by Kent Duston
Kiwis are terrible drivers. Over the holidays, the news has been full of the consequences of our bad driving habits as the dead and maimed piled up across the country. Largely these victims were the consequences of basic driving errors – speeding, badly-judged overtaking moves, hit-and-run crashes, drinking and driving, and failing to put on a seat belt. We kill ourselves on the road at more than twice the rate of the UK and rank as one of the worst performers for road deaths in the OECD.
And we’re no better around Wellington’s narrow streets, which is why the much-maligned “spy car” is such an essential tool. In the Wellington region, road deaths and injuries rose 10% last year, bucking the national trend.
Bad driving isn’t limited to the open road. A casual walk around the CBD reveals the drivers who think that they can double-park at will, leave their vans on the footpath because they’re “just ducking inside to pick up an item”, can’t be bothered walking from the car parks across the road so stop on the median strip, or think that sitting on broken yellow lines with the hazard lights flashing is an acceptable alternative to paying $4 for an hour’s parking.
The top photograph tells a typical story. The truck was parked on yellow lines and the footpath in Tory Street on Saturday afternoon, and I watched the driver and his mate walk into the store on the corner, emerging a few minutes later having bought drinks and pies and a packet of smokes.
A few hours later in Miramar, the 4WD driver zoomed across the intersection, parked on the footpath – and yes, those are empty car parks directly in front of him and around the corner – following the siren call of a purchase at the dairy.
In both cases this is terrible driving. There was no compelling emergency, just arrogance and bad behaviour behind the wheel. Yet had the spy car been present, both drivers would undoubtedly have claimed they were being “persecuted” and that the Council was only interested in revenue raising.
Wellington motorists have it remarkably easy. The city is over-supplied for both on-street and off-street parking – we have more car parks per capita than Los Angeles, the world capital of motoring – and the cost of metered parking hasn’t changed in eight years. Accounting for inflation, the cost of parking a car on the street has fallen by 23% since 2004, when the Council last raised the charges. So there’s really no excuse for illegally parking in the capital.
Motorists who feel like they’ve had a rough ride from the Council’s spy car have been quick to criticize the Council in the media and claim extenuating circumstances for why they were parked on yellow lines, double parked or blocking footpaths. But in essence, all these excuses boil down to the same thing: “I know what the road rules are, but I don’t think they should apply to me” – just like the drivers in the photographs. Sadly, it’s exactly this attitude that causes people to speed, to use their cellphones whilst driving and to not put on their seat belts – with the predictably devastating results we saw over the holidays.
We teach children that the small things matter, and that it’s important to start as you mean to go on. The same principles apply to drivers as well. Perhaps if Wellingtonians were a bit more observant of the basic road rules – like parking restrictions – it would pay dividends in the number of people killed on the roads, because they’d be less inclined to play fast and loose with with the rules aimed at keeping people alive. And then the spy car could be gracefully retired through lack of use.
So if you’re keen on avoiding the attentions of the spy car, all you have to do is follow the road rules. It’s not hard, and it may even build a habit that saves a life.
Kent Duston is a past-President of the Mt Victoria Residents Association who thinks that cars belong on the roads, not the footpaths.
Council to review spy car policies