I’m echoing sentiments expressed by Duncan Garner in the Dominion Post here when I say that the zero tolerance speed policy over the Christmas holiday period for NZ roads (then extended due to the higher road toll) was an astronomical failure. A simple way of the police topping up its revenue – it deserves all the rage of when speed cameras were first craftily installed all those years ago, particularly on the downhill and in the spots where the open road limit is about to reduce to 80km. Cruel. Nasty. And a simple way to clip the ticket. We should be ripping the tickets issued in half. It’s a nonsense.
Unlike Garner, who in talking about regularly breaking the speed limit and going up to 115km on his holiday drive with family was lucky and got away with it, I was not so fortunate. I was caught on Boxing Day going 117km. I was chased down by a cop on a bike. I pulled over. Was polite. Took my telling off and my ticket. Hey, I got caught – I sucked it up. I was also driving a modern car – I had my three year old son and six year old nephew in the back, safely secured. My wife beside me in the front. We had been chatting away merrily, we were coming off a passing lane on the motorway – going down a hill, the car gathering speed despite my foot on the break, easing off after flying by some nervous-nellies driving at 95.
I had spent most of the four hour journey – probably three and a half hours or more, driving at 100 or less. I was driving to the conditions. I haven’t had a ticket in 20 years. Twenty years ago I was a new driver, slightly excited by speed – and setting out on a first road trip with friends.
My wings were clipped by that ticket. I’ve observed the rules ever since. I’ve never had an accident – more importantly never caused one.
I don’t want to sound too indignant here, at the risk of hoping to make a point. I was over the speed limit and caught. I was in the wrong. I’ll pay my fine – and yes, of course, it’s a sour note on which to end a holiday. I was 17km over the limit. That’s far too much when there’s zero-tolerance but it’s the zero-tolerance that makes that sound so bad. There’s an unwritten rule that you can drive, on an open-road, particularly in passing lanes, at up to 120km. And okay, unwritten rules aren’t the real law. But what if our speed limit was lifted – as I feel it should be – to 110km. Then I’d be just 7km over. Absurd to be ticketed for 7km over, but sadly still a bust if we’re continuing with zero-tolerance.
Anyway, what has my $120 done to save lives? Twice as many people died this holiday road-toll as the year previous. Back when there wasn’t a draconian zero-tolerance policy. $120 – driving safely with the family, having a laugh, watching the road, actually that $120 was the highlight of the trip for my 6-year-old nephew. He saw the cop’s flashing lights following us and thought – for an instant, finally – that his life have crossed over into the video games he so enjoys. $120. That’s a lot of half-price cheeseburgers for the cops then. It’s not doing anything for the families of the 17 people who lost their lives around the time of the year when we’re meant to be thinking of family, possibly bickering with family – but at least living alongside them. At least living…
Perhaps I should be allowed to allocate where my $120 goes – you know like when you advocate for a charity, make a donation in someone else’s name. Let’s play this game for a second. I’d like to see my $120 go towards toughening the rules and restrictions for international drivers before they’re let loose on our roads. That would see the money going to some use – being of some service to the innocent people on the roads, many of them in recent years put at danger by tourists clueless to the hazards of New Zealand’s narrow, often unsafe roads.
We fine people $400 for bringing a piece of fruit through Customs. Then we let some bad apple loose on the road to possibly kill.
Could my $120 go towards the cost – a token gesture I know – of changing our road signs to 110km?
Then we’d have an open road speed limit as they do in Australia. I’ve recently returned from travelling in NSW. Their road toll was lower than hours. There was no hostility at all on the wide roads as we travelled south from Sydney to Jervis Bay. Even in the holiday traffic jam the drivers were relaxed, patient. No speeding. No dangerous driving. No issues – everyone driving to the conditions. Hardly saw a cop on the road the whole time I was there. They were probably busy – and in that country they no doubt had their hands full with this – busting the bad guys.
This originally appeared in similar form as a column in NZ Today.