Why does NZ traffic enforcement get it so wrong?

Speed Camera Operator MARK TAYLOR FAIRFAX MEDIA NZ

I despair that the standard of driving in New Zealand will ever improve.

‘Traffic safety cameras’ (fixed or mobile) seem to have little or no effect on driver education, since the punishment, in the form of a fine, is usually received well after the event and a driver might not even remember travelling on the road in question. Or the route may never be travelled by that driver again.

I will assume there is a significant effect on revenue for the government, or they would actually seriously take steps to improve the standard of driving rather than trying to fill fiscal holes with revenue from fines.

The idea of parking ‘traffic safety vans’ beside main carriageways, adjacent to stretches of passing lanes, is ludicrous.

I witnessed this last Labour Weekend, travelling from Auckland to the Far North (and then back): several – at least three – instances of camera vans sitting beside passing lanes, part way along them rather than at the end of the passing lanes (?small mercies?). Traffic was generally heavy and moving at around 85-90km/h.

I am not sure who they’re expecting to catch, but I can think of many more safety-related issues to police than ‘speeding’ in a passing lane on a holiday weekend; such as slow driving, erratic speeds, texting while driving, bad overtaking and following too close – just for a start! All of these I witnessed on Labour Weekend multiple times.

I do feel for the families of the many cops I saw patrolling in their cars this weekend; instead of being at home with their families.

Let’s look at the logic here.

Outside main centres, in general, New Zealand roads are two-lane roads (one each way), mostly bumpy and potholed; even State highways. They wind along ridges or through valleys, often with steep hills or cut-outs hard against the roadside, limiting visibility ahead. This is the nature of the New Zealand countryside.

For this reason (and obviously for cost reasons – it’s very expensive to four-lane an entire country), passing lanes are placed in ‘strategic’ places to allow faster traffic to pass slower moving cars, trucks, camper-vans, and the cars towing caravans and boats.

This is all well and good – in theory.

However, most drivers of New Zealand roads have probably noticed that:

  1. Passing lanes, more often than not, end on the brow of a hill or a corner
  2. Slow vehicles tend to speed up (temporarily) when finding themselves on a wider section of road, such as a passing lane
  3. Police enforcement seem to find passing lanes “easy pickings” and often have speed traps set around them

So, when drivers find themselves behind a slow-moving vehicle, perhaps travelling at 75-85 km/h on the main highway, with traffic continually building up behind this vehicle, the tempers of these following drivers tend to rise, and good judgement can slip down behind the seat. Silly manoeuvres are often the result.

MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/FAIRFAX NZ

When coming across a passing lane, the thought goes through the following driver’s mind: “I’ll just get past this idiot who is driving slowly and erratically, braking for every corner, and then I can just cruise.”

Unfortunately, at this point, the slow, erratic driver holding up the traffic has a wee brainstorm, sees the wider road and speeds up to 95-100 km/h (until reaching the other end of the passing lane, at which time normal service resumes).

To get past the slow vehicle in the short distance allowed by the passing lane, the driver(s) following must necessarily break the 100 km/h speed limit. The fact that the lane generally peters out on the brow of a hill or on a corner makes it difficult to judge whether a passing manoeuvre will succeed or whether the driver will have to jump hard on the brakes and merge back in behind the slow driver.

There is now also the additional risk that the overtaking driver(s) will be pinged by a ‘traffic safety camera’, all the while performing a task that the lane is designed to enable.

Of course we all know why speeding is picked on as the scapegoat for all accidents – it’s visible (and obvious) and the technology to catch people with a heavy right foot has existed for many years.

However, as a rider/driver of nearly 45 years who has covered some hundreds of thousands of kilometres (with less than a handful of minor, no-injury, low-speed accidents), including a number of years as a motorcycle courier (London and Auckland), I feel I’m somewhat of an authority on traffic-related matters.

In my opinion, the things that cause traffic accidents are

  1. Driver inattention – using a phone without Bluetooth, earbuds in ears listening to music…
  2. Poor driver skill levels – it’s too easy to get a licence in New Zealand…
  3. Poor judgement of road/traffic conditions – not looking ahead – or behind! – not anticipating…
  4. Poor vehicle maintenance – no WOF, bald tyres, chipped/cracked windscreens, one or more headlights not working…
  5. Drink or drug impairment – too many repeat offenders are still driving on our roads…

Of course, add speed into the mix and the mess can be spectacular; but speed does not, in and of itself, cause accidents.

Trying to enforce the rules against following too closely, texting while driving, erratic speeds etc. takes more manpower than the police currently have. It’s basically in the too hard basket.

Let’s not even go near the subject of failing to keep left on multi-lane roads. NZTA call them motorways but, let’s face it, they’re not!

 


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Tech-head, fixer and keen motorcyclist.
An opinion on most things.
Theoretically old enough to know better.
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