Hey, Road Safety Summit team in Wellington. I see the Minister wants “A new road safety strategy and the steps we need to get there.” She needs “A clear idea of the outcomes we want”. She has also been using THAT word “transformational”. The one the Boss uses. So I’m here to help!


The “audacious” road safety aim being talked about is “Zero Fatalities”. Politicians shouldn’t bandy this stuff about unless they really know what it is. So here I am, in all my deepest humility, as a free consultant-of-the-week for you.

Zero Somethings

Not sure about “Zero Fatalities”. Probably, the person who pulled that one out of the hat may not understand what a zero mindset is really about. They seem to be saying “Let’s start improving road safety with the important stuff. Let’s go for Zero Death and do the rest later”.Yeah, but nah.

“Zero Harm/Fatalities/Defects” doesn’t have to be taken literally. If, the day after we adopt “Zero Somethings”, a Something happens, we don’t have to throw up our hands and crumple on the floor sobbing. So Zero Harm is fine for road safety. Therefore, you can use it. It means, “Hell, we want that so badly, and we will have zero tolerance for anything that compromises our road safety intent or gets in the way. And when things get bad, we will redouble our efforts and keep our eyes rivetted on the ideal we believe in”.

So maybe we should call it “Zero Tolerance of Harm” in road safety. Getting it now? Don’t pussyfoot around. Have a wider vision. It’s not an actual target in the true sense of the word. It’s a statement about the only thing we can have as an acceptable vision.

Zero Harm

Yes, it can be applied to road safety. Therefore, I looked up a definition of “Zero Harm”, which is pretty much the same thing as any of the “Zero Somethings”. It’s worth looking at! A bit biased towards industrial injuries, but I’ve adapted it for the new road safety aims by the Government. Just for you folks at the Summit this week! If you’re reading this and you know someone at the Road Safety Summit, please share it with them.

Here are all the things we need to have for “Zero harm”. Please note that a large proportion of these things are to do with attitude. That means cultural, if you like. Roads can, and should be improved, but people need to improve more.

The Road Safety “Zero Harm” List

1. Working as one team – teams are the solution.

Road safety team
As far as road safety is concerned, on first consideration, we don’t really have teams. Because every driver is an island. But let’s look a little deeper. When you go out on New Zealand roads, it’s competitive and aggressive. There are tailgaters, hand gestures, angry use of horns, cutting in, running red lights. Consequently, a general sense of arrogant individual entitlement. So, Road Safety Summit Team, we need a strong promotion of positive safety messages. Images of great little Kiwi motorists helping each other and showing courtesies. Also, Cops could even show they support and acknowledge examples of excellent driving.

We have to work on this, instead of the dirge-like procession of ugly adverts showing people dying in ditches and T-junctions. That causes a sense of inferiority and acceptance. So, the road safety messages have to be about working together on the roads for the benefit of all.

The other side of the coin is tough, uncompromising punitive measures consistently levelled at offenders. Running a red light in a hurtling steel box, for example, is the opposite of caring for each other. So we should get these bastards off the road for a while until they start caring for someone else but themselves. See 3. below.

2. 100% Engagement – everyone on the same page.

Once again, on the face of it, how can this apply to road safety? Well, we can’t be on the same page if road safety advertising labels us all as gormless failures. We just ain’t gonna want to be on your team if that’s what you say about us. And we really don’t engage with your lofty home-made road safety targets either. That’s because each one of us is quite alright Jack! We’re not the problem. Everyone else is.

On the other hand, many of us like to check the medals table at the Games. And we work out stats like medals per capita of population. Anything to show our country is the best. These days, we can find information on road deaths per capita, or per 100,000 kms of travel, for developed countries. Perhaps it’s time we started to track that sort of thing. Put road safety stats on a medals table. Even boy racers dig the idea of being better drivers than the Aussies. Next, let’s pick off the Old Country! Can’t have those arrogant Poms boasting.

Well, that’s only one idea. But how hard can it be to get everyone engaged in a national consensus about our road safety. It’s all good team stuff. We might even start to be happy, courteous drivers.

3. Caring for each other.

OK, getting a bit touchy-feely here. Not very Kiwi-like is it? Well, yes it is actually. I guarantee that after a nasty accident, Kiwis would be about the best in the world to stop and rally round to help. So why are we so bad at using the same compassion to avoid crashes in the first place? Why do Kiwis compete with each other behind the wheel? It’s every man/woman for themselves.

