Road to Zero can succeed through education

(Image from National Safety Council Website)

Jason Heale
Auckland, March 30, 2022

$15,000 per second. $900,000 for 1 minute of footage.

That is the cost of “Safe Limits” an advertisement from Waka Kotahi as part of their “Road to Zero” campaign.

Maybe you have not heard of it. The campaign flew under the radar when it was launched in 2019. But a new advertisement is stirring up some interest… mainly because it does not do much to either educate people on what the program is, or what they are trying to do.

In some sense, the advertisement is a performance. Why? Some say traffic advertisements do not impact the target market. Others insist that their effectiveness is very hard to measure.

High fatality rates

You would think this might give public agencies second thoughts about using such means to achieve a target that, while highly desirable, is also very far from where we are now.

Pandemic notwithstanding, 319 people died on New Zealand roads last year, a figure the Automobile Association says is “far too high.”

So why the drama, and tax-payer funded expense of the advertisements?

One answer to that question is that our world is has become so saturated with images and displays, that they have overtaken real life.

French thinker Guy Debord predicted this in 1967 In his book ‘Society of The Spectacle’, “All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”

Debord insisted that this created an impoverished life. Indeed, images make everything seem simple. Rather than the complexities of flesh and blood, rather than looking at people as people, we simply see a task: no deaths or serious injuries on our roads.

What an admirable goal.

Jason Heale

Some reflections

But on reflection, is it even possible? Can we really have no road deaths? Most of us certainly do not want people to die, or even be injured on our roads. Yet our country is not set up to function without self-propelled vehicles. Moreover, we cannot remove all risks from certain activities. There are humans involved, so mistakes will be made.

Were cars replaced by, say horses, there would doubtless be horse fatalities. Okay, there might be fewer of them, but our economy would also grind to a halt. If you think we’ve got supply chain issues now, imagine equine-supplied supermarket shelves.

Unfortunately, this sort of extreme goal, which will doubtless go unfulfilled, can also erode trust in Government. Unrealistic targets that fail to materialise only produce disappointment and disconnection. Does anyone remember KiwiBuild?

No. Let us turn away from the society of the spectacle. In the case of our ‘far too high’ road toll, let us follow the advice of racing legend and road safety campaigner Greg Murphy.

He suggests that putting the $2.4 million spent on the campaign so far (yes, that is the real cost of the advertisement plus the airtime) into educating our drivers.

Good idea. Let us put the time, effort, and resources into face-to-face embodied interactions with other flesh and blood people. That might be more effective than blasting expensive advertisements over the airwaves and adding to spectacles that simplify everything but change nothing.

Jason Heale Is Communications Consultant at Maxim Institute based In Auckland.

Our Staff Reporter adds:

Background to Zero

Transport Minister Michael Wood and Police Minister Poto Williams launched the ‘Road to Zero’ public awareness campaign on February 23, 2022, setting a target of zero road deaths and serious injuries by 2050, and a 40% reduction by 2030.

“There should be zero tolerance for people being killed or seriously injured on our roads. The Road to Zero strategy is part of our plan to build the safest road system we can, and work towards zero road deaths and serious injuries,” Mr Wood said.

He said that the government is aiming for significant reductions in a relatively short time, targeting all aspects of the transport system to get there.

“We are investing in safer infrastructure, working to get more people into safer vehicles, rolling out safer speed limits, and refocusing on targeted and effective Police enforcement. Road to Zero is not about any single initiative but about how we develop an overall safer system. It is important for people to know that a large reduction in road deaths and serious injuries is achievable – the measures that are being introduced are internationally proven and have reduced deaths and serious injuries when systematically rolled out,” he said.

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