The Government tells us the social cost of every death on our road amounts to $4.916 million. That’s about as much as the NZTA has spent on advertising its Road to Zero safety campaign this year. And look at the road toll stats; they are trending the wrong way.
I had the media ring me recently to ask why we had nine people die on the road in such a short period, asking how is this possible? I said I’m amazed it doesn’t happen more often. We gamble with our lives out on the road. It’s just bad luck that people end up with all the pieces of the death puzzle coming together at the wrong time.
The most tragic trend is what is happening to our younger road users. Road deaths for 15- to 24- year-olds are up 55 per cent when comparing 2019 with 2022, 61 young lives lost already this year. But we can do something about this if the officials would only listen.
I’m pro our Street Smart driver education programme. We know it works and there are other organisations out there trying to do a similar thing. We are positive about the benefits but it’s in hibernation because we can’t get a single cent in Government funding. Those 61 youth deaths have a social cost of nearly $300 million. Why aren’t we investing to reduce these numbers? It’s about saving lives. Forget the money, someone has lost a family member.
When Julie Anne Genter was scripting Road to Zero, I invited her along to a Street Smart day in Taupo in 2018 and, to her credit, she spent three hours with us to understand the programme. She admitted that there were so many things it taught her; she didn’t know about ABS, for example. She saw the benefit of programmes such as ours, and actually agreed to include driver training in Road to Zero. It was a beneficial meeting and there is reference to driver training in the Road to Zero programme but it’s been ignored completely.
It’s clear we need skills-based courses if we are to have any hope of changing these outcomes. But there is confusion around what driving training is amongst so-called experts in these agencies. There seems to be an underlying dictum that lumps all these programmes under the same umbrella. People mistakenly believe that courses like Street Smart help reduce the time on a restricted licence. Or that it’s some kind of advanced driver course teaching kids how to drive quickly. It’s so far from advanced it’s not funny. We’re teaching these kids the process required to help them cope with something as complex as driving. These are the things that aren’t taught as part of the standard licensing program.
We’ve had huge support from the NZ Police, who attend every day we’ve run. We’ve had great feedback from them as they are supportive of any programme that is trying to make drivers safer and more aware of the dangers on the roads.
What bugs me is the refusal of officials to evaluate these local courses to gain a better understanding. We have everything we need right here to do this with knowledgeable and experienced people who could gather the data that can be used to help fix the problem. I’d rather they invested our money on gathering good local research than compiling reports and opinions from other parts of the world. But we have an agency telling us what to do, throwing out reference material put together by endless consultants, costing millions in tax payer money. What they need to do is get out there and see the problems on the road New Zealanders face every single day. Until they do, we can’t expect the situation to get any better.