Getting the numbers right in Genter’s drive (long-distance) to zero road deaths

Catching up on our ministerial press statements after the Christmas break, we noted a small glitch – which was quickly corrected – in something from Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter’s office.

The corrected version said the official holiday period had ended with nine people tragically killed in crashes on New Zealand roads.

This was three people fewer than the 12 who died in the previous holiday season.

The original version of the statement had said nine was two people fewer than the 12 who died last holiday season.

At the top of the second version, which arrived in our email intray almost two hours later, the minister acknowledged:

The basic maths error in the second line of this release has been corrected.

No matter who actually subtracted nine from 12 and got two, the statement was issued in Genter’s name.

Here’s hoping she (or whoever) get things right with bigger numbers:

“The Government is investing $1.4 billion over three years to make urgent safety improvement across our high-risk roads. On high volume state highways New Zealanders can expect to see more improvements like life-saving median and side barriers and crash-preventing rumble strips.”

This suggests the government is geared up for an all-out drive to implement a safety programme formulated during several years in opposition.

But no, first there will be a bout of – good grief – consultation.

“This year we will be consulting the public on a new road safety strategy and action plan to drive substantial improvements in road safety in New Zealand,” said Julie Anne Genter.

Perhaps during these consultations the public may venture their opinion on a number which was implied by the headline on the Minister’s press statement (both versions).

It said:

Too many people killed over Christmas

Too many” raises an awkward question:  is there an acceptable number and, if so, what is it?

On the other hand, why not be cheered that nine deaths is a significant improvement on the 12 recorded in the comparable period a year earlier?

It’s fair to suggest Genter answered the ideal number question in April last year, when she told the local government road safety summit the Government will consider introducing a zero road death policy by 2020 as it strives to curb the country’s “unacceptable” road toll.

“We need a new [road safety] strategy. We need a clear idea of the outcomes we want and the steps we need to take to get there,” Genter told the 100 or so local government representatives at Wellington’s Rydges Hotel.

“I believe this is a transformational Government. It is a Government that can set ambitious targets, whether on child poverty, on climate change, or road safety.

“Clear, truly ambitious targets drive policy and help deliver meaningful change. That’s why this Government will investigate adopting a target of zero deaths and serious injuries on our roads.”

Genter acknowledged general road safety targets could be hampered by community backlash to “specific safety projects in their backyards, such as median barriers and rumble strips”.

She called on local governments to be brave enough to take the action they know will save lives and “to bring the community with us”.

“We can’t let short-term objections slow us down.”

This raises another question: if road safety authorities already have the answers and short-term objections are to be over-ridden, what are public consultations supposed to achieve?

Oh, and let the record show that Genter has been exchanging tweets on this topic with National’s Judith Collins.  She acknowledged it could be decades before New Zealand sees “substantial” reduction in road deaths.

She further said she stands by the Government’s policy of making road safety a top priority.




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