Road safety left behind in Budget rail spend

In last week’s Budget 2021, the Government delivered $1.3 billion to rail, to build trains and boost freight capacity.

I always like to take a bit of time to digest the annual Budget and have a good look at where the money is going. It takes time to get past the headlines – in 2020 the $12 billion for infrastructure projects was announced, with $5.3 billion for roads. But 2020 was also the first year of Covid – with a few more to follow it seems – where nothing much at all got done. Truck drivers and operators tell us the roads are still in a pretty dire state.

It is the Road Transport Forum’s view that any rail spend should go into the area where there is some impact, passenger rail in our major cities. This could ease congestion at peak times by taking cars off the roads.

There is a case for some spend to move freight between the Auckland and Tauranga ports by rail, particularly given the supply chain issues we’ve seen in the past year, which look set to continue for some years yet.

But we also believe money should not be wasted on trying to revive rail freight in areas where it didn’t work before, and won’t work again. As the world tries to recover from the impacts of Covid-19 for years to come, we should be looking forward, not to some “good old days” in Dunedin’s history where they built trains at the Hillside Workshops. Or, on the Wairoa to Napier line where there have been derailments that leave the line unusable for days and trucks have to be brought in to move the freight.

It is particularly disappointing to see in the Budget “new” money, more going to the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s department ($40.215 million) than the New Zealand Police ($33.463 million). Outside of Wellington, most New Zealanders have probably never heard of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. It used to be a small group of experts advising, as the title suggests, the Prime Minister and their Cabinet. Now, with every issue requiring a massive amount of outside consultation from highly paid private sector experts, including the Covid-19 vaccine rollout and border management, many dollars are being spent. The Government has a whole public service to seek advice from. But in addition to the tens of thousands of public servants, they are now paying for more advice.

This is at the expense of things we think are pretty important, like road safety, which has had a $63 million cut in funds, RNZ reported this week.

From where we are sitting, the roads are getting less safe because less money is being spent on the actual engineering and surface of them. They are less safe, and there will be less policing. This feels a bit like Napier MP Stuart Nash saying unless you’re a gang member you have no reason to feel unsafe in Hawke’s Bay because the public are not the gang’s targets, while National MP Simeon Brown is allegedly receiving death threats from those same gang members.

The reality is, no amount of spending on rail will reverse international trends away from rail freight to road, or budge the 93 percent of freight moved by road in New Zealand. Trucks will still be needed to deliver goods to and from trains, and to unload them when they derail, or get stuck in tunnels.

Customers through the supply chain want their goods delivered door-to-door, as fast as possible and those demands are only increasing.

We want to see some of that spending on roads happen. We pay for the roads we use and they need to be safe and suitable for the tasks they are used for.

The Government’s solution of propping up rail at the expense of roads and slowing down road speeds in the name of safety because the roads themselves are actually unsafe, will not see any economic, or environmental, gains for New Zealand.

– Nick Leggett, chief executive, Road Transport Forum

Slow driving not the safety solution

Truck drivers see it all out on the road every day. They see things they can prevent with quick action, or help with if they get there on time, but they also arrive first at accident scenes that leaving scarring memories.

Driving in New Zealand is a dangerous pastime, as last weekend’s Easter road toll once again illustrated. Eight fatal crashes over the four days. The worst tally for that particular holiday period in a decade.

The government can call for zero road deaths all they want, but from what we see every day, they aren’t going about the solutions the best way possible.

They are fixated on speed and the roading “system”. But people use the roads – on foot, on bikes and scooters, and in cars and trucks of all varieties. While our truck drivers have plenty to say about the roading system, it’s people’s behaviour on the roads and lack of skills to get themselves out of trouble that cause the nightmares.

If we were to fixate on the “system”, roads in many parts of the country are so poor, the only systems-based solution is to have traffic practically crawling. We have now got so many different road speeds in one journey you can be asked to travel at 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 and 100kph. Anyone driving in Wellington and Auckland will attest to the new 30kph speed limit barely registering with drivers. You could walk faster; but that of course, is what they want.

This week, on RNZ Morning Report the New Zealand Automobile Association called for road maintenance to be a government priority, in light of the appalling Easter road toll. New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom said in an article on Stuff that Taranaki’s roads are reaching a crisis point. In the NZ Herald, AA Northland District Council chairwoman Tracey Rissetto showed a journalist how Northland’s roads are crumbling – the photos with this article say it all.

I guess if the Government were going to really focus on the “system”, they’ve got plenty of work to do. We all pay for those roads and we expect them to be in good condition and safe. That is a very different prospect to reducing speed limits all over the land in the hope that if people are going really slowly on those appalling roads when they crash, they won’t die.

At a time when our supply chain is almost broken and our economy needs goods to be flowing freely, slowing everyone down on the road slows the economy down. Journeys cost more. Productivity takes a hit. Costs get passed on down the line to householders. Households spend less money. And round and round it goes in ever smaller circles.

We are well aware you can’t fix stupid. People will get into cars and do stupid things, or walk on highways drunk, or step out under fast moving vehicles, or any manner of foolhardy actions. They will also drive when they are drunk, or on drugs, or both, and when they are tired and distracted and on their phone. The “system” isn’t going to stop that.

What we, and others including New Zealand professional racing car driver Greg Murphy, believe is that you can certainly help stupid. It is well recognised that it is a lot easier to get a driver licence in New Zealand than many other countries. It’s just a piece of paper really.

With that licence needs to come some skills training. New Zealand roads are challenging and you can easily get into trouble driving. But what if you were also taught how to get out of that trouble, like the racing car drivers do? Wouldn’t that make for safer driving?

We believe it would. The road toll statistics aren’t improving. So, let’s take a holistic view of both the system and the people who use it, instead of taking step-by-step to alienate the users in cars and trucks.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

RTF calls for roadside drug testing

Driving under the influence of drugs is a deliberate act and should be treated accordingly in law.

Statistics show that drivers impaired by drugs are causing harm and death on our roads; more deaths than drunk drivers. We need to get those drugged drivers off the road as soon as possible and hold them accountable for their willful disregard of the lives of others.

The Road Transport Forum has lodged its submission on the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill, fully supporting the establishment of a new random roadside oral fluid testing regime to sit alongside the current compulsory impairment test (CIT) approach to drug driving. We agree that addressing drug driving is essential to reduce road trauma and make our roads safer.

While the time it has taken for a testing regime to come about is frustrating, the legislation introduced in 2020 should be in place this year. It will finally give police the power to conduct random roadside saliva-based testing of drivers they suspect are impaired by the influence of drugs. This is capacity police in many other jurisdictions already have.

For commercial drivers, including truck drivers, New Zealand’s public roads are their workplaces. They share these roads with members of the public who may not have the driving hours, skills, or drug-testing regimes that professional drivers have.

Drug impaired drivers on public roads present significant risk to commercial drivers, as well as all others on the road. While businesses can mitigate their own health and safety risks, they cannot mitigate the randomness of drugged drivers on public roads.

Commercial truck drivers are drug tested pre-employment, randomly during their employment, and post any kind of incident during their work time.

The RTF believes other drivers should also have this scrutiny to ensure better road safety in New Zealand and meet the goals of the Government’s Road to Zero strategy and action plan.

In this current climate there is a tendency to be overly concerned about the rights of drugged drivers. We contend that those rights must not be at the expense of the rights of those they maim and kill. So, while we support a harm minimisation approach to drug driving, this should not be at the expense of taking the offences seriously.

Harm minimisation will require adequate funds to cover drug education and rehabilitation programmes and we have yet to see evidence of this in New Zealand. In fact, drug rehabilitation is woefully under-funded.

Our submission comments on a couple of the processes outlined in the Bill which we think are confusing. These include:

  • If there are to be two consecutive oral fluid tests, as outlined, the reasons need to be explicit. We can’t see any reason for this and we believe there should be one test, consistent with the drink driving testing regime.
  • The process around which tool for police to use is confusing. We believe the police officer should have all the tools at their disposal to test for drugs and not be restricted to a process that excludes CIT or oral testing if one is done before the other. These leaves too many loopholes.

