Sunday, January 04, 2009

Danger - in the interests of safety

New Zealand's lead road safety ambassador
Yesterday a friend told me he witnessed a curious sight. As he travelled on one of Auckland's motorways leading to the city. Parked on the verge he noticed a late model grey coloured Holden Commodore car with its driver side door fully opened in the face of oncoming traffic.
"It looked dangerous. I thought; maybe the driver had a heart attack, slumped at the wheel and was in need of urgent first aid?" As he got closer he saw that fears were without cause. The driver was actually a uniformed police officer, crouching behind the door and pointing his speed radar at the oncoming traffic. The crouching stance wasn't to protect himself in case of a high speed impact with the door by a feckless driver but to conceal the high visibility vest, which would have made the officer well, highly visible - which would spoil the ruse.

The incidence of deaths on New Zealand roads is at a near 50 year low. I am going to wager that policing has had negligible effect on the statistics. Likewise the money spent on 'road safety' advertising campaigns seems to have an inverse effect on drink-driving statistics, the more is spent the higher the incidence becomes. No, I think we must look past the policing and acknowledge a few unsung heroes in the reduction of deaths on the road:

a) Cheap Japanese used car imports. Late model cars began flooding into New Zealand in the 90s. The glut of cars with safe, modern brakes, airbags and crumple zones meant that fleet of aging Austins, Morris', Fords etc that were kept on the roads because they were easy to fix at home, replacements were far too expensive etc have been allowed to be scrapped. I can't remember the last time I saw a Morris Oxford wobbling along the highway on skinny tires, with near-non existent braking and not enough power to avoid an oncoming Ford Anglia with the same malignant mechanics. Bottom line, cars are safer (including having more power).

b) Modern medicine. If you crash your chances of survival are radically increased. You may be a vegetable or quadriplegic, but you'll survive.

c) Ronald McDonald. That's right the Ginga fool probably has had more impact on road safety by encouraging kids to automatically put their seat belts on when entering a vehicle and pestering their parents to do the same in order to drive them to the hamburger joint so that they can work on their obesity as a reward for their road safety consciousness.

Meanwhile the nation's police force stalk speeding motorists (when speed is not the safety concern it is made out to be) using any means at their disposal - even ludicrously dangerous ones - like parking on the freeway with your door open to the lanes in order to generate revenue. Senior police officers reportedly spend their day in the police bar, drive home drunk and then slam the door in the face of a police officer responding to a complaint and requesting a breath test. (The Minister of Police calls that an employment issue - and therefore not a matter she can comment on). Other uniformed police officers in marked cars give joyrides to children at school fairs for a dollar a pop - two cars high speed drifting on a small school field with no safety barriers between the Mr Whippy queue or the bouncy castle at a school fair (video to follow - stay tuned) - clowns undoing the solid work Ronald McDonald has been doing for decades.

Revealed: NZ's busiest speed cameras (NB top policeman's email detailing the quota expectations for uniformed officers).

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