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Death of an Enemy - LTSA Scrapped

Just before Christmas 2004, the New Zealand Land Transport Safety Authority was disbanded by the Government and its functions distributed between the Ministry of Transport and a new agency, Land Transport New Zealand.

LTSA was from inception and from top down incompetent and clueless.  It presided over a long succession of public and private fiascos including these public ones:

  • promoted "lifetime drivers licence" then abolished it,
  • never-implemented organ donor database, 
  • massive relicencing queuing and system overload,
  • failure and abandonment of "hidden camera trial",
  • total failure of "speed kills" campaigns,
  • change of ownership database corrupted by malicious entries,
  • failed to manage safety recalls of second-hand imports,
  • continual erosion of civil liberties, including use of driving licences as photo id cards, random police checkpoints and automatic loss of licence for an accumulation of trivial infringements.

Its public statements consistently and grossly misrepresented the truth in support of political objectives and manipulation of public opinion.  In my professional contact with it, it was the most clueless Government agency I have ever encountered excepting only WINZ under Christine Rankine.  But before we dance on LTSA's unlamented grave, let's find out whether like Hercules and the Hydra we have cut off one head just to face two new ones.


30th January 2005

Hon. Harry Duynhoven
Associate Minister of Transport
Parliament Buildings

Dear Harry

Increasing Road Injury Trend

Thank-you for your letter of 26 January 2005 in response to my correspondence with Hon Ruth Dyson regarding the increasing road injury trend.

I have separately sent you OIA requests regarding the most recent data and policy treatment of this issue and will not repeat those queries here. Simply, it is extraordinary and unacceptable that this costly key performance variable of road safety policy has been totally ignored to date and remains officially both unacknowledged and unexplained. That will remain yet another historic grave indictment of the LTSA.

Regarding the outcome of the Transport Sector Review, I have more concerns than confidence that matters may now improve. I have not seen any adequate recognition that land transport management must produce continuing measurable improvements in at least all of these qualities to serve New Zealand road users:

• Speed
• Safety
• Cost
• Flexibility

Furthermore, it must cater for different needs. One size does not fit all. There are important differences in road users. Trying to ignore or suppress those differences was a major failing of LTSA policies.

I welcome the intent to extend road skid resistance testing. This comes thirty years after it was convincingly proven vital by JJ Leeming in the UK but late is better than never. This is the best of the new policies I have seen. The testing must be independent from the providers and results published promptly and publicly on the internet.

I have no confidence that the proposed speed zoning will be anything but harmful. Yes, there are many roads where 100 km/h would be excessive over some segments, but that is a false bogey. There is far more difference in driver capabilities and conditions on those roads than can be encapsulated in a bureaucrat-determined speed limit. I drove for 10 years to the end of one of the most dangerous (to tourists) roads in New Zealand – Bland Bay on Old Russell Road. It was a journey that would take a visitor 75 minutes but that locals could drive perfectly safely in about half that time. Your speed zoning will simply produce more frustration, more speeding tickets and more crashes.

I draw your attention to the work of Hans Monderman (http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/01/21/news/profile.html) which is increasingly seen in Europe as the most effective way to manage difficult road problems and reduce conflicts, casualties and costs. His solution effectively is to allow road users to solve their own problems dynamically which they do far more effectively and flexibly than when confused by bureaucratic controls and instructions.

For just one example of counterproductive excessive bureaucratic interventions I point you to the current LTSA lane policy which paints cars into the centre of the road by creating wide left-hand shoulders. The intent is to slow traffic by making the road appear narrower. The consequence is more head-on fatal crashes.

That “Speed Kills” is nonsense is demonstrated in that motorways are everywhere the fastest and safest roadways. Wasting absurd sums on the highway patrol speed enforcement that should be spent on upgrading SH1 to a four lane divided highway throughout the North Island is totally misguided. Equally wasteful is the huge money being spent on creating passing lanes. Instead, a relatively small amount extra would upgrade that section immediately to four lanes and progress towards what should be the minimum standard. Under the present regime we pay dearly for a third-rate solution and the proper target remains as far off and costly as ever.

We also need to involve private sector enterprise in toll roads and lanes to provide flexibility and competition. It must be given freedom to experiment and innovate.

Finally, bureaucratic proclamations about safety must be testable. It should be a defence to any prosecution under a regulation intended to promote safety, to show that your actions were safe in the circumstances. We cannot blindly presume that bureaucrats are infallible. Much of what they claim is inapplicable or plain wrong. Motorists like all other New Zealanders are entitled to be able to defend themselves in court and not have an automatic presumption of guilt. That is simple justice and long overdue. It will also force the bureaucracy to take real safety measures rather than those which are fashionable or politically popular.

Thank-you for your interest. I will publish your reply on our website (www.fastandsafe.org).

Yours sincerely

Alan Wilkinson