Maria Lovelock from Road Safety Education Limited (RSE) talked on Breakfast on TVNZ – the highest-rating breakfast TV show in New Zealand – recently. Maria talked about the Road to Zero goal, adding that the country is “moving in the right direction” but more work needs to be done to get there.

Maria added that 18,500 students have been participating in the RYDA Road Safety program this year in New Zealand and when they do this, they’re learning how to avoid a car crash by the decisions they make.

Here are some excerpts from the interview with Maria on Breakfast on TVNZ:

Anna Burns-Francis: Welcome back to Breakfast. Well, we almost got through the Easter break without any road deaths, but sadly, in the past few minutes, police have confirmed a man has died following a crash on Good Friday. Maria Lovelock from Road Safety Education joins us now. Good morning, Maria. Any death is terrible, particularly over these holiday road periods and we thought we got through to zero deaths this Easter holiday. How does even one death compare to where we’ve been over the past few years?

Maria Lovelock: I think it’s definitely a move in the right direction. It was pretty astounding when we thought we’d got to zero this weekend and my heart goes out to the family of the motorcyclist who died on Friday. But it’s definitely an improvement from last year. I think it was five last year and seven the year before. So it’s definitely a move in the right direction.

Anna: We are on this Road to Zero plan. Is it realistic to expect that we’ll ever get to zero across a year or is this something we should only be looking at for holiday periods?

Maria: Look, I think it is possible. I really believe that if the system is working, it is. We have our RYDA Programme running throughout New Zealand. We’ve educated about 18,500 students throughout New Zealand through our programme this year. What we teach them is that they didn’t make the statistics that they’re walking into when it comes to the road trauma statistics that we see. We let them know it’s in their power to change it.

A lot of what we talk to them about is that most crashes come from a series of decisions. A lot of the time, people are just driving tired, they’re not putting their seat belts on, they may be distracted or impaired in some way. And so there’s absolutely hope that people can make better decisions and through education and set themselves up for success.

Anna: Maria, when we talk about all those things that lead to a crash, do we also see that a series of circumstances mean that we have a lower road toll some years? I know that a lot of roads were damaged or had roadworks this year, so if you were trying to get up north, it took three hours. You weren’t able to go at a 100 kms per hour or even 80. Or is it bad weather? Were there fewer cars on the road this year? Are there any of those sorts of factors that came into play this year?

Maria: Yes, I absolutely think so. I think it’s like I said – it’s a system approach. People like to try and find the one silver bullet that’s going to fix everything but we really need to provide a safe system, so having lower speeds definitely reduces the severe outcomes that we see. Due to Cyclone Gabrielle and events like that, we have a lot of roadworks going on. So that would’ve had a part to play. But I also think people may have made better decisions. We had a bit of a warning that it was going be a wet, horrible weekend. And so maybe people took that into account when they drove and wore their setback belts and weren’t tired and planned their trip. Maybe they had a bit more patience and didn’t take as many risks as well.

Anna: Being a motorcycle rider, particularly around Auckland, I think is a pretty bold move and can be sometimes quite a dangerous experience because car drivers are perhaps not the most alert around people on two wheels necessarily. Do we see that the road toll is perhaps impacted by the fact that we have safer cars than we did 20 or 30 years ago? Roads are safer, medical technology is better – so that if you are in a crash, you are more able to survive it. Those things also come into play if we’re looking at this long-term trend.

Maria: Oh, 100%. Like I said, it’s a safe system that we need. The pillars of the safe system are roads and roadsides, safer cars, speed. But I also think we need to remember that road users are part of that. So whenever you look at any kind of media comment, you’ll get people who’ll say: “Well, it’s not the speed, it’s the driver.” And I do feel that we could invest more into education in New Zealand around road safety. I mean I know that’s sort of where I come from but for a cost of a roundabout we could pretty much educate every high school student in Year 12.

Anna: What’s the cost of a roundabout?

Maria: Well, it’s $3.2 million. We could get our program out to every Year 12 student if we had that sort of funding. So I think it would be a good investment. I think it’s an affordable investment to put more into this space and it shouldn’t be a ‘this’ or ‘that’ kind of conversation. Often we say, we need to spend more on infrastructure, therefore we need to spend less on this. I think there should be more of everything in the system to get it to work properly.

Anna: You talk about road safety education and I do see less ads about road safety – or do I see less messaging around road safety because we’ve got closer to that target? It seems to have fallen off the back burner a bit?

Maria: I think we need more in education, not necessarily advertising. I think although they both go hand in hand – education is more of the poor cousin of the safe system at the moment. I would really like to see more investment in it because I think you do get really good bang for your buck.

Anna: Do you mean practical driver training or is this a class or a course that you could do perhaps online?

Maria: I think both. I mean, I think we need to have people who are learning to drive with experts and enable people to learn to drive. And there’s some great programs out there doing that. But also, I think we are not just talking about drivers here, like with our program, we target passenger behavior. We target speaking up when you’re feeling unsafe.

Anna: Passenger behaviour – the old back seat driver, Maria. I’m not sure anyone wants to hear about that!

Maria: It’s also about some of the crashes we’ve had – like the one we saw in Timberoo a few years ago with those young people who were involved in the crash. Did they ever feel enabled enough to speak up when they’re scared? We talk to our young people about what they can do if you’re in a situation where maybe the driver is speeding. How confident are you to speak up in that situation and ask them to slow down?

That can be really hard when you’re a young person and it’s someone you look up to. So that’s some of the stuff that we go through within our program. And I think it covers both the drivers and the passengers – and all road users really.

Anna: Wise advice from Maria Lovelock from Road Safety Education. Thank you very much for your time this morning.

Maria: Thank you.

For more information about the RYDA Road Safety program, visit Road Safety Education here in New Zealand and here in Austalia.