Monday, February 26, 2018

Why the road toll is rising

After years of going down, in the past couple of years road deaths per capita have been going up - contrary to the trend in the rest of the world. Why? Because the police have cut basic enforcement:

New figures supplied to RNZ News show 1.75 million alcohol breath tests were recorded by Police last year, the lowest in at least 10 years.

It is down 43 percent on 2013 - when more than three million breath tests were carried out.

During that same time frame, 2013 to last year, the road toll rose 50 percent.

The Police Commissioner Mike Bush argues the Police are focussed on quality not quantity.

They might be - but as a matter of law, his budget appropriation requires him to do 2 - 2.4 million breath tests in 2017 [p. 24]. He hasn't. But more importantly, if you look back through past budget appropriations, it appears National cut the expected number of breath tests, from 2.7 - 2.9 million in 2014/15 [p. 58] to 2 - 2.4 million last year. And it wasn't the only decrease. Sam Warburton has documented how National has systematically cut performance expectations for road safety, resulting in fewer dedicated staff. Police officers themselves, via their union, have explicitly linked this to increased deaths.

Which is pretty obvious: the biggest thing deterring speeding and drink-driving is the risk of getting caught, and that risk obviously goes down if there are fewer police officers running checkpoints and ticketing speeders. Looking at the Ministry of Transport's historic road toll data, there are at least 150 excess deaths attributable to these cuts, and that doesn't include last year (which will probably add another 50). That's two hundred deaths from one funding decision. And those deaths were entirely foreseeable, which makes it no different from murder. Shouldn't we hold National's policing and transport Ministers accountable for that?