We also believe to provide adequate statistical analysis around the true harm caused by drug use on New Zealand roads, that drivers involved in crashes should always be tested for drugs, whether or not they are injured, and if they are deceased as part of the autopsy process. This is an area of data gathering that is currently not robust because if the presence of alcohol is obvious, the drivers are not then necessarily tested for drugs.

Overall, we believe the Government should just get on and make this Bill law.

You can read our submission here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

 

Focus on driver behaviour to address appalling road toll

Eleven people were killed on the roads between Christmas Eve 2020 and 5 January 2021. Even on a scale of all the other things that have happened in just this second week of 2021, we should not overlook this as being deadly serious. Four people were killed in the same period the previous year. What’s going wrong?

Motorsport legend Greg Murphy told RNZ this week that it is too easy to get a driving licence in New Zealand and it’s time for an overhaul, where drivers get better training to make them more aware and prepared for what can really happen on the roads. I couldn’t agree more.

He also said being told the same stuff every year by Government advertising was wearing thin and we need action, not more words. Again, I couldn’t agree more.

Of the 11 people who died this holiday period, five were not wearing seatbelts. Most modern cars make extremely annoying noises if you try and drive without a seatbelt, and how many advertisements have we seen about “making it click”?

But what happens in Wellington is strategies and policies are developed, over very long timeframes, with consultation – that may or may not be considered – and out pops the likes of the Road to Zero strategy and action plan. As the name suggests, the strategy adopts a vision where no-one is killed or seriously injured in road crashes, and where no death or serious injury while travelling on our roads is acceptable.

The road network is the trucking industry’s primary place of work and as such, the sector is committed to improving road safety. But we believe there are some serious flaws with Road to Zero, not the least an impossible target that will just turn the public off.

There is a strong emphasis on road trimmings to create safer roads and slowing down traffic to, on some city streets, 30 kph. We believe there is not enough focus on driver behaviour and distractions, which are the main causes of accidents.

Changing driver behaviour is a long-term game and relies on an in-depth look at what’s going wrong on the roads, licencing, and ongoing driver education.

It would be good to start with really robust crash data including the factors that caused the crash and attribution of liability. Statistics for crashes need to be set out in real terms, that take into account population growth, and light and heavy vehicle number growth, otherwise a proportionate understanding of accident rates will be unable to be reached. Cross comparisons are fraught with risk. They are imprecise as different jurisdictions have different contextual characteristics for example, Australia’s straight road compared to New Zealand’s with a bend or bridge every couple of kilometres. We need to focus on our situation, not try and mold the statistics to match another country.

The Government has become obsessed with speed, or should I say the lack of it. Rather than improving road surfaces, it prefers to slow traffic down to sometimes ridiculous speeds, like 30kph. They will not drive cars off the roads this way – New Zealanders love their cars and outside major cities, need them to get around. They may drive perverse behaviour borne from frustration though. Try driving 30 kph around Auckland without someone seriously tailgating you.

Greg Murphy is right, it’s time to turn attention to the drivers.

Professional truck drivers are held to a higher account than other drivers in that their compliance and enforcement history can result in job loss and prohibition from driving heavy vehicles. There are three pieces of legislation covering their work. There have been massive improvements in performance and safety systems in modern trucks.

Yet truck drivers are out on the road every day with people who aren’t held to account until it is too late. They face the ultimate accountability when they look up from their phone and see a truck bearing down on them because they are on the wrong side of the road. No matter how slow you make the traffic go, if a car hits a truck, the car comes off worse.

Dealing with driver behaviour and giving drivers the tools to drive themselves out of any trouble they might get into, must be top of the list if we want to get serious about reducing the road toll.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Focus on driver behaviour to address appalling road toll

Eleven people were killed on the roads between Christmas Eve 2020 and 5 January 2021. Even on a scale of all the other things that have happened in just this second week of 2021, we should not overlook this as being deadly serious. Four people were killed in the same period the previous year. What’s going wrong?

Motorsport legend Greg Murphy told RNZ this week that it is too easy to get a driving licence in New Zealand and it’s time for an overhaul, where drivers get better training to make them more aware and prepared for what can really happen on the roads. I couldn’t agree more.

He also said being told the same stuff every year by Government advertising was wearing thin and we need action, not more words. Again, I couldn’t agree more.

