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Just What Are They Driving At?

Auckland Transport in Regression

by Chris Barber

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It would seem that ‘progress’, as defined by Auckland Transport (AT), is actually ‘regression’. I always considered progress as advancement by moving forward. According to Auckland Transport, moving backwards into the past is really the way forward. A return to pre 1985 speed limits is how the ‘visionaries’ of our local regional transport network view our driving future.

Never mind that roads have improved in the past 30 years. Never mind that modern vehicles are safer, stronger and better. No! Rest assured my fellow Aucklanders, with the introduction of lower speed limits across the city we can comfortably conclude that the new definition of progress is actually regression.

Is it any wonder AT believes they can force their agenda on Aucklanders – you let them. Less than 1% of the Auckland population made a submission on the proposed speed changes, of which more than half opposed the lowering of the speed limit. When did New Zealanders give up caring? I thought we were a nation who prided ourselves on having a voice and using it. I used my voice, but shame on the rest of you who didn’t – you let down the city I was once proud of. Or is it simply that I’m part of a small minority who don’t like bullies and their agendas?

I live and work in the Franklin area, and do 80% of my driving here, Since the formation of the ‘Super City’, the population of Franklin has grown exponentially, with thousands of new residents and their vehicles arriving as a result. Yet our roads and basic infrastructure haven’t changed to meet these excessive demands. It’s negligence of the highest order, and AT and those in positions of governance are completely to blame.

Lowering speed limits in Franklin (I can’t speak for the other affected areas of Auckland) is not the answer. It is a kneejerk reaction to a problem that sits in the ‘too hard and too expensive to resolve properly’ basket. I know it, you know it, and AT knows it too. The police and government know it as well.

During this whole ‘speed’ debacle, the local police have been very quiet. So too have Cashmore, Baker and the Team Franklin board. Do none of them have an opinion, or are they being told to tow-the-line? Andrew Bayly has been vocal, and has spoken out in opposition to the lowering of speed limits in Franklin. He did right by his constituents, and by doing so he has earned my respect and my vote in next year’s election. Unfortunately, he’s not in government at present, so AT can afford to ignore him.

To lower speed limits in such a sweeping magnitude, there has to be overwhelming evidence of high speeds as a contributing factor to all motor vehicle crashes. There isn’t though. AT isn’t looking at the statistics clearly. I imagine that they are looking at a solitary number rather than that number as a percentage. Auckland Transport and the government keep on about the rising number of crashes, but what they omit is the rising number of vehicles on the roads. NZ roads are getting busier, but not better.

NZ crash statistics make for surprising reading and are easily accessible to the NZ public. In 1973, with a population of three million, NZ road deaths numbered 843. That was only 0.03% of the population. In 1996 there were 515. 2008 there were 366 fatalities. 2018 saw 379 road deaths.

Of those 379, 102 were fatalities where speeding was a contributing factor – New Zealand-wide. That’s only 0.002% of the NZ population. Nearly seven times as many people commit suicide. The biggest kicker to this whole speed limit lowering agenda that AT has is that the 2019 statistics are lower than last year, by a significant margin: and 2018 was lower than 2017, which indicates a downward trend rather than an upward trend as pontificated by Auckland Transport. Guess where I found those statistics? The at.govt.nz website, last updated 05.11.2019.

It’s a tragedy to consider any loss of life as just a number or as part of a percentage. Yet each loss of life needs to be considered so that the formula is not repeated. That is what progress represents.

High speed is NOT the largest contributing factor to NZ road deaths, but with AT’s current focus, let’s look at speeding in the Franklin district.

Speed may be one cause of road accidents, but what contributes to driving above the legal speed limit? Some people are just brainless idiots, and that can’t be altered. If life were truly fair, then they would be the only ones to die in car accidents.

Here in Franklin, I’m 100% certain that the majority of higher speed cases occur through frustration. In particular, and ironically, with lowspeed drivers. The people who insist that they are driving safely at 80kph and lower on open roads where the limit is 100 – and a very safe 100 too.

If AT actually spent even just a few hours driving Franklin roads, they would realise that lowering speed limits here is completely unnecessary. Our speeds are infuriatingly restricted by drivers at well under the posted limit. We don’t need a red and white circular sign telling us to do 80, when that’s our current regulated speed anyway. Last week, I was in a line of 8 cars forced down to 65kph in the 100kph zone past Wesley College. The culprit wasn’t a truck, and it wasn’t a tractor – it was a middle-aged woman in a late model Toyota hatchback on a straight, wide stretch of highway. 65!

The New Zealand Road Code clearly states: Slow Drivers. IF you are travelling slower than the speed limit and there are vehicles following you, you must:

  • Keep as close to the left side of the road as possible.
  • Pull over as soon as it is safe to let following vehicles pass.
  • Don’t speed up on straight stretches of road to prevent following vehicles from passing you.

Perhaps the NZ government and their Police force should be focusing on an “Up with Speed” campaign. Rather than spend millions of Auckland’s money on new lower speed limit signage, why not spend it on local driver awareness promotions. Simple ones like – “Look in your mirror and count the number of cars jammed up behind you”. “Consider those behind you rather than just yourself”. Or, “That line of traffic that has built up behind you suggests you’re a slow driver – do the considerate thing – pull over and let them pass”. Or, what would certainly be my favourite in Franklin – “I’m holding up a truck? Goodness, I must be a slow driver”.

The New Zealand Government, Police, Land Transport Authority and Auckland Transport need to wake up to reality – it’s not speed that kills, it’s driving habits. We’re a nation where one generation of idiots teaches the next, and that is criminal and not a successful model to encourage. The model AT are suggesting, claims we are a bunch of incompetent fools incapable of driving at speeds that the nations Land Transport experts deemed completely safe 35 years ago!

I believe what AT are doing by reducing our limits to 80, is effectively reducing them to 60. My prediction is that crash statistics in Franklin will rise rather than fall. Our local population is forecast to increase even further thanks to the vision of the Super City, meaning our roads will get even busier: yet intersections won’t improve, the roads won’t be widened until it’s too late, and we poor drivers will grow more and more frustrated and crash more and die more.

Chris Barber is a contributor to elocal Magazine.

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