Soaring road toll something New Zealanders need to own

At the weekend I read of another fatal crash. This one killed 8 people, including a couple that were supposed to be getting married in May. Coming just a few weeks after a Chinese family in a van were involved in an accident near Tekapo on a gravel road that killed five and injured another three, and with a single week long period in which 26 people were killed, it really is time to confront a sobering problem.

There are only so many excuses we can continue to make for our sky rocketing road toll. And it frustrates me to no end the amount of excuse making that goes on.

How about looking at the many people who do not drive with their lights on when it is raining? Why do so many people go through the red light at the intersection? Or let themselves be found on the wrong side of the road when going around tight bends – the speed signs as one approaches tight bends are there for a reason: its the safest speed it is designed for and if you find yourself on the other side the truck coming around the corner will not be able to stop in time.

It is time to own the fact that we are not great drivers my fellow Kiwi’s. It is time to accept that not all of those pesky tourists who come in from China and elsewhere, who we moan about not knowing the rules are no worse in many respects than us. In many cases, the tourists are politer.

Even if we took the steps that I recommend and made all tourists coming off long haul flights wait twelve hours to get their cars; even if we made them sit a theory test before they were allowed to hire a rental car, it does not change some very sobering facts. It does not change the fact that we do not require for example that all of our new imports have their lights set to turn on when the driver starts the engine – they do in Canada. Nor are our judges consistent in sentencing convicted offenders. This is illustrated by there being at least one offender in New Zealand who has been convicted of drunk driving at least 12 times and was still driving when he last appeared before a judge.

We as New Zealanders have the power to change all of this. We have the power to

  • demand stiffer sentencing;
  • demand that all cars come preset to have their headlights come on when the engine is started
  • Make all licenced drivers get vehicle insurance
  • Make fleeing police an instantly jail worthy offence
  • Require alcohol locks permanently for anyone who drinks, drives and causes death and/or injury as a result of that drunk driving

And there are other things we can do. Such as stop the blame game with tourists, who despite their numbers increasing by 30% in the 10 years to 2014 are involved or cause a declining percentage of crashes involving death and/or injury.

It is our road toll in our country. Lets stop the blame game and own it.

Especially as wild weather, which is another thing our drivers are not good at adapting to, moves up the country. Driving home from work today I went up State Highway 1 briefly and a road that normally has cars doing 80km/h was down to 65-70km/h because of the wind driven rain and crap visibility. Yet I still saw people with no lights on; people driving too fast.

And we wonder why our road toll is so bad.

U.S. withdrawal from Arms Trade Treaty not helpful

United States President Donald Trump has announced the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty which was presented in 2013. The announcement, which was made in a speech to the National Rifle Association of America, comes as criticism of the National Rifle Association which stands to gain the most, tries to regroup amid infighting and a battering of its image by school shootings.

On one hand the U.S. withdrawal is probably not likely to immediately affect America’s relationship with New Zealand. Despite the Christchurch shooting, and the alleged attempts of the N.R.A. to interfere with New Zealand legislative processes, America understands even if it does not agree, that this is something that New Zealand domestic politics are not for it to be involved in. Any continued interference will no doubt be the work of N.R.A. hacks trying to carry out a perverted agenda we should have nothing to do with.

On the other hand it will however very probably affect how New Zealanders view American foreign policy. New Zealand strong supports the Arms Trade Treaty, which was introduced in an effort to contain the illicit arms trade that has killed millions of people in low intensity conflicts such as that which has been going on in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1994; Sudan and in particular Darfur since 2003; Nigeria for as long as oil has been a valuable commodity. All of these places and others are awash with small arms such as rocket propelled grenade launchers, machine guns, rifles and so forth.

America’s 2nd Amendment is hugely influential. No President of the United States dares to override it. So they tip toe around the end, with Mr Trump’s predecessor signing the A.T.T. in principle but not formally endorsing what it will stand for. No President dares to seriously sanction the N.R.A. or other like minded groups for their attempts at interference in other countries politics, as the N.R.A. tried to do a few years ago in Australia. Even laws that were commented on by commentators, but not seriously thought to be potential law making in progress are seized upon with fury by neo-conservative broadasters, who denounce them as immediately impending danger, when often they are still in draft phase.

What I really struggle with is the delusional idea that New Zealand is going to be sucked into a dictatorship and that the confiscation of guns is just the start. To suggest that the Police are coming for our freedoms is to completely not understand the New Zealand Police, who are for the most part doing a superb job reacting to the threats, informing us and dialling down the danger level when they think it is safe. It is this delusional crap spouted by supposed know alls (who I noted had a degree of intolerance for Muslims that has made this such a toxic debate, whilst also one that has only reinforced why I live in New Zealand.

But it really is the Congolese, the peoples whose lives in these countries and others with weak legal systems and guns sloshing backwards and forwards like water in an overflowing bath, that I feel the sorriest for. Those that have had their lives turned upside down by guns or been caught in the genocide of neighbouring Rwanda would be better off looking at nations that will help them build up their legal systems than maniacs who think bullets are a better form of justice. Maybe New Zealand can help there.

New Zealand transport policy still favours roads

Five days a week I drive 6km from my home to my work near Christchurch Airport. Each time I approach the Harewood Road State Highway 1 intersection I am reminded what a road loving nation we are. And two facts about New Zealand transport are undeniable:

  • There are too many cars on the roads with only one person driving them.
  • Too much freight goes by truck.

However getting people to get out of their cars and take more appropriate transport is proving difficult. For example car pooling is something that can only be done at community level. Because of that it might only be successful at community level and organized on social networking sites like Neighbourly.

In Christchurch the geography of the city, even post earthquake supports buses, and a crude bike wheel (ring and spoke) model would be best. A central exchange like the one that currently exists should have an inner bus ring (currently lacking), and an outer ring (currently serviced by the Orbiter bus which runs at 10 minute intervals during daylight hours. Spokes spaced at regularly intervals around the compass connect the ring routes. The Christchurch model is trying to reconcile with the post earthquake changes to the bus network.

What might work in Christchurch I accept will not work everywhere. This is why Wellington has a regular commuter train service out to Porirua, Upper and Lower Hutt, as well as Waikanae, and its inner suburbs. But whilst Wellington is lucky enough to have a good railway network its bus services seem to be in need of an overhaul, if the political debate in the lead up to the 2019 local government elections are anything to go by.

Trucking is an obvious mode of transport on New Zealand roads. The rental car company I work for knows this well as we often have long haul drivers coming in to pick or drop off cars. But also there are New Zealand roads where trucks simply should not be, because those roads immediate physical environment does not and will not in the future permit their safe transit – the roads around Kaikoura are one such example. And this is where I think the merchant marine might be useful. For non-urgent freight that simply does not need to be on the road, send it by ship might be more cost efficient. This model might also enable a ferry network to operate along the South Island’s east coast – a regular ferry from Lyttelton to Wellington did indeed used to operate.

In those same nine years, there was an opportunity to tighten up the road code and safety regime for buses. It was not taken and now we are having cowboy companies driving dungers or overseas companies with no knowledge or experience of our roads and road code. Fixing these will help to give people confidence in the bus networks again.

National M.P. for Rangitata Andrew Falloon in a sponsored Facebook advert was promoting a four lane highway from Christchurch to Ashburton. When I challenged him, he pointed out that National had subsidized Kiwi Rail by $250 million per annum. What Mr Falloon did not say was that National chose to back diesel locomotives from China instead of working with Hillside workshops in Dunedin and others who might have been able to design locomotives for New Zealand conditions. I had also in the past heard of drivers on lines in the North Island being concerned that the level crossing alarms were not working properly and having to approach level crossings on sections of the track where the speed limit was much higher than what they were doing. Mr Falloon might have to have a look at the state of the railways post-National.

The Leader of the National Party, Simon Bridges is claiming that National is environmentally responsible, yet he is promising to undo environmentally responsible things other parties have done. For example on one hand, yes, the Government has not properly thought through the oil and gas announcement. But here would have been a great opportunity for National to rip the rug from underneath them by announcing a nationwide biofuel programme that would:

  1. Create jobs in a sector not really understood
  2. Justify a suitably bigger investment in research to understand whether the N.Z. vehicle fleet is ready
  3. Show some environmental credentials by reducing the carbon emissions

The resistance to biofuels probably does not come from politicians so much as from petroleum companies, upset that their business model is no longer fit for purpose and trying desperately to stave off anything that end it. If a suitable blend can be developed the waste stream in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland might be able to sustain it.

I am however waiting, like much of New Zealand for substantive policy announcements on these issues by the Minister for Transport Phil Twyford. No timetable has been set, and maybe in that time, tired of a lack of direction New Zealanders might realize we need to own the problem.

New Zealand Police have the balance right

Over the last few weeks, I have become aware of concerns that the New Zealand Police are being too cautious and can afford to lower their guard. I have become aware that people believe they are hiding something and that we should be suspicious.

I do not claim to speak for the authorities by any means. Nor do I claim to be a blind sympathizer who thinks the authorities can do no wrong. The can, but no law enforcement agency ever ever wants to be caught off guard by undesirables in the way the Sri Lankan authorities were caught off guard. Whilst Sri Lanka is going to have an inquiry into how the authorities managed to not pick up on the warnings being provided, potentially lasting damage has been done by that glaring failure.

But no law enforcement agency worthy of being such wants to become a reactionary, society fearing force that starts urging all kinds of restrictive measures. It does not want to be like the French following the November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris where events started being cancelled on a whim, where a radically beefed up police force far out stayed its welcome as a protecting force. That is a danger that Sri Lankan authorities are in grave danger of enacting themselves. Their move to ban social media points to a panic that runs the risk of making the Sri Lankan public panic. Too much and the story of the boy who cried wolf becomes applicable, so that when there really is an emergency, no one listens.

It is a tight rope to walk, a judging act where the tight rope walker has a long way to fall if they make a mistake. Right now the Sri Lankan authorities have just fallen off the side marked “overly cautious”.

It is for these reasons I am so glad I live in New Zealand. Our Police make mistakes and they know it. Like in every Police force there will be a few rotten apples who do not deserve to be commissioned officers of the force and should be dealt to forthwith. But, and I cannot really stress this enough, they are accountable. They are accountable in ways the vast majority of police forces simply are not. Their rapport and honesty with New Zealanders is a comparative joy and we show this through simple gestures such as getting cops manning the lines on crime scenes coffee or helping out in public events – recently a police officer said what really made his day was being on cordon duty at a crime scene and a kid came up and gave him a hug.

New Zealand Police I am fairly confident do not want to bear arms longer than they need to and that they are acutely aware of the implications that go with having visible automatic weapons for too long. This is why the terrorism alert has been downgraded to medium – it is still higher than the designation we had on 14 March 2019, but it acknowledges that at this time there is no good reason for maintaining an alert level that is physically and psychologically draining as well as financially.

I am sure that the Police are making an honest effort to do as good a job as they can in the circumstances. Are they going to get it absolutely perfect? No. There will be mistakes, like the failure to arrest the guy blasting off hate speech near the Christchurch mosque. There will be times when we wonder whether they took public sentiment on board, such as around the Louise Nicholas case, where they have considerably improved, but still have room for improvement. But compared with their Sri Lankan authorities, the work currently being done by our Police force looks pretty damn good to me.

Lest we forget: A.N.Z.A.C. Day 2019

New Zealand graves at Polygon Wood, Belgium. R. GLENNIE

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon

My visit to Belgium last year had three aims. See some of its rich history, test drive some of their superb craft beer and chocolate and visit some of the more notable war graves and memorials to the madness that was World War 1.

Polygon Wood war cemetery was basking in sunshine when I visited it in September 2018. A beautiful clear autumn day in a peaceful wooded setting with nicely maintained grounds, a far sight from the horribly mangled place that it would have been at the end of 1918 with nary a tree in sight, shell holes half full of ground water with rotting human bodies, bits of uniform, guns, unexploded ordnance and other detritus. So toxic I imagine, that it would not have been fit for even the hardiest biological organism.

When I remember those famous words from Binyon this year and in years coming, I will also remember them for the German soldiers who were just following orders just like ours. I will remember them because those Germans probably no more wanted to be in the war than I suspect any of the others – looking for ways to legitimately “catch a blighty” (be wounded enough to be sent home)was common. With little or no understanding of the horrendous mental toll that living in trenches with inches deep mud, being shelled incessant whilst dreading the whistle that would send everyone over the top in far too many cases for the final time, those who had gone mad were dispatched by a gun shot.

I remember them because as Paul Ham, in his book Passchendaele: A requiem for a doomed youth makes clear, the disgruntlement with a stupid war where no progress seemed to be getting made, by the end of 1917, both the German and British civil populations loathed the war. A war where the youngest British soldier was just 13 and the oldest was 68; where the first British soldier to die, died just 200 metres from where the last British soldier died. The French had nearly mutinied after the blood bath at Verdun the previous year, causing their commanders to effectively withdraw the French military from the war for a year.

What is not so well known is what caused the Germans to suddenly surrender. It was rumoured that after more than a year effectively in dock, the German high seas fleet was finally ready to put to sea again. Except that there was a problem. When the fatal Battle of Jutland occurred in 1916, the German navy had not seen much action and there was some excitement about the prospect of finally fighting. Fast forward two very bloody years on the Western Front, a civil population sick of the huge losses, the nearly universal shortages of just about everything and no end in sight, the German navy had lost the will to fight. Mutiny set in at the naval bases and spread like wildfire. On 8 November 1918, the Kaiser abdicated. Three days later in a train carriage at Compiegne an Armistice was signed.

Nearly 100 years later I visited a museum at Zonnebeke where we could see a collection of defused shells and it was explained to us what their individual purpose was – each colour marking meant a different use. Some were gas shells that would explode and release poison gas. Some were made for piercing the concrete of bunkers and still more were made as incendiary or high explosive shells. The range of uses that were found was impressively depressing. German, British and French shells were all well represented among them.

As I wandered among the many graves – New Zealand, Canadian, Australian, French, German, British, Belgian, South African, Indian and those of others – I thought about where the consequences of World War 1 have taken us in the 100 years since. I thought about the social cost, the several quantum leaps our ability to kill each other has taken, and about how much (or how little) our politicians seem to have learnt from it. When they advocate for war, I think of the millions of young men sent to their deaths all for a war that history is by no means certain about the purpose of.

Those young men never had a voice, but my generation and future generations hopefully do. Binyon’s words are for them too. As a reminder.