In conversation

In Newsletter Editorial5 MinutesBy Gavin MyersFebruary 25, 2022

Ask anyone who works in the media industry, and they’ll tell you they’re continually aware of what’s being said and, more importantly, how it’s being said. Whether simply processing a press release that’s been sent to all and sundry or writing a one-of-a-kind 15-page feature, there’s real nuance to both reading between the lines and getting a message across effectively, or not.

We deal with it daily and it becomes so ingrained that even something as benign as a restaurant menu isn’t safe from scrutiny. But, there’s a monumental difference between the poorly written or designed list of food and beverages at your local, and the statements and messages coming out of top-tier organisations and government departments.

Earlier this week I was on the road with a good friend of New Zealand Trucking’s along for the ride, and it didn’t take long for conversation to turn to the worsening condition of the country’s roads. As sure as the sun rises in the morning, that old chestnut never fails to raise its increasingly ugly head when out on the nation’s highways and byways.

“Have you noticed a ridiculous number of potholes opening up all over the show?” I asked as I slid onto the centre line to avoid dropping a left-hand wheel into a real cracker.

“Oh, mate…” came the reply.

From there, it was a few short steps to the reduced speed limits on the Napier-Taupo section of State Highway 5, announced last week by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency. As we all may know, this stretch of road is among the most notorious (in the North Island at least) for its dire need of real care and attention – by the NZTA in their custodianship of it, and road users in their use of it. It’s an undulating piece of road with twists and curves aplenty. Sections of degenerating road surface abound. Effective, well-placed barriers are few and far between… I could go on, but so much has been written about it in the past.

While some progress has been made on certain parts of this road thanks in no small part to some tireless advocacy and lobbying, the reduced speed limit was almost an inevitability. It came up in industry murmurings, was lobbied against in the consultation phase, and now that it’s here we’ll wait to see what impact it has and where the conversations go – though already they’re not positive.

The reduction from 100kph to 80kph was cited in the NZTA’s communication as “the most effective and immediate way to dramatically improve safety for users of the road.” The agency added it’s “also looking at investments in safety improvements, such as shoulder widening, wide centrelines, side barriers and some intersection improvements, as well as the annual maintenance programme to repair and renew the highway.”

Reading that at face value, one can only hope effective upgrades and improvements will soon start happening. However, my inner cynic can’t help but read between the lines.

“Imagine how different the conversations would’ve been if it was the other way around,” I offered. “If the road’s issues were genuinely tackled over the past few years … if it were reprofiled, regraded, reconstructed at least in the worst places, and resurfaced properly elsewhere. Then, if after all that the road was still deemed too dangerous, and dropping the speed limit was the next step in the process of achieving the highest levels of safety possible, I’d bet everyone would be a lot more forgiving of the idea.”

Alas, the saga continues.

Take care out there,

Gavin Myers