Government spends $62 million on promotional, education campaigns to 'support Road to Zero'

Newshub can reveal more than $62 million has been spent on promotional and education campaigns to support the Government's ambition of zero deaths on our roads. 

Despite that investment, the death toll in 2022 hit 380, the highest level it's been at since 2009

A spokesperson for Transport Minister Michael Wood says to put the investment in context, it should be noted the average social cost of a fatal road crash is $5.37 million and a serious injury is $1 million. At the current rate, the annual social cost of crashes is nearly $5 billion.

"Given that 380 people died on our roads last year at a much higher rate than comparable countries, the previous approach has not been working and things need to change.

"We need to stop accepting that deaths on our roads are inevitable. Each death is a person who leaves behind a family, a workplace, a community. They are not simply a toll that we pay when we decide to turn the key. Road to Zero is focused on changing our long-held attitudes to road safety."

Simeon Brown, National's transport spokesperson, says the promotional and education campaign spend is an "absolute waste of money" as he says the Government's currently failing to make a difference. 

"It's the road to zero achievements under this Government," he says. "What we need to be focussed on is better infrastructure and making sure that that money is going where it will improve the quality of our roads to make them safer rather than simply just advertising to tell us that the Government's got a plan that they are not achieving."

The Road to Zero programme, based on Sweden's Vision Zero approach, aims for a "New Zealand where no one is killed or seriously injured in road crashes". 

It intends to do this through infrastructure improvements - like median barriers and speed limit changes - as well as improving the safety performance of vehicles, increasing uptake of public transport and working with police to ensure drivers are acting safely on the road. 

Changing people's attitudes to driving is a big part of that.

Figures obtained by Newshub through the Official Information Act (OIA) show in the 2021/22 financial year, a little more than $43.3 million was spent on promotional and education campaigns. Over the first six months of the 2022/23 financial year, $18.8 million was spent.

"As at 31 December 2022, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency had spent $62,156,834 on promotional and education campaigns to support Road to Zero," the OIA response said.

That includes spending on local road safety promotion programmes, regional road safety promotion programmes and a national road safety promotion programme. Waka Kotahi said money spent on the specific public information campaign about the Road to Zero strategy is a small part of this. 

"The public awareness campaign is aimed at building public awareness and demand for the changes needed to drive deaths and serious injuries down towards zero," the spokesperson for Wood said.

"Changing behaviours takes time, but that is also why we are investing in road improvements and making other changes across the transport system."

That campaign supports the Government's $2.9 billion investment in road safety activities over three years, including $1.2 billion for road policing, the spokesperson said. 

In the shorter term, there is a target to reduce road user death and serious injuries by 40 percent by 2030. 

Waka Kotahi told Newshub on Thursday this remains the target, but it acknowledges Road to Zero hasn't yet been implemented at the necessary scale or pace. It remains committed to its education and marketing spend as influencing behaviours is a long-term process, it said.

At the end of last year, Waka Kotahi said a number of actions would be taken in 2023 to progress towards the Road to Zero targets.

The programme has a number of performance indicators and so far it has had mixed success in achieving them. But Waka Kotahi said some intiatives have had good results, insluding death and serious injury reductions resulting from Auckland Transport's speed programme and SH6 Blenheim to Nelson speed reduction

The proportion of road safety advertising campaigns that met or exceed their agreed success criteria in 2021/22 was 86 percent, as expected. They're measured on the likes of likeability, relevance, message takeout, and likelihood to change attitude.

"In 2021, 47 percent of the general public thought that the acceptable number of deaths from road crashes is zero, which is considered to be a proxy measure of public support for the Vison Zero approach," an annual monitoring report said. "This is only a slight increase from 2019/20, but we expect this to increase further as our communications strategy is implemented."

Waka Kotahi has allocated $197 million for promotional and education campaigns across the full three-year National Land Transport Programme period of 2021/22 and 2023/24.

Brown said the Government should be prioritising money to "improving and maintaining the roading network". 

"This Government needs to be focussed on making sure our roads are safe, making sure the potholes are filled in, and making sure that the infrastructure is built to quality standard. 

"All they're doing is spending millions of dollars telling New Zealanders that they've got a policy and they've got a program which they're failing to achieve."

He said the roading network was going to need significant investment following Cyclone Gabrielle.

Earlier this week, the Government announced $250 million for the National Land Transport Fund to help pay for the rebuild of cyclone-damaged roads.