Actually, I’ll take that back. It’s us men. Come on fellas, we overtake the person in front just because they are there. We don’t let people into the lane because they will be in front. We are afraid of losing something or looking like wimps. So we barge around competing dangerously.

road safetyWhy? Partly, I suggest it’s because we don’t generally understand the meaning of risk. That’s what us safety types are good at though. For example, you can drive from the ski-fields to home 15 whole minutes quicker if you hammer the car and push your limits all the way. Don’t stop for a rest, that logging truck will get ahead again. So you get (let’s say) a 1% reduction in time, and you beat your friends home. That’s in exchange for an increase in risk of perhaps 50%. What would you rather have, a log truck in front, or dead kids? Risk increases exponentially as speed increases. We have to train and educate people to WANT to reduce risks, stop competing and get with the flow.

4. Being confident to speak up.

In the road safety context, this translates into peer pressure. We don’t speak up enough. It could be asking your driver to slow down or not to have “one for the road”. Refusing to share a ride with an idiot, or as a driver, shaming or reporting other drivers. Dob the idiots in. We’ve all had a gutsful. Weaving through lanes on the motorway? Not indicating? Crashing red lights? Take a photo. Report these slobs. The cops may not always do something but it’s on record, and they may take action if more resources are provided. See 5. below.

5. Near miss reporting and taking near misses seriously.

The equivalent in road safety is not being too shy to dob in idiots (see above). I’m not talking about genuine mistakes. I’m talking about the “toads on the road” who drive drunk or behave arrogantly and selfishly. Let’s have more CCTV and speed cameras. Get your own dashcam. There should be a road safety department set up to check citizen’s reports about these toads and prosecute them. Not the Cops though. Keep Cops on the roads, catching arrogant toads.

6. Being intimate and literate with the Safety Standards.

Anyone with a modicum of sense knows that passing a driving test in New Zealand is laughably easy. How do we know this? Because daily, we see people on the roads who are barely able to do basic manoeuvres, let alone make smart decisions under pressure. And, no, they’re not just the ones with bogus or borrowed licences. Taking a driving test should make you sweat. It should be intentionally hard to pass. And if you’re not convincing enough, you get failed, for as often as it takes.

My dear old mum tried to get a licence in the UK late-ish in life, when it’s harder to gain confidence in new things. She failed three times and decided to call it a day. We were all relieved because we knew, and the examiners were brave enough.  They knew she could drive alright until something unexpected came along. Then she could just not deal with it. And they did their job on behalf of all of us.

There also needs to be an ever-present risk that you could lose your precious licence. Not just for major violations, but also for being a repeatedly arrogant prick.

7. Investigating incidents with a prevention mindset.

For the road safety context, this, to me, is having an open mind, so that we look at all the circumstances. It is much, much more than “who was to blame”. Blaming never creates a new opportunity. It just provides a scapegoat. If John or Aroha were drunk out of their mind when he/she crashed, is that where we leave it? Or do we conclude the bend also has a bad camber and visibility is obscured by trees? Then, John or Aroha can be suspended and attend alcohol counselling, while the bend is also improved. That’s progress.

8. Participating in training and discussions on safety.

Road Safety transformationOnce more, at first glance, one might ask “What’s this got to do with road safety?” The answer is, nothing directly, but this Government champions itself on being “Transformational”. Who says passing your test releases you forever from being part of ongoing awareness and training? Why not have ongoing training and participation as part of retaining your licence? Road safety rules change. New road safety promotions are introduced. A lot of this can be online.

Think carefully about this. Drivers could also be asked their opinions on ideas and changes. We could get discounts on WOFs and Rego for participating. We might also start to feel a bit of ownership and responsibility. Even caring for others. (See 3. above).

The more I think about this one, the more I like it. It’s Transformational!

9. “Walking the Talk”. Showing all our teams/colleagues and customers that we take safety seriously.

First of all, who is “we” in the road safety context? Well, it’s obviously the Government and all the agencies like NZTA, Police, ACC etc. It also means us. Walking the talk means no compromise. If a boy-racer wants to modify their Noddy car, they might have to pay for an engineer’s report on those non-standard, cut-down coil springs. Maybe bad drivers or boys with modded cars pay a loading on their ACC levy for fuel. The Cops may need more resourcing to do a much wider level of enforcement. Not just alcohol and speed, but also failure to indicate, random lane-changing, even bad parking. I don’t care if that sounds silly. It’s housekeeping and it’s part of the duty we have. Raising the game.

10. Never compromising or expecting others to compromise on safety.

“He ran a red light, so I can too”. “Come on lady, you could have pulled out just then”. “We clocked you going through there at 120 sir. And your WOF is expired. But we’ll call that 110. Here’s the speeding ticket and get that WOF tomorrow, ay?”

No compromise means we set personal examples everywhere, every day, all of us.

Simon Lawrence is Director of SafetyPro Limited.

Consulting for systems, audits, training in health and safety. Call 0800 000 267 for a welcoming chat, or email simon@safetypro.co.nz

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