by Kent Duston
I’ve had two near misses in less than a week.
On Tuesday morning, it was the woman in the 5 tonne truck with her employer’s 0800 number on the side who decided it was too much bother stopping at the pedestrian crossing … which was a pity, as I was walking across it at the time. But perhaps giving way was too distracting, given she was busy texting with the phone in her hand. I stepped back, and she waved at me as she sailed past.
Tonight it was the 4WD who was in too much of a hurry, clearly speeding, who decided he would nip in front of my wife and I as we crossed with the little green man. He was so close I could touch his 2.5 tonne vehicle – so I slapped the side of it to let him know he was pushing the limits. He screeched to a halt, leapt out and began abusing us like a deranged two year old.
In both cases, I was an unprotected pedestrian, crossing legally, facing down multi-tonne vehicles with irresponsible drivers. And where were the Police? Nowhere to be found.
Wellington is awash in red light runners, speedsters, people who can’t find the indicators, driving-whilst-texting jockeys and people who can’t be arsed strapping their kids into the child seats. In my 12 years of walking to work in Wellington, I’ve seen a litany of close calls, been nearly run down on pedestrian crossings half a dozen times a year, and seen absolutely no improvement in the arrogant yet incompetent driving habits of the locals.
But what I haven’t seen in that time is any enforcement. In that 12 year period, I’ve seen a Police presence on the route that I walk – down the Golden Mile – exactly three times … and on two occasions they were breathalysing for drunks at 8:30 in the morning. In comparison, a friend who lives in Upper Hutt tells me that he sees Police on SH2 practically every day of the working week. Clearly, getting to and from work safely is a priority for the Police – providing you’re driving a car, that is.
Last year I enquired with the Police to see if there was a Road Policing Plan for the Wellington CBD. My interest was triggered by the spike in pedestrian deaths and injuries since the changes to the Golden Mile, which now mean that the CBD has the highest death and injury rate per square kilometre of anywhere in the country, and for which the media, the Council and the transportation authorities – who should know better – exclusively blame on the victims.
When the Waikato suffered a spike in rural car crashes some years ago, a multi-agency Task Force was formed, strategies were concocted and a Road Policing Plan put in place, all aimed at bringing down the road toll. So I naively thought that the Police would take similar actions in Wellington. Which of course turned out to be wishful thinking; there is no such plan. I had forgotten that the Waikato crash victims were car drivers, not mere inconsequential pedestrians. Again, the Police want you to be safe on the road, but only if you’re in a car.
So to make a point, I recorded some video of rat-running parents disregarding the stop signs in Mt Victoria, sailing through the intersections without the slightest hint of a pause, presumably in a rush to get their precious darlings to school. I gave it to the Police, which triggered a visit from Senior Sergeant Richard Hocken in May last year, who explained in a very patient way that the Police were entirely unconcerned with the behaviour on the video. When pressed, he went on to explain that he was also unconcerned with the speeding buses and the red light running in the neighbourhood … but he was not impressed by the antics of cyclists.
True to his word, Senior Sergeant Hocken went on record to the Dominion Post in October last year tut-tutting over the behaviour of drivers running the red light at the newly-changed Wakefield/Taranaki intersection. But as far as anyone can tell, any actual enforcement wasn’t on the agenda – except, presumably, for the cyclists.
Of course the Police can’t be everywhere at once. (Although largely they seem to be on SH2.) It’s up to us as citizens to report the bad behaviour so the Police can take action, and recently I did just that. Another driver decided to run a stop sign in the neighbourhood – at some considerable speed – with the car coming the other way having to brake heavily to avoid a crash. The driver sped up the road, screeched to a halt and the reason for the road-rule-flouting urgency was instantly apparent – the pizza delivery was running late. Residents of Mt Victoria might want to think twice about ordering Pizza Hut if they want to stay safe on local streets.
So I went down to the Police station, filed a complaint, spent 45 minutes filling in the forms and making sure the details were correct. Some weeks later, I received notification that the driver had not been contacted, but had been sent a letter.
I bet he’s running scared now.
And in other news, a Judge in Hawke’s Bay recently told a young offender that if he stole a hat or a jacket or a cellphone again, he would be jailed for 14 years without parole. Perhaps the young miscreant should consider a life of offending from behind a steering wheel instead, where the worst he can expect is the occasional ineffectual letter from the authorities.
As a pedestrian, I’m increasingly tired of being called irresponsible (thanks, selected WCC councillors and the Dominion Post) and of being simply ignored as a road statistic. Given that I also pay taxes, I’d like some focus on keeping me safe on the roads, even if I’m not in a car at the time. In my view, Wellington’s CBD is well overdue for some systematic enforcement, so that next time some numpty in a truck decides to blast through a pedestrian crossing, an officer of the law is there to finger his collar. And who knows – maybe that old Police adage that enforcement is a key part of bringing down the road toll will turn out to be true for pedestrians as well.