Focusing on Driver Behaviour – A road to zero

In NTA, March 20229 MinutesBy David BoyceApril 10, 2022

The Road to Zero strategy adopted by the government sets out a vision for a New Zealand where no one is killed or seriously injured in road crashes. It includes guiding principles for how the road network and road safety decisions are made, setting out a target of a 40% reduction in road deaths and serious injuries by 2030. It defines the five key areas of focus over the next decade as:

• Infrastructure improvements and speed management
• Vehicle safety
• Work-related road safety
• Road user choices
• System management

To date, the main focus of the Road to Zero strategy has been infrastructure improvements and speed management – or more specifically, median barriers, side barriers and rumble strips, reduced speeds, intersection improvements, safety on footpaths, and cycleways. This may achieve some success, but are there other factors to consider for lowering the road toll?

A 2020 report published by the International Transport Forum of the OECD reports that in 2019, New Zealand recorded 352 road deaths. This is equivalent to 7.1 road deaths per 100,000 people, one of the highest averages in the OECD. Young people have the highest risk, with 8.7 road deaths per 100,000 for 18- to 20-year-olds and 10.6 road deaths per 100,000 people for 21- to 24-year- olds. Interestingly, our neighbours in Australia were significantly lower at 4.7 road deaths per 100,000 people, and in the European Union, the average was 5.1. If our road deaths per 100,000 people was the same as Australia, our road toll would have been 235 people in 2019. So, what are they doing that is so different?

The same report details that road-user behaviour is an important determinant on our road toll. In 2019, the main contributing factors resulting in fatalities were:
• Inappropriate speed: 78 fatalities (26% of total)
• Alcohol and drug use: 137 fatalities (46% of total)
• Distraction: 15 fatalities (5% of total)
• Fatigue: 25 fatalities (8% of total)
• Seatbelt use: approximately 90 fatalities each year

Is it time to increase the focus on driver behaviour to reduce the number of road deaths and serious injuries?

The Road to Zero strategy lists road- user choices as a focus. This includes:

Alcohol and drug use. Currently, police officers can stop and test drivers randomly at the roadside for drink driving. Drug driving justifies a similar approach – especially as the existing regime is not as effective as it could be at reducing drug driving harm.

The existing regime is based on an impairment test after an officer has established they have ‘good cause to suspect’ a person has consumed drugs. Under the current approach, impairment is assessed through a compulsory impairment test (CIT). A driver who fails a CIT must undertake an evidential blood test.

The new proposed legislation would enable more roadside testing and establish new infringement and criminal offences. These penalties would apply depending on the testing process and the level of drugs found in a driver’s system. The oral fluid testing regime will be an infringement offence regime only.

The proposed offences and penalties range from $200 to $10,000, from 50 demerit points to mandatory disqualification for one year, and prison terms ranging from three months to three years.

Enforcement. The Police, Waka Kotahi (NZTA), and the Ministry of Transport have a Road Safety Partnership Programme (RSPP), funded by the National Land Transport Fund. For the 2021/2022 year, the budget is just more than $400 million.

The RSPP is based on the strategic outcomes in the Road to Zero Strategy. The four key police operational priorities are: restraints, impairment (alcohol and drugs), distraction and speed. Other priorities include high-risk drivers, active road users, vehicle safety and network maintenance and efficiency (including incident management).

Penalties. In 2021, the government increased the fine for using a cell phone while driving from $80 to $150. By comparison, the fine for texting, emailing, using social media, watching videos, or accessing the internet while driving in Western Australia rose from $400 to $1000 last year. Is it time for New Zealand to review the range of driver behaviour penalties to encourage safer compliance?

Driver training. New Zealand has a graduated driver licensing system (GDLS), which means drivers move from a learner to a restricted and then a full licence. Currently, full licences must be renewed every 10 years, and drivers can only hold a learner and restricted car or motorcycle driver licence for five years. The government is currently reviewing the GDLS to align with the Road to Zero strategy.

The review will examine:
• Barriers to the driver-licensing system preventing entry to the system and progression;
• Whether the current methods of driver training are adequately preparing novice drivers for the risks they face on New Zealand’s roads;
• Whether the licensing system is simple and equitable;
• Potential policy interventions.

By comparison, many other countries have more rigorous driver-training regimes. For example, in Norway, you must first complete a four-day elementary traffic class, which covers the basic rules of the road, general advice, what to do at the scene of an accident, and basic first aid skills before you can even practice for a driving licence.

In Japan, you must attend 26 hours of lectures before a written test. An automatic car licence test requires 31 hours’ practice. A manual car licence test will require 34 hours’ practice. Obtaining a licence will cost about NZ$4000. In Finland, it takes a minimum of two years to get a full, unrestricted driving license. Learner drivers learn vehicle handling skills on skid-pan sessions and night- driving courses.

Many New Zealanders believe that a driver’s licence is a right, rather than a privilege. This needs to change with more emphasis on advanced skills-based training, including learning to drive to the conditions, a better understanding of the road rules with regular mandated updates, and an empathy and understanding of other and vulnerable road users.

Motorcycle safety. In 2021, there were 45 motorcyclists and pillion road deaths (14% of the total road toll).

NTA promotes safe driver behaviour

The NTA Road Safety Truck initiative delivers road safety programmes to the trucking industry, schools and the community that are designed to raise awareness on safety around big trucks and driver health and wellbeing. The NTA Road Safety Truck is being relaunched with the SafeT360 interactive virtual reality programme, which is aimed at 16- to 25-year-olds. This is a partnership between NTA and the Australian Trucking Association, which is generously supported by industry sponsors and supporters. More information can be found at