Subject: Drug Driving Editorials 15 Dec 06
Each and every one of these editorials is deserving of LTE
"when ya pull on the threads of drug policy, it's the cloth of unintended
consequences your messing with" /Blair
(tx to Paula for assembling these....)http://www.stuff.co.nz/southlandtimes/3899978a6566.html
*Collaring the drugged driver*
15 December 2006
The headlines for the Government's latest road safety initiatives tended to
focus, reasonably enough, on the new offence of driving while impaired by
illegal drugs, writes The Southland Times in an editorial.
This immediately raised questions about why legal drugs were excluded, when
some contain serious warnings about not driving.
After all, if the driver of a car hurtling towards you and your family has
his reactions impaired by the chemicals in his system, you are not likely to
take any comfort at the time, or later, from assurances that the drugs were
legitimately taken. That won't change the medical consequences, or the
laws of physics regarding objects in motion. It won't change the level of
The criticism can be stretched only so far, however. In some respects the
Government has gone for a popular measure while pulling back from a more
difficult area. On balance, the initiative is open to the criticism that it
doesn't go far enough.
Even so, there's scant room here for those who take illegal drugs to argue
that they're being unfairly picked on. There is often good reason for the
illegal status of those drugs and that reason often has to do with the
extent to which they are not only harmful, but debilitating.
What's more, most people would strongly suspect that more illegal drugs than
legal ones are unprosecuted factors in crashes.
The Government says more people than realised are driving under the
influence of drugs.
The methodology of the new testing system, not yet fully determined, will be
interesting. Drivers suspected of driving while impaired will be required
to undergo a roadside test ? those little co-ordination and thinking
challenges that many a nervous but otherwise clean and sober citizen might
fail, particularly if they rely on the subjective assessment of the police
officer. Drivers deemed to have failed will then be required to give an
evidential blood test. Details, says Transport Safety Minister Harry
Duynhoven, are still being worked out, though he makes clear overseas models
provide useful reference.
The Government, every bit as much as the tested driver, should tread
carefully here. There's disconcerting scope for the announced system to
provide a good deal of work for lawyers.
What's missing from the initiative is any strong word on the use of
cellphones in cars. That's a shame. The case for banning hand-held ones is
compelling, though whether hands-free phones should be permitted is more
problematic. There's evidence that the mental distraction of conversing
with a distant figure is, itself, a real problem, though the satirists are
quick to add that such thinking could be extended to conversing with
back-seat passengers. One unassailably strong part of the new initiatives
is the extension of the demerit point system to include intersection
infringements, red-light cameras and seat belt offences.
A consultation process has returned a clear finding, says Transport Minister
Annette King, that demerit points are a more effective deterrent than fines.
The Government is also looking at tightening the demerit discomfort for
young drivers who are still on graduated licences. Good. Any avenue for
legitimately hitting the hooning driver in a meaningful, corrective way
should be taken up.
*Stronger traffic action needed*
15 December 2006
The proposed steps announced by Police Minister Annette King and Transport
Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven this week to overhaul road safety are a step
in the right direction, writes The Marlborough Express in an editorial.
Under the new measures motorists could risk losing their licences for
running red lights or not wearing seatbelts as demerit points are suggested
to replace fines for some offences. The Government says it is investigating
the greater use of demerit points to stop motorists, especially youths, from
continuing to drive while clocking up big fines.
This change could help to dispel public perceptions that police issue
tickets mainly as a revenue gathering exercise. Mrs King says the Government
does not want drivers writing out cheques but would rather they change their
The idea of replacing fines with demerits will only work if those who
continue to drive after they have lost their licences are dealt with
severely by the law. The type of driver who manages to collect enough
demerits to lose their licence will probably continue to drive regardless of
whether they have a licence or not.
Hitting offenders where it hurts, like confiscating their cars, might seem
like a drastic idea but will certainly make drivers think twice about
breaking the law.
Another proposed measure is roadside drug testing. Drivers who are stopped
because they are suspected of driving while impaired by illegal drugs will
be required to undergo a roadside test, followed by blood tests. If
evidence of illegal drugs is found, they will be prosecuted.
This is another positive step but some are calling for even stronger action.
Lower Hutt woman Rachael Ford, whose mother Mary Radley died after a
drugged driver slammed into the car she was driving near Koromiko in August
2004, is unhappy that the new measures focus on illegal drugs. She says
legal drugs, such as methadone and morphine tablets, are just as much a
problem as all the other illegal drugs.
One area where Government has not clamped down is on drivers who talk or txt
on cellphones while driving. An outright ban on drivers using hand-held
cellphones is already in force in 35 countries. Driving a car is an activity
that requires 100 percent concentration and anything that distracts a driver
can be extremely dangerous. Perhaps more deaths need to be attributed to
cellphone use before action will be taken on this issue.
Groups such as the Consumers Institute say road deaths are not falling at
the rate required to meet the Government's target of fewer than 300 roads
deaths by 2010. The institute has suggested 10 measures to lower the road
toll, ranging from reducing the drink-drive limit to raising the minimum
driving age to 16. The statistics are not good. So far this year 62 young
drivers aged between 15 and 19 have died on our roads, that's 16 percent of
the road toll.
