Green Party Transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter says the Government is quietly moving away from its ambitious Road to Zero plan because it is failing.  

The draft Government Policy Statement for land transport released last week barely mentions the goal of no deaths by 2050, and a 40 percent reduction in deaths and serious injury (from the 2018 figure) by 2030.  

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In 2018’s policy statement the overarching safety outcome was described as “a safe transport system, free of death and serious injury”.  

In 2021 it was “develop a transport system where no one is killed or seriously injured”. 

But next year’s one is “transport is made substantially safer for all”. 

Road to Zero, which became its own activity class in 2021, is now proposed to be covered under the wider class of safety, with funding for programme projects also coming from other classes including maintenance. 

Genter said the Government was walking away from the strategy. 

“That’s reflected in language, which is really disappointing and unfortunate. 

“It’s a long-term commitment. It’s not something that can be done in three years so I suspect they’re walking away from it, in part because they don’t want to look like they’re failing on their own targets.” 

“I did hear rumours that Road to Zero was going to be ditched after the change in Transport Minister, in recent weeks, I had heard that.” 

She said where similar strategies had been successful overseas there had been cross-party support. 

“I also think that some of it is because the National Party and Act Party have attacked aspects of the safety strategy and some of the actions that fall out of that. In most places where this has been successfully implemented, it has had cross party buy-in and people have seen deaths and serious injuries on our roads as something that’s actually bigger than politics.” 

“And we haven’t had that commitment from the National Party who are quite happy to seize on populist opposition to some aspects of it, rather than being committed to actually reducing deaths and serious injuries. 

However, Transport Minister David Parker said the Road to Zero strategy remained, as did the targets. 

“In the draft GPS 2024, we’ve changed the name of the activity class to the broader term ‘safety’ because safety is wider than any single initiative or strategy. We’re not changing the Road to Zero strategy which is part of our plan to build the safest road system we can, and work towards zero road deaths and serious injuries.

“The Government is committed to saving lives and preventing injuries on the road.”

In the March update on Road to Zero, officials said the number of projected deaths and serious injuries across the 2021-2014 period would be higher than planned for “as the amount of corridor covered by speed reviews has decreased and the median barrier programme is only starting to accelerate”.

As at March, 11km of median barrier had been retrofitted and there was 85km of new median barrier. The target is 400km by next year and 1000km by 2030. 

In March Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced a “significant narrowing” of the speed limit reduction programme as part of his policy reprioritisation.

The changes now direct Waka Kotahi to focus on the most dangerous 1 percent of State Highways.

“Having a transparent, dedicated road safety infrastructure pot makes it easier to see how our money is being spent, and whether it is making a difference. Having it combined with other activities runs the risk that money will be diverted to projects which do not make our roads safer.” – Matthew Noon, Abley

Modelling for Road to Zero has been based on the highest risk 10,000km of New Zealand’s roads being treated with safe and appropriate speeds. Approximately two-thirds of these high-risk roads are on the state highway network.

Officials warned after the “reprioritisation” that “typically more expensive interventions will need to be bought forward to make up the DSI reduction deficit so created”.

Transport commentator Matt Lowrie said there was little chance of achieving the Road to Zero target.

“In part because Waka Kotahi doesn’t want to. Despite public statements, internally officials often say it’s not possible so don’t try.”

“This hasn’t been helped by politicians. Over the last six years, National have pushed very hard to turn any, even minor, change to roads into a culture war. Media have helped with this through countless articles every time a change is proposed.

He said messaging from the Government had also been disappointing.

“The Government hasn’t helped either, through a lack of strategic messaging on the need for change and not holding to account their agency for lack of delivery.

“As a result I think Labour are now a bit scared and falling back on what they think is a more populist approach rather than an evidence-based one. I think we see the same issue in things like climate change.”

National transport spokesperson Simeon Brown said speed limit reductions and speed bump installations were not practical for motorists and “did not address the highest contributing factors for fatalities on our roads which is alcohol and drug use while driving”.

“New Zealand needs an approach to road safety that is focused on addressing the highest contributing factors to fatal road accidents, including alcohol and drugs. While the Government has been focused on slowing motorists down, they have failed to meet their breath testing targets and have failed to roll out roadside drug testing. National will focus on improving road safety rather than just slowing New Zealanders down.”

Abley associate director Matthew Noon said on the face of it, it did look like a watering down of the strategic priorities, but within the statement there was strong messaging that road safety objectives had not changed.

“What it does do is put a greater onus on every person that is involved in the land transport system to make it substantially safer for all. If you are designing or approving transport projects you need to ensure it’s a substantial improvement.”

He said changing the language to “substantially safer” would lead to better planning.

“Substantially safer is not just putting in a wider centreline; but substantially safer is installing a median barrier wherever appropriate … substantially safer is not just focusing speed management on our state highways to focus on only 1 percent of the ‘most dangerous’ roads but it is delivering on the safe and appropriate speed for the whole network.” 

“Criticism was often levelled that the zero-fatality approach was not achievable and put people off. Therefore, this language change will make it easier to communicate the message and expectations to the wider public, while also increasing the requirements on the people in the system to deliver on the objective: a land transport system where no one is killed or seriously injured.” 

Noon said his biggest criticism of the draft document was that it removed the dedicated funding allocation for safety.  

“For the 2012-2024 period, $2.6 billion was allocated to the Road to Zero programme which funds infrastructure, policing and road safety promotion campaigns. While it appears that a dedicated funding pot will remain for policing and road safety promotion, the current $1b-plus that is targeted towards safety infrastructure, fundamentally to make the roads safer, will go into the State Highway and local road pots.  

“Having a transparent, dedicated road safety infrastructure pot makes it easier to see how our money is being spent, and whether it is making a difference. Having it combined with other activities, runs the risk that money will be diverted to projects which do not make our roads safer.” 

Emma Hatton is a business reporter based in Wellington.

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