main cause of the crash? You couldn’t know if it was shutting your eyes that caused the crash – it never gets measured.

          • Steve

            It correlates strongly with inattention and poor judgement. I have a similar driving history to yours. I used to drive long distances in Europe ( many years ago) and I was pretty lucky with that because I got to know what it feels likes when you start to get tired and nod off then jerk awake. We were mostly on the autobahn/ motorway/ autostradas so you could get away with it, slightly drifting but never facing oncoming traffic. After a few of those I learnt the early signs and would pull off for a half hour nap then be right again for a couple of more hours.
            Try that in NZ and you’re dead meat pretty quickly along with some other poor soul.

        • ruawai

          Then make the road speed 50kms everywhere. A head on crash at 50km will cause less carnage than a head on crash at 100km. FACTOID!!

          • paul468

            Exactly, but that would be a hard sell. Another factoid.

  • ruawai

    Police are not making any friends, at small beach holiday spot they are giving kids tickets of $150 for no helmets when riding a short distance to the dairy, mostly on grass verges. They are also ticketing for riding in the back of boats along the road to the boat ramp, carrying kids around for fun on the back of the tractor trays, and riders on quad bikes for towing boats not having helmets. I support the NZ Police but this is not winning them any friends, they need to use a bit of common sense and look the other way, people need to be able to make some of their own choices it is not a police state.