Of the 11 people who died this holiday period, five were not wearing seatbelts. Most modern cars make extremely annoying noises if you try and drive without a seatbelt, and how many advertisements have we seen about “making it click”?

But what happens in Wellington is strategies and policies are developed, over very long timeframes, with consultation – that may or may not be considered – and out pops the likes of the Road to Zero strategy and action plan. As the name suggests, the strategy adopts a vision where no-one is killed or seriously injured in road crashes, and where no death or serious injury while travelling on our roads is acceptable.

The road network is the trucking industry’s primary place of work and as such, the sector is committed to improving road safety. But we believe there are some serious flaws with Road to Zero, not the least an impossible target that will just turn the public off.

There is a strong emphasis on road trimmings to create safer roads and slowing down traffic to, on some city streets, 30 kph. We believe there is not enough focus on driver behaviour and distractions, which are the main causes of accidents.

Changing driver behaviour is a long-term game and relies on an in-depth look at what’s going wrong on the roads, licencing, and ongoing driver education.

It would be good to start with really robust crash data including the factors that caused the crash and attribution of liability. Statistics for crashes need to be set out in real terms, that take into account population growth, and light and heavy vehicle number growth, otherwise a proportionate understanding of accident rates will be unable to be reached. Cross comparisons are fraught with risk. They are imprecise as different jurisdictions have different contextual characteristics for example, Australia’s straight road compared to New Zealand’s with a bend or bridge every couple of kilometres. We need to focus on our situation, not try and mold the statistics to match another country.

The Government has become obsessed with speed, or should I say the lack of it. Rather than improving road surfaces, it prefers to slow traffic down to sometimes ridiculous speeds, like 30kph. They will not drive cars off the roads this way – New Zealanders love their cars and outside major cities, need them to get around. They may drive perverse behaviour borne from frustration though. Try driving 30 kph around Auckland without someone seriously tailgating you.

Greg Murphy is right, it’s time to turn attention to the drivers.

Professional truck drivers are held to a higher account than other drivers in that their compliance and enforcement history can result in job loss and prohibition from driving heavy vehicles. There are three pieces of legislation covering their work. There have been massive improvements in performance and safety systems in modern trucks.

Yet truck drivers are out on the road every day with people who aren’t held to account until it is too late. They face the ultimate accountability when they look up from their phone and see a truck bearing down on them because they are on the wrong side of the road. No matter how slow you make the traffic go, if a car hits a truck, the car comes off worse.

Dealing with driver behaviour and giving drivers the tools to drive themselves out of any trouble they might get into, must be top of the list if we want to get serious about reducing the road toll.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Telling our story

I have spent much of the past week talking to media about the impacts of Northport’s decision to berth the Constantinos P and offload 1340 containers bound for Auckland and further south.

Every story has two sides and my role is to ensure our industry is heard. There are two parts to this particular action – the complications of the berth itself and moving containers, and the impact on the road traffic between Auckland and Northport with more trucks on the road than normal at the busiest time of the year.

I’m not going to relitigate the port’s decision to berth the ship. The media clearly fixated on this being an action to save Christmas for retailers and shoppers. Suffice to say we don’t want a repeat without a lot more planning and communication, as well as consideration of the impact on moving logs, the port’s mainstay.

Trucking is an incredibly adaptable and flexible industry, as New Zealanders have seen in all emergency and disaster situations. Drivers turn up and move goods where they need to go. But the supply chain is under enormous pressure and the worst is yet to come.

While New Zealanders are known for their creative solutions, those also need to be well thought out, manageable, and not create new and additional problems.

The supply chain issues are putting tremendous strain on a number of businesses throughout New Zealand and with that comes crippling stress. While this kind of pressure can be sustainable for short bursts, when it is over a longer term there can be serious consequences for both human and economic health and wellbeing.

While much of New Zealand will be taking a break over the next few weeks, for many others this is the busiest and most stressful time of year. The days of New Zealand shutting down for Christmas are long gone, for business anyway.

Police, like truck drivers, will be out on the road in force. They, quite rightly, saw that the movement of containers from Northport to Auckland and further south had the potential to impact road safety. There were going to be a lot more trucks on the road, some of those roads not suitable for that volume of heavy traffic, at one of the busiest times of the year as people prepare for Christmas and go on holiday.

