Opinion: New Zealand's shameful road toll won't reduce until people stop driving like idiots

OPINION: You don't have to drive far in New Zealand to see examples of dangerous driving.

On my short commute home on Monday - a public holiday with relatively quiet roads - I saw a number of examples of stupid driving that could easily have resulted in a serious incident. 

Example one was a car trying to join the motorway heading north just before the Victoria Park Tunnel in Auckland. The driver was trying to join ahead of another driver who was having none of it and refused to let him in.  

Neither driver was prepared to back down, until the joining driver ran out of road so swerved behind the car causing everyone behind him to slam on their brakes. The car behind me had to change lanes as he couldn't brake in time.  

Example two just minutes later was an impatient driver who swerved in and out of lanes trying to get past the small build-up of cars. A fairly common occurrence on the motorways in Auckland, but one that is dangerous. 

Finally there was a BMW driver just north of the Harbour Bridge who thought the speed limit didn't apply to him and must have been doing around 150km/h. If they were a doctor rushing to save someone's life then it may be forgivable, but I doubt they were. More likely just another impatient driver with no concern for anyone else on the road.  

That was all in a short eight-kilometre drive home. 

Pretty much everytime you get on the road in New Zealand you see an example of driving that is either crazy, dangerous or just stupid. People overtaking where they shouldn't, people speeding, driving too close to others or just impatient to get to their destination. 

This holiday period 14 people have lost their lives on the roads, and it isn't even over yet. That is 14 people who have had their lives cut short, and 14 sets of family and friends for whom Christmas and New Year will have a very different meaning now.  

Last year 319 people died on the roads. That is just shy of one a day. In the past 60 years the New Zealand road toll has only dropped below 300 three times. That is a shameful statistic. 

"Even with the pandemic and lockdowns of the last two years we have sadly and disappointingly not been able to get back below that mark of 300 annual road deaths," AA policy and research manager Simon Douglas said. 

"Some people would point out that the population and amount of vehicles on the roads have grown in the last decade which will have an impact on crash numbers and that's true," Douglas said.

"But if we look across to Australia they were on track to have about 4.4 road deaths per 100,000 people this year while New Zealand had 6.3.

"There is no reason why our roads shouldn't be as safe as Australia's and if they were we would have had nearly 100 fewer deaths this year."

Douglas recommended a number of measures to address the shocking road toll, including upgrading roads and targeting speed restrictions. 

He also called on drivers to take responsibility for their driving citing AA research showing that while half of fatal crashes involve extreme and reckless behaviour, the other half involve everyday people having a momentary lapse or mistake.

"No one is perfect and we could all find at least one thing to do better on the roads this year," Douglas said. 

"For some drivers that might be making sure they keep a bigger following distance, for others it might be slowing their speed to the conditions, or it could be not using your phone behind the wheel or not carrying on driving when they are feeling tired."

This summer's high holiday road toll even prompted the police to issue a plea for drivers to respect each other on the roads. 

In a statement on Sunday Bruce O'Brien, the assistant commissioner of deployment and road policing, said drivers are reminded they are not the only ones using the road and must take "responsibility for themselves and other road users". 

"All road users should respect each other and be aware they each have responsibilities to uphold on the road."

I agree with former V8 racing driver Greg Murphy, who in 2021 after a summer holiday road toll of 11 - lower than this year - called for better education for drivers.  

Opinion: New Zealand's shameful road toll won't reduce until people stop driving like idiots
Photo credit: NZ Police

"We need to look after drivers better by training them better, making them more aware and prepared for the things they face every day on the roads.

"We need to start with better theory around the road rules, teach people about the physics of motor vehicles, and teach them about safety."

"You should have to do a course where you do awareness training, learn about emergency training, do hazard identification, and learn about peripheral awareness," Murphy said.

"It's all good spending millions of dollars on updating roads and installing barriers but it's the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff," he said.

Life is cheap on New Zealand's roads

It goes beyond training though, we need to educate drivers that the roads are not their personal playgrounds. 

That the speed limit, which is set by people more educated in such matters than most drivers, is not there to frustrate them but to make the road safer. 

If you speed, you are endangering the lives of everyone on the road with you. 

And don't get me started on people who speed on residential streets.

If you think the driver ahead of you is going to slowly don't sit on their bumper, it is highly dangerous. 

Don't overtake if it is not safe to do so, no matter how frustrating it is. 

We see countless stories in the media of close shaves on the road recorded on dashcams. Drivers overtaking where it was obvious to anyone with half a brain it was too dangerous to attempt it.

Don't drive drunk, or high or using your phone, that is just plain stupid.  

New Zealand drivers can be reckless, arrogant and impatient and until that stops there will always be a high road toll. 

In my opinion life is cheap on New Zealand's roads and there is very little appetite to change that. 

Too many people die needlessly on our roads and that won't change until drivers recognise they are part of the problem and change their attitudes.  

Mark Longley is the Managing Editor of Newshub Digital.