Government agencies admit trouble achieving Road to Zero targets

Ben Strang for RNZ

Government agencies are admitting having difficulty in their attempts to make roads safer, with officials last year advising ministers a target to reduce deaths and serious injuries by 40 percent over a decade was unrealistic.

The road toll has soared this year and is on par with 2018, the worst year for road deaths in recent memory.

This despite the government's nationwide Road to Zero plan, which is supposed to see an incremental reduction in road deaths.

The scheme to make roads safer began in January 2020.

Its goal is to reduce deaths and serious injuries by 40 percent by 2030, which officials said would save 750 lives and prevent several thousand serious injuries over the course of the decade.

But less than two years into the strategy, officials advised ministers it was not going to be achievable at that rate of progress.

According to documents received under the Official Information Act (OIA), in November 2021, Waka Kotahi updated its forecasts on what could be achieved.

The 40 percent target was not achievable at current rates of progress with a new "realistic" target of 33 percent touted.

"Under-performance on some key actions put the 2030 target at risk," the document said.

"Those forecasts indicate that Road to Zero actions could realistically achieve a 33 percent reduction in DSI [deaths and serious injuries] by 2030, down from the targeted 40 percent."

The Road to Zero plan, overseen by the Ministry of Transport, is largely delivered by police and Waka Kotahi which had not been reaching targets.

In documents from July sent to Police Minister Chris Hipkins, police admitted they had "not met set Road to Zero targets for 2021".

According to the police annual report, they had not met targets for speed camera hours or the number of alcohol tests they should have run. Several other road safety targets had also not been achieved.

Despite this, police said to the minister that "this should not be seen as police not targeting those who take risks on the road".

Waka Kotahi has also missed targets, mainly in regards to infrastructure.

It was supposed to build 100km of median barriers per year, and 400km by 2024.

Last year it built 13km of median barriers, and in total it has only built 50km of median barriers since the Road to Zero plan began in 2020.

Waka Kotahi is also short of targets for side barriers and other safety features.

It has upgrade intersections by installing 71 new roundabouts 2020/21 as part of the Road to Zero work, but its report does not have figures on improvements to intersections completed in 2019/20 or 2021/22. The agency has said it is setting up systems to report more fully in the future.

Separately, four intersections were upgraded as part of large state highway improvements, the agency's annual report said.

It said some local roads had been upgraded, but it could not tell us how many.

'Fully committed' to road safety goal

Police assistant commissioner Bruce O'Brien said improvements had been made and there was full commitment to Road to Zero.

"The report ... was from 2021. We've made significant improvements in 2022 especially around our breath screening tests, which is really important to ensure out on the roads are not impaired.

"We're fully committed, as are our road safety partners," O'Brien told Morning Report.

"There's still a lot of work to do but it's too important not for everybody to get in behind it.

"As we've been saying before the big player in all of this is the driving public taking responsibility for their driving behaviour. And as a whole we will see a reduction in death and serious injury."

Bryan Sherrit, the director of Road To Zero for the Ministry of Transport, admitted the progress on road safety had been slower than what the agencies had wanted.

"We want everyone to get home safely to their friends and whānau," Sherrit said.

"To achieve our goals, it'll take a systematic change to how we all approach road safety - from road users, city planners, policy writers, enforcement officers and road builders. We all have a vital role in this.

"Our initial target is to reduce deaths and serious injuries by 40 percent by 2030. This is still our target - this has not changed."

He said police and Waka Kotahi were working hard to make amends for their slow pace of road safety delivery.

"Forecasts from November 2021 were a point-in-time estimate on what we were on track to achieve. Since that forecast, a number of interventions have commenced that will make a difference.

"This includes a significant increase in alcohol breath screening tests by police, with more than 2.2 million tests conducted in the 12 months to 31 October 2022; Waka Kotahi is significantly increasing the rollout of median barriers in 2023; consultation on new speed management plan for New Zealand's state highways; and a new public awareness campaign to help remind drivers of their responsibilities when behind the wheel."

Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter told Morning Report much more work needed to be done to change the priorities of the transport system.

Genter was the government's associate minister of transport when the Road to Zero strategy was launched three years ago.

"New Zealanders can and should aspire to have a transport system that values life," Genter said.

The Road to Zero plan was not a failure and other countries have proven progress can happen over time, she said.

"It is a question of priority though, and I'd say New Zealand Transport Agency has not put the government's priorities first."

It would be very difficult for NZTA to focus on road safety when it continues to prioritise a few big highway projects, she said.