There has been a lot of publicity about the fact that the truck checks found some operators coming up short.

I can’t defend the indefensible. The road is our truck drivers’ workplace. They need to be safe at work and their employers, family and community want them to go home at the end of every shift alive and well.

I can point out that 11 of 534 trucks inspected were taken off the road. The majority of the trucks were road worthy and faults found were minor and fixable. Bald tyres, inadequate braking and drivers over their hours however, don’t help the trucking industry with its “social licence” to operate. That is, the support of those outside our industry for what we do.

The anti-trucking lobby constantly push to “take dangerous trucks off the road”. I reply to that by saying trucks on the road are not dangerous and if they are, the Police and Waka Kotahi will take the operator’s to task, as we have seen in Northland.

To give the public confidence in the trucking industry, everyone needs to be mindful of how they see us and how we are portrayed in the media.

I know our industry has a busy road ahead while much of New Zealand have their feet up at the beach, lake or river, with a cold beer in their hands.

Keep up the good work, stay safe out there, and be assured we are doing everything we can to look at the supply chain issues that will carry well into 2021.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

 

Truck drivers keeping your Christmas merry

As you plan for a well-deserved merry Christmas with lots of food, drink and gifts, spare a thought for the truck drivers who are under pressure to get you all those goods so you can enjoy your holidays.

Truck drivers have had a particularly challenging year. Like everyone, worldwide, Covid-19 has thrown them many curved balls. But truck drivers can be relied on in disasters, pandemics, floods, and all manner of bad weather, to get through and get the goods people need for their everyday life. Pretty much everything comes on the back of a truck at some stage; 93 percent of New Zealand’s freight in fact.

The lead up to Christmas and the summer holiday season add stress – not only are there more deliveries to make, there are people on the road who really shouldn’t be. Stressed, distracted, drunk, and/or drug impaired drivers seem to come out in droves at this time of year. The road is a truck driver’s work place and they share it with the general public who may not have the driving skills or desire to make that road a safe place.

The Road Transport Forum didn’t have a conference this year, or the opportunity to present the awards we normally do to those in the road freight transport industry who have excelled in some way. We hope to give awards at our 2021 conference in September – if Covid-19 allows.

We are right behind other initiatives to recognise the role truck drivers play not only in our economy, but also in keeping other people on the roads safe and sometimes, being heroes. We see and hear of many instances where drivers have gone out of their way to help someone else, or save lives. They are often first on the scene of an accident, which can be harrowing.

As it is for workers in many other industries, there is uneducated and unfair shade thrown at truck drivers. But without them, where would you be?

The Road Transport Forum is backing an initiative early next year – New Zealand Truck Driver Appreciation Week (22-28 February). This will be an opportunity to share stories about the good work truck drivers do and what it is like for them on the road. Remember during the New Zealand Government’s Covid-19 lockdown, while many citizens were enjoying life at home, truck drivers were out on the road without any public toilets open or places to get food, delivering to supermarkets, medical supplies, and other essential goods.

I was privileged to head to Invercargill earlier this month to attend the New Zealand Road Transport Hall of Fame event, which recognises outstanding contributions to the industry. Dates had been moved, to accommodate Covid-19 restrictions, but the event went ahead eventually and the first woman was inducted – Anita Dynes. A crucial part of the well-known family business, Anita is an iconic industry figure with interests in dairy, forestry and wine, in addition to road transport. The role of women in road freight transport is often overlooked, so even though it took until 2020, at least now that recognition is starting to come.

While the Mayor of Invercargill is experiencing some issues, there is no denying what a fantastic job he has done for his city. It might seem a long way away, but it’s worth the visit and the RTF will be holding our 2021 conference there on Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 September – and immediately following next year’s Hall of Fame.

Other Hall of Fame inductees were Graham Sheldrake, who as a tireless industry champion has assisted RTF with the launch of our industry traineeship Road to success; NZ Truck & Driver magazine (among other titles) publisher Trevor Woolston; RTF Board member and logging industry stalwart Warwick Wilshier; tyre industry legend Jim Black; and posthumously, Sir Jack Newman, who was instrumental in growing one of New Zealand’s largest road transport businesses, Newman Bros Ltd.

