Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Bring back traffic cops

Stuff has a story about the holiday road toll, and police saying they are "disappointed" and "frustrated" that it is so high. Meanwhile, on Sunday, the Herald pointed out why it is so high: because police haven't been doing their job:

[F]or a couple of years now, police enforcement of the road rules hasn't been nearly so prominent, especially in cities. And guess what? Not counting the lockdowns, deaths and serious injuries on Auckland roads are up.

Why haven't the police been doing their job? They were funded to carry out 800,000 breath tests in Auckland in 2020 but did only half that. International best practice suggests they should be doing 60,000 hours of mobile speed camera surveillance. But they committed to only 30,000 and ended up doing just 16,800.

In the year to July, that translated into 681 speeding tickets. Not even two a day.

This negligence kills. In the three years to 2017, when there was a 33 per cent drop in alcohol breath tests, deaths and serious injuries (known as DSIs) on Auckland roads rose sharply.

After that year, the police strengthened their enforcement of drink driving, speed and other road rules, and the rates began to fall.

Road deaths are strongly correlated to the level of police enforcement. So when the police stop doing their job, people die. And in this case, the blame lies squarely on the police: they're funded to do the work, and they take the money, but they'd rather spend the time doing other things. And that latter bit is crystal clear from the police's response to the Herald, where they downplay enforcement and spew crap like "Road safety is everyone's responsibility" (which sounds like the sort of line you'd hear from a tobacco lobbyist or climate change denier).

So what's the solution? Traffic enforcement needs to be done. The police don't want to do it. So we should take the job off them, and give it to a new, standalone agency instead.

We've done this before: until 1992, traffic enforcement was the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport's Traffic Safety Service, which did all the things the police are supposed to do but don't: catch speeding drivers, run checkpoints, conduct checks for warrants of fitness and so on. we should recreate that agency. Apart from the obvious benefits - it would actually do what we paid it to do, and we wouldn't have to worry about road safety being deprioritised because its not "real crime" - there would also be a huge co-benefit of taking road-safety enforcement powers off the police. Which would mean they wouldn't be able to abuse them anymore. No more unlawful "traffic safety" roadblocks to gather intelligence. No more using traffic stops for racial harassment. And we could break the police's violent, aggressive, and lawless pursuit culture by removing its main excuse. And that latter alone will make the roads safer for everyone.