Kiwi drivers behave like 'natural, born killers'

"If there's one thing that really gets my goat, it's the tail-gaters. Those feckless, bull-at-a-gate lunatics who hoof ...
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"If there's one thing that really gets my goat, it's the tail-gaters. Those feckless, bull-at-a-gate lunatics who hoof up right behind you, as if they have unsavoury designs on your exhaust pipe."

It's hard to take issue with Taranaki's top road cop, Sergeant George White, who asserted on radio last week that Kiwis are amongst the world's worst drivers.

White compared our litany of defects to his own recent experiences road tripping the USA, where the traffic can be chaotic, but driver courtesy and common sense reign supreme.

During my last roadie in the American SouthWest, I clocked up over 3500km and didn't see one crash.

The level of highway enforcement is noticeably erratic, says Mike Yardley.
ZIZI SPARKS/FAIRFAX NZ

The level of highway enforcement is noticeably erratic, says Mike Yardley.

Boil it down to pop psychology and what continues to baffle me is that on one hand, Kiwis are universally lauded for being amongst the nicest, friendliest people on the planet.

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But behind the wheel, a fair proportion of us behave like natural born killers. It's on the road that Kiwi DNA goes rogue.

Opposition's police spokesman Stuart Nash says over 100 road cops have been reassigned from traffic duties to crime ...
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Opposition's police spokesman Stuart Nash says over 100 road cops have been reassigned from traffic duties to crime prevention.

The sharp upswing in the summer holiday road toll, and the annual road toll, has understandably unleashed a wave of anxiety. The Christmas toll is up 40 per cent year-on-year, while the annual toll has risen 25 per cent compared to 2013.

Thankfully, the holiday period hasn't been blighted by the hype, hysteria and key-grabbing histrionics surrounding tourist drivers, as has plagued previous years.

Conveniently excusing the glaring imperfections of Kiwi drivers, some people are all too keen to point the finger at foreigners in rental cars, for our road toll.

Yet, they haven't been a headline-grabbing factor this holiday period, underlining that our road crash record is one of the most shameful in the developed world.

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Excessive speed, drink-driving and drug-driving continue to loom large in the fatality count. As does the horrendous refusal by so many road users to wear a seat-belt.

Police data indicates that the failure to wear a seat belt accounts for 30 per cent of all road fatalities. But what about high visibility road policing?

The Opposition's police spokesman (and most likely next Labour Party leader) Stuart Nash, has sheeted the blame for the rising road toll on the government.

Nash argues the reduction in road policing personnel is coming home to roost, with over one hundred road cops being reassigned from traffic duties to crime prevention activities.

I commuted extensively between Christchurch and South Canterbury over the holiday period and the level of highway enforcement was noticeably erratic.

Some days, the police were out on force, yet most days I could travel 200km on State Highway 1 without seeing one officer.

Perhaps most roading enforcement resource had been prioritised for the Lewis Pass, but the conspicuous absence of police south of Christchurch certainly emboldened the lunatics.

And I had never seen such unwavering volumes of heavy road traffic on State Highway 1 through Mid-Canterbury.

Maybe many Cantabs had swapped their customary annual pilgrimage to Nelson and Marlborough, for a swing down south, in hopeful search of some holiday sun.

If there's one thing that really gets my goat, it's the tail-gaters. Those feckless, bull-at-a-gate lunatics who hoof up right behind you, as if they have unsavoury designs on your exhaust pipe.

Whatever happened to the two second rule? Stuffed with self-importance, they always seem to be in a stir-crazy hurry, and only too willing to roll the dice with their entire carload of loved ones' lives, to perform a kamikaze overtaking manoeuvre as oncoming traffic breathlessly bears down on all concerned.

I quickly lost count how many times this particular roulette wheel was spun by the highway hogs.

But it's that reckless, impetuous and supremely selfish mindset that sets so many of our motorists apart from the world standard. I can only assume they all have seriously pint-sized appendages.

The same mentality manifests itself on our city streets at traffic lights.

Last week, the Christchurch Transport Operations Centre released data illustrating that red-light running is rampantly increasing. Year-on-year, injury-related crashes from red-light-running have jumped 50 per cent.

At the city's top 10 worst intersections for crashes, traffic cameras detected nearly 5400 red light runners ploughing straight through intersections, in a single day.

That's more than three times the number of tickets the police issued all year. The traffic camera data indicates an annual increase in red-light running of 31 per cent, and a 64 per cent hike since 2014.

Perhaps those traffic-monitoring cameras should be upgraded to double as furtive enforcement tools, too. Fine the lot of them.

 - The Press

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