It’s good to reflect on the history of our industry as we plan for the many challenges ahead with a disrupted supply chain because of the pandemic; increasing scrutiny, rules and regulations; slow and poorly maintained roads; rapid changes in technology; and climate change and all its implications.

For a long time yet, New Zealand will rely on truck drivers to keep the economy moving and the home fires burning.

On a final note, I’d like to acknowledge that this is Mark Ngatuere’s last day at the RTF. He will be sorely missed by myself and our team here in Wellington, and I know by the wider industry. We wish him well in his travels and look forward to hopefully working with him again at some point.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

When no, means no

There are shades of outgoing US President Donald Trump’s behaviour in those behind the Vote Yes lobby to legalise recreational cannabis in New Zealand. Neither seem to be able to accept the outcome of democratic elections.

Sure, the cannabis referendum result was close, but the No vote won the majority of 50.7%. Most parties, including Labour which is now the majority party in Government, said prior to the election that they would consider the result of the referendum to be binding.

Some of the Yes lobby will try and relitigate the referendum result. They’ve already started the allegations of too much money on the other lobbying side, and misinformation. They might want to look in the mirror on some of that; just saying it doesn’t make it true.

We just know from our engagement – which didn’t cost anything and was not to tell people how to vote, but to suggest they be aware the legislation was not complete, medicinal cannabis was already legal, and there were unexplored, unintended consequences – how well-armed the Yes Vote lobby was with social media warriors. Much of the information they pushed was completely incorrect. And let’s just say, they weren’t kind.

The referendum result is a success for the RTF as we worked hard to ensure people were aware of some of those unintended consequences of legalising recreational cannabis, including the impact on road safety and the implications for workplaces. These were the concerns of those we represent.

We know New Zealand has a problem with cannabis use, but legalising it was not going to help those who have to manage workplace health and safety within pretty strict laws, or those drivers for whom the road is their workplace.

None of the policy work around the unintended consequences had been done before putting the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill to the vote. That left too many unanswered questions. People like a bit of certainty around big decision making and it just wasn’t there with this Bill.

More deaths on our roads are caused by drug-drivers than purely drunk drivers. We think the first step to doing something about that is to give the Police powers and tools to roadside test drivers for drugs in their system.

We hope that one of the first pieces of legislation the new Government turns its attention to is the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill, which was introduced in July this year.

This new law will allow Police to test if drivers are under the influence of drugs, just as they do for alcohol. We will certainly support this Bill as it goes through the proper processes to become law, which were delayed by the election.

While our industry has strict protocols around drug and alcohol testing, we cannot account for the other road users that share the road with professional drivers. We rely on the Police to do that; we need them to have the right tools to keep the road safe.

For the record, the total number of votes received in the cannabis referendum was 2,908,071 – 1,406,973 Yes and 1,474,635 No. There were 26,463 votes where the voter has not clearly indicated the option for which they wished to vote.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Truck driver hero celebrated

It’s fair to say that 2020 has not been a great year for many people, with Covid-19 bringing fear, anxiety and lockdowns around the world.

So, it’s good to know there are some local heroes out there focused on good works and keeping us safe.

And after this annus horribilis, it was good to have something to celebrate last week when I presented the award for the Castrol Truck Driver Hero to Deane Rodgers at an event in Cromwell in the South Island (pictured above).

Each year, this award goes to a truck driver who has gone above and beyond during the course of their normal work day to help people and keep them safe, often at their own risk.

Summerland Express Freight driver Deane Rodgers is a deserving recipient of the award and it was great to spend the evening with him, his partner Karen, and the Summerland team who came to the event to support him.

Deane’s quick thinking prevented a potentially large fire, but put him at great risk at the same time.

Travelling through South Canterbury earlier this year, with a load of infant formula destined for Christchurch, Deane looked in his mirrors and saw his trailer on fire.

He looked around him at the tinder-dry fields of wheat crops and grass, noted the strong wind blowing, and thought it was too dangerous to pull over to the side of the road and risk a bigger fire.

