RTF supports Government on drug-testing drivers

In February 2020, Road Transport Forum6 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMarch 17, 2020

The Road Transport Forum is strongly supportive of the Government‘s announcement that the police will begin roadside drug testing of drivers from 2021. Drugged driving is a major problem in New Zealand, evidenced by the fact that in 2018 95 people were killed in accidents where the driver was found to have drugs in their system. RTF has been lobbying for adequate roadside drug testing for many years. Saliva testing followed by impairment and blood testing has proven effective in a number of jurisdictions overseas, so we are pleased to see the Government finally commit to instituting it here. Under the Government‘s plan, drivers who test positive for drug impairment will be fined, immediately suspended from driving for a minimum of 12 hours, and could face criminal charges equivalent to those who are caught drink driving.

With the Government holding a referendum on the legalisation of cannabis, it is critical that protections are put in place to ensure the safety of people in their workplace or out on our public roads. For this reason, we are also pleased to see stiffer penalties for distracted drivers and are looking forward to the rollout of median barriers and other infrastructure improvements that will enhance safety. While we will always be concerned about road safety, the RTF does not support the blanket speed limit cuts that the Government plans to roll out in the coming months. There are specific stretches of road that do require reconsideration of speed limits, but wholesale speed limit reductions slow down the delivery of goods and will consequently have a negative effect on New Zealand businesses and consumers. Instead, we think roads should be properly invested in and ‘engineered up‘ to be safe enough for traffic to travel on at a reasonable speed. Prior to Christmas, the Government also released the Draft New Zealand Rail Plan, a document high on pro-rail and antiroad rhetoric, yet low on details. The plan makes no bones about the fact that this Government is determined to shift as much freight as possible from the road to rail. On the surface of it this could be perceived to be a threat to our industry, but the reality is that it won‘t be.

Unless the Government decides to get really heavyhanded about it, the vast majority of freight, which is time and location sensitive, will remain on the road. That‘s an economic reality that this Government can fight against if it wants, but they‘ll be banging their heads against a brick wall. At the end of the day, the customer choses how they want their goods moved. There is a myriad of examples from countries with rail networks much more comprehensive than ours that show that regardless of the quality of the rail infrastructure, a similarly low proportion of freight travels by train. The Government‘s latest plan won‘t change that. However, it does mean that precious land transport funding will be wasted on uneconomic rail projects rather than invested in new and upgraded roads. What is also concerning about the plan is the further channelling of funds derived from road users to pay for rail projects. This reallocation of fuel excise and RUCs destroys the integrity of the National Land Transport Fund and will cause resentment amongst road users and freight operators already paying high fuel and operating costs.

I am somewhat encouraged that the Government has proposed to institute ‘track user charges‘ so that KiwiRail and other track users will contribute to the National Land Transport Fund. Unfortunately, there is no detail as yet as to how these charges will be set and what rates they will be set at. I suspect that the track charges will come nowhere near to paying for the spending so far planned for rail. It is also positive that the Government is following through on its intention to upgrade commuter rail in Auckland and Wellington. To free up the traffic congestion that is clogging these cities we must use all the tools at our disposal. An extensive, reliable and frequent commuter rail service will significantly enhance our urban public transport system, free up our key freight routes, and is vital for the ongoing economic growth and productivity of both Auckland and Wellington. Finally, I want to give a brief plug for the TMC Trailers Trucking Industry Show coming up on 20 and 21 March. This is a biennial event superbly organised by the New Zealand Trucking Association and is a great opportunity for the industry to come together and celebrate not only the quality of machinery on display, but also the skill and professionalism of New Zealand‘s transport professionals.