13 August 2009

Driving distraction

I'm not surprised at the ban on using handheld mobile phones while driving.

It is politically popular with older drivers, and undoubtedly there are people who can't drive while talking on the phone.

Although I recall discussions with the then Land Transport Safety Authority a few years ago which confirmed that far more accidents at the time happened while people fiddled with the car stereo. Changing radio stations and fumbling about for CDs (and before that cassettes), was a bigger distraction because it involved a fairly short burst of activity and frustration.

There are other distractions while you drive. Talking to other passengers, controlling children, pretty girls on the side of the road as you drive by. All of these can contribute to a driver failing to take care.

However isn't THAT the issue? The philosophical belief that when people cause an accident, it isn't them to blame per se, but because they did something they shouldn't have. Why is it easier to produce a rule to ban something, than to focus on people who drive dangerously and cause an accident?

Is it because it is easier for the Police, who can treat talking on the cellphone as the reason to prosecute, rather than negligent driving?

Or is it because of ACC? ACC remember removes your civil liability from being to blame for causing personal injury by accident to anyone else (although not property damage). Indeed your ACC levies for owning a car (equivalent to accident insurance) don't vary if you have a good or bad driving record. So perhaps opening THAT up to competition, so bad drivers pay far more for accident insurance, and good ones pay less, might make a modest difference?

You see, I by and large don't give a damn if stupid people cause accidents damaging their car and themselves. The state has better things to do that protect people from themselves. I do care about such people taking me or others with them. That is where rights to drive should be removed and penalties imposed.

It would be simpler though, if roads were privately owned. Road owners wouldn't want accidents to be common. Accidents generate blockages and cause congestion, making it less attractive to use the roads. Accidents can damage road property or property of adjoining road owners, which could see the road owner liable for letting idiots use its property in a way that could reasonably endanger the neighbours. Other road users may feel the same way. So the incentives to have a safe road are quite high, much like airlines which know a bad safety record is devastating to revenue. Korean Air was aware of this in 1999 and made radical changes, because non-Koreans would deliberately avoid the airline due to safety concerns.

However, selling roads may be a step too far for this government - but changing the incentives around ACC, and encouraging the Police to do their job (enforce dangerous drivers not victimless offences) would help. Dangerous driving causing death, injury or damage should subject people to prosecution and removal of their driving licence for any period from 6 months to life. Dangerous driving recklessly endangering people or their property should mean fines commensurate to a disincentive to stop. Driving in a way that poses a slightly higher risk than otherwise (and is no different from other behaviours that are legal) shouldn't.

Otherwise, the next road safety initiative will be to ensure all good looking women (and men) dress to cover themselves up when they walk adjacent to any road.

1 comment:

Rick said...

Thanks Scott. Needed to hear that right then.