Give-way rule change will save lives

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 10/11/2011
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CONFUSION: Christchurch has one of the highest rates of intersection crashes in the country.

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Concern that people may think new give-way rules were an April Fool's Day joke led to an 11th-hour date change – despite plans for a $1.2 million education campaign.

Just hours before Transport Minister Steven Joyce was due to lodge a Cabinet paper outlining the changes to the give-way rule, he questioned the planned April 1 start date, saying people may think it was a joke.

Despite advice that April 1 would be more memorable, the date was changed to March 25.

The rule change includes dropping the give-way-to-the-right rule in favour of giving way to the left.

In a series of emails from August 17, released under the Official Information Act, Joyce's private secretary, Monique Waayer, raised concerns about the April 1 date.

The first email was at 8.45am and read: "In relation to the in-force date for the new give way rules the minister has asked `Are we confident that April Fool's Day is the right date? I'm thinking March or May'. Can we get some advice ASAP please? The paper is due to be lodged at 10am today."

The response advised that April 1 had already been widely reported as the start date for the law change, and advertising campaigns would persuade people it wasn't a joke.

"From a [communications]-advertising perspective 1 April is better and much more memorable, even if there are negative connotations around that date," senior adviser Paul Fistonich said in an email.

In further emails Waayer said Joyce was "not happy" with April 1 and suggested April 8.

That date was rejected because it was Easter; March 25 was settled on.

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for Joyce said he did not want to run the risk of people not taking the rule change seriously.

"This is a serious issue and we don't want to see that kind of confusion."

It was not uncommon to make last-minute changes to Cabinet papers, she said.

New Zealand Transport Agency spokesman Andy Knackstedt said major changes to legislation were commonly implemented at the start of financial quarters, which would have been part of why April 1 was chosen.

But, it was important to make the transition as easy as possible. "When it's something as high-profile as this you don't want people to think it's an April Fool's joke."

Plans for a $1.2m advertising campaign were already under way, he said.

The campaign would be run largely in the 10 days leading up to the rule change to ensure people did not get confused and start changing their habits early.

CHANGES TO SAVE LIVES

The Automobile Association said the changes should help cut Christchurch's high number of intersection crashes and nationally would save on average two lives a year.

In September a New Zealand Transport Agency report showed Christchurch had a higher rate of intersection accidents than Auckland or Wellington.

In the last five years more than half of all crashes have been at Christchurch's roughly 7000 intersections with right turns a significant factor.

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In 2009, Christchurch had more than 600 accidents at intersections including six fatal accidents and 93 which caused serious injury.

The Government has said the give-way changes would mean 2560 fewer crashes a year.

New Zealand is the only country in the world to insist on the right-hand rule which allows a vehicle turning right, usually across the stream of traffic, to have precedence over a vehicle turning left. Under the rule change, the right of way is reversed.

The rule was introduced in 1977 after a change in Victoria to accommodate Melbourne's trams, but it abandoned the rule in 1993.

Please Note: The graphic that appeared in The Press newspaper on Thursday was unfortunately wrong, the graphics included on the Press website are correct.

- The Dominion Post

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