The last week has seen quite a bit of media coverage on road deaths. Among the commentary, the pro-rail brigade has seen an opportunity to use tragic road deaths as an excuse to push their barrows. It’s bad taste and shows their desperation. The problem with ideology is that it often lacks an argument.
There is a tendency for people in our industry to react quite strongly to these types of articles and think that they significantly influence public opinion. They do not. Not only have we surveyed the public about their views of truck drivers and what they do for the economy, we monitor the entire sentiment towards road transport across the media (not just one or two stories). Our industry is getting a good run at the moment and people feel very positively about truck drivers. It’s important to remember that your employees have strong appreciation and respect from the public.
People also like rail; there is no doubting that. Transporting New Zealand seeks to balance the strongly held ideology around rail in much of its public commentary (and we do a lot of that). Rail just can’t deliver most of the freight New Zealand requires it to. We do support the network being improved, however; after all, road transport operators are its biggest customers!
We have also sought to build an evidence-based case against more rail investment. Rail carries under 6 per cent of New Zealand’s freight. Despite the billions of dollars sunk into KiwiRail by this Government, including allowing rail to raid the National Land Transport Fund, it isn’t going to shift that share of freight movement very much at all.
Sometimes the attacks on road transport centre around selective use of data. We like to set things straight with the media and the Government. Here’s an example. Since 2009, there have been on average two deaths in truck crashes per 100 million kilometres travelled. Yet even government departments try and make that sound worse than it is. In 1989, we peaked at seven deaths per 100 million kilometres travelled. Since then, the figure has fluctuated, but since 2009 it has remained around two. And that is despite greatly increased traffic volumes nationwide.
There is no doubt our industry has to work to bring the number of accidents, deaths, and serious injuries down even further. The aim should be to reach Australia’s level or below. However, the industry cannot do that alone. We know that most fatal accidents involving trucks are caused by other vehicles. We have written to Transport Minister Michael Wood to resource a Truck Safe Week in the same way the Government supports Rail Safe Week. We would be happy to help develop resources and to use them throughout the year.
It’s obvious that more awareness needs to be built around trucks on the road and that the perspective of a person driving a truck needs to be better understood by other road users. Trucks can’t stop quickly and the consequences of hitting them are much more serious.
- Nick Leggett is chief executive of Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand.