Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stop, But Go!

While it seems on the face of it that the New South Wales government has done motorists a favour with the announcement of the overhaul of the demerits points system, there is also a strangely mixed message attached. On the one hand, the government has over the years increased the penalties for a variety of offences, increased enforcement measures such as introducing more speed cameras, and increased the impact of penalties at certain times with the imposition of double demerits for public holiday weekends. On the other hand, they now appear to be admitting that they have been too harsh on motorists and to make up for it have decided to become more lenient with yesterday’s changes to demerit points. When you stop and think about it, doesn’t that seem to be something of a contradiction? It’s as if the government is saying “stop, but go” at the same time.

Of course, drivers who feel that the penalties have become too draconian will no doubt feel some relief at these changes, but surely there is a risk that we will all miss the point. While we might feel a bit more relaxed about all those new speed cameras now that we are going to see them clearly marked, aren’t we forgetting that ultimately the responsibility for road safety is in our hands? The most important factor is driver attitude, and the onus upon us all to drive in a manner suitable for the road conditions, whatever they might be, at all times. And while we are all feeling more grateful to the government for letting us off the hook a bit more often, aren’t we forgetting that it is that same government who is responsible for under-funding road infrastructure? Not to mention, for creating an increasingly complex road environment with apparently arbitrary and constantly changing speed limits which leave drivers frustrated and confused?

If the New South Wales government was serious about road safety they would invest more into road infrastructure, driver training, and real police in highway patrol cars, instead of doing deals with merchant bankers to raise revenue from speed cameras. The problem is that relying on measures like speed cameras makes it too easy for the government to appear as if they are doing something, when really they doing nothing about the factors that actually matter. The change to demerit points, while easing the burden on mistake prone motorists to some degree, is really a bit of nonsense, because those who habitually break the road rules will always find themselves just one more infringement away from disaster no matter how many points they might be allowed to accrue, while those who genuinely and diligently try to avoid breaking any rules very rarely will.

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