Opinion: New Zealand's professional drivers are taking too many dangerous risks

Cropped view of young businesswoman's hands pressing car horn
Photo credit: Image - Getty

OPINION: As a middle aged man in lycra, I am one of many that have a special insight into the driving habits of New Zealanders.

I have this special insight due to the low speed I’m travelling at and my position on the roads as a cyclist.

We pride ourselves on being at the cutting edge of so many earth-shatteringly amazeballs things, like making hobbit movies, playing rugby and milking cows - and yet we collectively drive like bunch of morons.

At the risk of having my head ripped off and inserted somewhere unpleasant, I’m going to make the statistically unproven point that our professional drivers are amongst the worst offenders.

Our truck drivers, couriers and taxi drivers are amongst the most useless drivers on New Zealand’s roads and yet the water cooler discussions at work excoriate old ladies and Asiatic drivers as being the worst.

This is particularly offensive for all old ladies of Asiatic descent.

Of course this is totally anecdotal and of course there are many professional drivers who take great care in what they do because they know that to lose their licence is to lose their job.

But what is with the plethora of professional drivers and their perception of our road rules, and their presumption that they operate under some special exemption from them?

Why is it okay for a taxi driver to simply whack on their hazard lights and sit in the middle of the road or to double park until their passenger pays for their hair-raising ride or a new fare arrives?

Why is it okay for a truck driver to hurtle down the open road already exceeding their speed limit of 90km an hour, hunched over their steering wheel with their cell phone wedged between shoulder and ear while trying to inhale a steak and cheese pie?

Why do courier and taxi drivers operate their navigation and booking devices while in full flight?

We are told that to drive while fixated on our devices is like driving blind folded. It’s frightening just how far a vehicle travels in the few seconds the drivers eyes aren’t on the road. You are effectively driving blind.

And what about the consequences? What consequences?

Penalties are an $80 fine and 20 demerit points. That level of consequence is ineffective. The current level of impunity is exactly why so many of us still take the risk of being caught.

Would we still risk using our devices while driving if the fine was $10,000 and instant loss of licence?

NZ Police figures show that from January 2010 to June 2017, 134,908 people were pulled over for mobile phone offences. Fines for offences totaled $10,624,103.

That is completely pathetic. Imagine what those numbers would look like if our driving laws were more austere and adequately enforced?

A few days ago, there was yet another horrific accident involving a cyclist and a car.

Alexander Ray, just 27, is one of New Zealand’s best cyclists. Now he is in critical care in hospital following an early morning collision in Auckland.

He suffered extensive injuries in the collision and required emergency surgery to assess the swelling and bleeding in his brain. His injuries included a collapsed lung and 28 breaks in his ribs, a broken clavicle and scapula, a fracture to his jaw and deep cuts to his face and neck.

Regardless of who was at fault, this is life changing for everyone concerned.

It isn’t the fear of being caught that should affect our driving culture - it should be the fear of killing someone that does.

It takes 21 days to break the habit of a lifetime. It takes 21 days to create a new one. Do us all a favour and leave your device alone when you’re driving.

Whether you’re a professional driver or not, things have to change for the good of us all.

Roman Travers is a broadcaster, writer and producer for RadioLIVE.