by Tommy Parker, Group Manager Highways, NZTA
Tragically, Road safety and road crashes always seem to be at fore of the media during the holiday months. Working for the NZ Transport Agency, the agency responsible for championing road safety, it is always distressing to see and hear about these often avoidable events.
So we have returned to work more determined than ever to make a difference and to continue to improve our road safety record. 2016 must be the year when we make a step change and a return to a declining trend.
One of my first engagements this year was to attend a Health and Safety breakfast at Higgins, our contractor for the Eastern Bay of Plenty NOC. The site crews discussed the crashes that had occurred on their network over the Christmas period – with three serious crashes resulting in two fatalities, it was a pretty sombre discussion.
One thing that came home to me was how close our maintenance crew are to these incidents. They are often the first on the scene and have to help the victims and their distressed families. I was impressed at how calmly and responsibly they talked about these situations.
Our Highways and Network Operations team’s major contribution towards the Government’s Safer Journeys strategy is the roll out of our safe roads and roadsides programme to reduce the likelihood of crashes occurring.
Last year, we established the Safe Roads Alliance as a conduit to accelerate this work. The Safety Alliance is tasked with delivering safety initiatives on high risk rural roads and high risk intersections on a significant number of state highway corridors throughout New Zealand.
Recently, I took the opportunity to hear how the team is progressing. It is a sizeable undertaking, but it was clear to me that they are getting a good handle on the task and good progress is being made in developing a forward works programme.
In fact, the Alliance has just had the first of its projects approved as I write, with seal widening and the installation of full length side barriers along a 1.6 kilometre section of State Highway 11 near Paihia due to get underway this year. A second project to make improvements to a section of State Highway 12, between Dargaville to Tokatoka in Northland, is also likely to get underway this year.
One of the major challenges facing the Alliance, and our safety engineers in general, is the difficult task of balancing the need to improve safety against the impact that our safety improvements have on our users and on our network management.
A classic example would be the installation of median barriers. Our analysis indicates that once traffic volumes exceed around 6000 vehicles per day, the incidence of head-on casualties begins to outstrip the rate of run-off-road crashes.
The effectiveness of median barriers in reducing head-on crashes has been well documented internationally and here in New Zealand, with successful installations such as Centennial Highway north of Wellington and Rangiriri in the Waikato. The flip side of this is by installing median barriers, we limit road users in their opportunities to make right turns off the state highway. Furthermore, the installation of barriers and safety hardware has an impact on the maintenance and management activities on the highway, and these need to be considered as well.
We have a conundrum in weighing up road safety, cost and customer accessibility and to get improved outcomes, we may need to accept different levels of service.
Targeting road safety improvements relies on good quality data. While crash data helps to locate and develop reactive safety improvements, we are working to be proactive and this is where KiwiRAP comes into its own.
Under KiwiRAP, our state highways are given a star rating, based on an evaluation of the road’s design elements. We use KiwiRAP ratings as part of our suite of decision-making tools when it comes to assessing risk and making decisions on road improvements, crash protection and standards of road management. Not only will this assist us to develop treatments, it will allow before and after evaluation of the effectiveness of these treatments, without the need to wait up to five years for a suitable crash history to develop.
This year, we are updating the KiwRAP star rating data for new highways and those sections which are to be improved by the Safety Alliance. To date the current KiwiRAP analysis has been limited to rural state highways. We are extending this to urban areas with KiwiRAP trials in Auckland, Tauranga, Christchurch and Dunedin. The risk maps have been produced for each area and we are now looking to develop a star rating tool for an urban environment. These will also help inform future speed management activities and speed limits.
Another recent road safety initiative is based in the Coromandel, where we’ve worked with the Motorcycle Safety Advisory Council and ACC to install additional safety rails along the popular motorcycle route known as the Coromandel Loop. These rails redirect a motorcyclist along the barrier and away from any unforgiving barrier posts.
Of course, road safety is something that everyone has responsibility for. This has been a strong focus in house of late – many of you are likely to be aware of the release of travel speed information recorded by GPS units fitted to Transport Agency’s corporate fleet back in August.
This data was again released this month – with the number of recorded speeding instances dropping dramatically, from over 21,000 instances of people travelling over 100 km/hr in July to 94 in December last year.
As an employer, we’ve worked hard to make sure our people understand our expectations in this area and provide the right environment for people to make the right decisions and to keep themselves and other road users safe.
This has brought home to me how we, as individuals within the transport sector, all have an impact on New Zealand’s road safety outcomes. It’s our responsibility to ensure we are all making a positive contribution, personally as well as professionally, so we have fewer crashes on our roads.