OPINION: The second-lowest annual road toll in six decades is something to celebrate - up to a highly qualified point.
The downward trend is pleasing, but the reality is that 307 people died in road accidents during 2012, including nine in the Nelson-Marlborough region.
To anyone connected with any of these people, the statistics will bring no comfort. Accidental deaths are, by definition, avoidable - although, of course, the victim is not always the one at fault. Any death is sad, but the pain of the loss inevitably is heightened by knowing that the blame lies elsewhere.
While last year's toll was 23 more than 2011's record low 284 fatalities, it was well down on the previous two years (375 and 385) - not to mention the horrific 843 in 1973.
In this region, there was one more road death than the eight in 2011. To put things further in perspective, Wellington, for all its large population, last year recorded only one death more than Nelson-Marlborough, while Southland had just six. So there is never room for complacency.
Efforts to lower the toll further have been stepped up in recent years, and the lower trend suggests the Government's "Safer Journeys" strategy is on the right track.
Measures brought in over the past few years have included gradually improved road engineering standards, a tougher licence-testing regime for learners, raising the minimum driving age, and lowering the amount of alcohol young drivers are allowed to consume.
Policing focus has included "zero tolerance" campaigns on drink-driving, inappropriate cellphone use and failure to wear seatbelts, and crackdowns on the "boy racer" brigade and failing to indicate appropriately. Also currently on the agenda is a proposal to double the number of speed cameras over the next three years.
New Zealand has on average 1.3 of the cameras for every 100,000 people - half as many as in New South Wales, and just over a quarter of the number in the state of Victoria.
Those who oppose the cameras commonly suggest that they are more about revenue-gathering than road safety. The Government counters with evidence from overseas studies that speed cameras are effective in reducing speeds and, consequently, boosting road safety. A report in 2010 on 28 international studies showed that all of them found the effect of speed cameras to be a reduction in all crashes, injuries and deaths.
It is true that the cameras contribute to the national coffers, raising an average of nearly $38 million a year over the past eight years. However, if that were their only imperative, a tax-hungry government would have ordered more of them long ago.
The best way to avoid that sinking feeling most drivers get on realising that they have zoomed past a speed camera, and probably will face a fine as a consequence, is to stick within the limits. Taking responsibility for our actions and acting responsibly on the roads is probably the best way for individuals to play their part in helping to set a low national road toll in 2013.
- © Fairfax NZ News