He knew the Makikihi Country Hotel was about five kilometres ahead and it had space to park a flaming truck so he took the calculated risk and bravely drove there; risking his own life. He rung the fire brigade to meet him, ignored all the other road users trying to warn him, and made it to safety for all. Farmers in the area have thanked him for preventing what could have been a catastrophic fire.

Deane put others before himself and used his 33 years of experience driving trucks to pull off an incredibly risky manoeuvre. As a professional driver, he knew what was possible. It was a great pleasure to thank Deane in person for what he did.

We’re a bit biased at the Road Transport Forum in that we see the good work truck drivers do every day in keeping the supply chain well-oiled so New Zealanders get all the food and goods they need. We know they help out on the road wherever they can. And we’ve done some research that shows many New Zealanders agree with us that truck drivers are skilled, safety conscious, professional and considerate.

That’s good for us to hear, because there is strong anti-truck sentiment from the current Government that doesn’t seem to be evidence-based. We hope the next Government sees the value truck drivers bring to the all-important supply chain.

– Nick Leggett, CE, Road Transport Forum

Where’s the $1.4 billion for safer roads?

The new standing joke in the Road Transport Forum’s (RTF) office is that we will receive an email from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) saying, “Dear Nick, we have reduced the speed limit across all State Highways in New Zealand to 80km.”

Of course, they wouldn’t be this direct because it would create massive outrage. Instead, it is happening by stealth, empowered by the politics of the Road to Zero policy which has been directed by Transport Associate Minister Julie Anne Genter.

The idea that you can lower speed limits and install rumble strips and median barriers as the way to improve safety, in lieu of safe new roads, was always fanciful. However, there has been an effective delivery of lower speed limits in an incremental way across the nation. We have pushed back, along with National Road Carriers, NZ Trucking and Road Transport Association NZ. Slowing road transport down will slow the economy down, and we can least afford that at this point in our Covid-19 battered economy.

So, on the install side, how is NZTA going? In December 2018 a $1.4 billion Safe Network Programme for New Zealand’s highest risk roads was announced by Ministers Phil Twyford and Julie Anne Genter.

The Safe Network Programme was going to make 870 kilometres of high volume, high-risk State Highways safer by 2021 with improvements like median and side barriers, rumble strips, and shoulder widening.

The programme was going target an estimated $600 to $700 million of state highway safety improvements and $700 to $800 million of local road safety improvements. Once complete, the improvements were expected to prevent 160 deaths and serious injuries every year.

Two years later, do you think we are able to find out what money has been spent and where? Have we seen a corresponding reduction in deaths as a result of what has been spent to date?

This was a big-ticket announcement and it was heralded as being the major part of the Government’s roading agenda. We have not been able to find evidence the money has been spent and nor can we find a project report, or overview.

However, we have been able to find evidence on the state of our roads. Many industry members give industry associations regular feedback. We see the physical signs of poor-quality roads all over the country. We see the huge 55% growth in maintenance and repair costs for intercity fleets between 2015-2019 – as per the Waikato University operator comparison report. And then we also stumble across NZTA’s own self-assessment.

Their recently published National Pavement Condition Report showed that between 2008-09 and 2018-19, the volume of resurfacing work completed was 33 percent below NZTA’s own targets for the maintenance of a safe network. Over the same period, the volume of foundation replacement work was a whopping 50 percent below NZTA targets.

Since 2015, the proportion of the road network not meeting the minimum standard for skid resistance has more than doubled to over 500 lane kilometres, the average seal life remaining has reduced by 50 percent, and four out of five measures of roughness and rutting have got worse by an average of 14 percent.

Even for those that don’t fully understand the science behind road engineering, and I count myself in that category, these are extremely concerning figures.

It looks as though NZTA can’t deliver on a $1.4 billion new safety programme, that should be two-thirds completed by now. Worse, for our industry, they can’t deliver on basic road maintenance. That costs all motorists in terms of wear and tear – and safety.

When we write to brief the incoming Minister of Transport about industry issues in a month’s time, NZTA performance on roads will be a key issue that we raise. Be assured, we will continue to raise it until road transport operators start to see the positive impact of the additional funds that have apparently been directed into road maintenance in the last couple of years.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum