Over 1 million speeding fines were issued to New Zealand last year, equating to $80 Million worth of fines. A four year study conducted by the AA last year, collecting responses from 36,000 members reported that drivers believed that 115km/h would be an acceptable speed for driving on median-separated roads and 60% reported exceeding 110km/h when overtaking. The maximum allowed speed on these roads is 100km/h.
In general members supported speeding tickets including a 4% tolerance during holiday periods, but 38% believed revenue rather than safety concerns was the motivation behind this summer's "Zero Tolerance" campaign.
Another study conducted by the Ministry of Transport found that half the cars in 50km/h areas exceeded the speed limit and two-thirds recalled driving when they were not sure of the speed limit.
The study concluded that New Zealand drivers were perfectly reasonable people trying to drive safely and sensibly, with clear expectations informed by years of experience. However, a third of the respondents didn't know how to use ABS brakes, half didn't know to deal with aquaplaning and two-thirds didn't know how to recover from fishtailing when towing a trailer.
Whilst members could spot very risky or safe roads, they had a lot more difficulty distinguishing borderline risky roads such as ones with steep ditches and power poles near to the road edge.
What this research shows is that most drivers believe it's safe to speed when they perceive the roads are safe, but are actually oblivious to many risks they actually run and because they have never experienced a serious crash and don't believe they will have one. They think they are safe drivers and adopt the "It's not going to happen to me" syndrome.
Quite simply too many New Zealand drivers ignore speed limits and this is the main reason why we continue to have high death rates on our roads. Speed makes crashes worse and the only way to reduce this is for drivers to slow down and obey the limits, but how can this be achieved?
Reducing the speed limits might work, but motorists will probably continue to speed because they believe they know the route and the risks. Broadcasting car accidents on TV has a limited effect because watchers can't relate it to themselves, so perhaps an Octolus Rift 3D car simulator where people can immerse themselves in an accident might be the answer, but we don't know how this might affect people psychologically?
Increasing speeding fines, putting up additional signage and introducing road calming measures will have a limited effect, because this doesn't change perceptions of risk.
Perhaps another way to encourage safer driving is get vehicle owners to place a picture of their loved ones on both sides of the car's sun visor with a hand written note which could read "We love you Daddy, drive safe and come home tonight", as emotive messages like this are known to be very powerful!
Significant reductions in fatalities and serious accidents on New Zealand's roads will only materialize when people believe that "It can happen to them" allow extra time when conditions change and adjust their driving accordingly.
Lou Tice founder of the Pacific Institute once said "All meaningful and lasting change starts on the inside and works its way out", which means that drivers will "want to" change their habits before any change will take effect.
Perhaps we need to take lyrics from Paul Simon's song 59th Bridge Street rearrange them slightly and sing them whilst driving
Slow down your going too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just driving down the winding roads
Can be fun but also deadly
I'd be interested to hear your views of how we can change people's perceptions of road risk, to get them to stick to the speed limits and genuinely drive safer?