Even 300 road deaths a year is still too many. Strong action is needed to
bring the road toll down to even less than that and hopefully the new
measures will go some way to achieving that.
*Winning on and off the road*
15 December 2006
This has been one of the busiest years in memory when it comes to news
stories about traffic control. That doesn't look like changing with the
release of a new bunch of policies detailing action against rogue drivers,
including more demerit points. Measures that lower the road toll must be
supported, particularly because it also will lead to fewer people who are
merely maimed and crippled in crashes, and who are left alive to suffer,
writes the Manawatu Standard in an editorial.
So congratulations to the police for the lower road toll figures. About 360
people have died so far this year with only a few days to go, whereas in
1973, when there were many fewer cars on the road, a horrifying 843 were
killed. It shows how much the police have achieved and how well drivers have
responded. You can't argue against methods that save lives, even if the
police haven't won any popularity contests out of it all.
However, public opinion is a tricky thing. The difference between winning
and losing public support can teeter on the thinnest of edges. Many men are
a little fragile when it comes to driving. They don't want drunks and
speeders on the road, but they also don't want to be bossed around by the
rules needed to control drunks and speeders. For many young men, car
driving is their only macho outlet.
So as the screws continue to tighten on drivers to behave on the roads,
there will be more outrage and claims that Nanny State controls are being
imposed and "freedoms" are being trampled on. Speed camera fines are the
most popular target because they combine the embarrassment of successfully
being stalked and caught with the sting of a big hit to the wallet.
The Standard has covered that topic in depth this year. We revealed that an
unhealthy approach to ticketing had emerged in some police stations, with
competitions on ticket numbers and expectations of ticket tallies among the
revelations. Hopefully that has changed.
A new approach appears to be emerging, with the plan to use demerit points
instead of fines as a punishment for road offences to avoid claims that
ticketing has a hidden revenue-gathering agenda.
The police deserve support as they hunt a lower road toll. But to get that
support we need to feel that they are going after drunk and dangerous
drivers, idiot drivers, boy racers all those who make the road dangerous for
ordinary people. What will weaken support is if pettiness intrudes:
slapping fines or demerit points on mums doing the school run whose wheels
didn't come to a complete halt at the stop sign being a good example.
*New ways to cut the road toll*
15 December 2006
The Government has set itself the hard target of cutting the road toll to
300 and road accident-related hospital admissions to 4500 by 2010 and it
isn't going to get there under the existing laws said the Nelson Mail in an
editorial on Friday.
If it is accepted that the goal is realistic - achieving it will mean
reaching pre-1960 fatality levels - more must be done to change driver
behaviour. As the Consumers Institute has pointed out, based on current
figures the road toll will need to fall by 7 percent a year until 2010. The
improvement, while remarkable, is running at about half that. Hence the new
package of measures announced this week in a road safety policy statement.
Transport Minister Annette King and Transport Safety Minister Harry
Duynhoven did not provide much detail, but did announce changes that, once
developed and implemented, will have a significant effect on policing.
Among them is a new offence, driving while impaired by illegal drugs, that
will bring in roadside drug testing as a standard policing method, and will
be accompanied by penalties mirroring those meted out to drinking drivers.
This is a logical reaction to the proliferation of recreational drug use
and will help to close a loophole that has been open for too long.
The flagged greater use of the demerit point system is both an
acknowledgment of the deep public distaste for what is almost universally
regarded as revenue-gathering for minor offences, and a pragmatic solution
to the problem of unpaid fines. Mrs King has recognised the unpopularity of
the current regime by saying that the Government "does not want drivers
writing out cheques, but we want drivers changing their behaviour".
The change in policy also addresses the contemptuous attitude that some
young drivers have towards fines, leading to the accumulation and then
cancellation of massive tallies. A greater use of demerit points will see
this group faced with loss of licence much more quickly than the present
system allows and might also cause older drivers to take greater care.
Nobody likes paying fines but the risk of being forced off the road for six
months also tends to concentrate drivers' minds - compulsory
disqualification is a big part of the improvement in the drink-driving
A third change, reducing the speed tolerance near schools from 55kmh to
54kmh does not look like much. However, there are studies to show that even
such small adjustments do lead to an overall improvement in the accident
rate, and some allowance must continue to be made for variations in
speedometer accuracy. The key, as with all the measures mentioned, is in
getting out the message that there will be greater vigilance.
Those who complain about the increasing effort being put into improving road
safety should remember two things. First, road accidents take a terrible
toll on New Zealand families though death and injury and also place a heavy
burden on the health service. Second, there is plenty of evidence that, in
spite of a growing population and a burgeoning vehicle fleet, the toll can
be brought down.
In the early 1970s fatalities passed 800 a year and that figure was reached
again in the mid-1980s. Since then there has been a steady downward trend.
Last year's total was 405, this year's will be lower still. The target of
300 is demanding but worth aiming for. Ask anyone who has lost a near
relative or close friend or seen a life ruined because of a road accident.
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