Tolerable Road Deaths?

Zero is Vaingloriously Stupid

We have long been uncomfortable with the paradigm the New Zealand police bring to road deaths. It has all the hallmarks of being excessively bureaucratic and utopian. “Goody two-shoes” on steroids.

Over Easter, five people died in road accidents. This low number was attributed to enhanced policing presence and activity. More cops and cameras out on roads. But the police gravely tell us that five is still too high. Which begs the question: what is the “right” number of deaths on the road in a weekend? What would be tolerable? What would be “about right”? Paula Rose, boss of the national traffic policing division has a ready answer. Zero. The police apparently will not rest or believe their job is properly done until no-one dies on New Zealand roads.

This is hyperbolic, utopian nonsense. Bear in mind that policing the roads necessarily commits the police to “preventative policing”. They are enforcing rules and regulations in an effort to prevent deaths occurring on the roads. Breaching the rules does not mean one commits a criminal act. It means that one is guilty of breaching a regulation intended to prevent a possible accident.

Compare this to murder. In 2010, there were 97 murders in New Zealand. Too many, or about right? Well, we could have two approaches to this. One would be to use the bureaucratic, utopian model, the preventive policing model that is applied to road fatalities and injuries. Using this model, we would affirm that 97 murders is “way too many” and that the police would be satisfied only when there were zero murders in the community.

To achieve this would require promulgating a raft of preventative rules and regulations: restrictions and directions upon the human social activities and commercial activities where murders predominantly occur. Curfews, permits, permissions, mandatory security guard presence–these and a hundred other rules and regulations governing our behaviour would need to be promulgated. Then, when isolated, murder “hot-spots” would require a greatly enhanced police presence to ensure that the preventative regulations were adhered to, so that eventually all murders would be prevented. The drive to achieve the utopian goal of zero murders in New Zealand would, if allowed to run its course, eventually require a police presence in just about every pub and bar, social gathering, work place, and residential dwelling in the country.

The second approach to murder–which is the current model–would be reactive policing. It is a sad but true fact of life in a fallen world that homicide exists. The reactive policing model endeavours to track the murderer down, convict him in a court of law, and punish him. Successful policing in this model is measured by detection, arrest, and conviction rates.

The bureaucratic model seeks to manage all evils out of human society through its vast, expanding and all-engulfing planned cocoon. “Ve hav ways of making you righteous, Ja.” It sounds so noble. Those who articulate the plan ooze rectitude. But the whole enterprise is self-deceiving and dishonest. The state is not the Redeemer. Rules and regulations cannot save. They cannot make people righteous. But we can spend an awful lot of money, time, effort in giving it a good college try, right? And we will all feel good about ourselves along the way.

Meanwhile, in many parts of the country the police are “too busy” to respond to calls for help. Zero tolerance policing is impossible because police are “too busy”. And what are they so busy about? Well, one focus is preventing accidents on roads. One accidental road death is one too many, remember.

We can hear folk expostulating–“something has to be done to keep our roads safe”. No doubt. But we believe preventative policing is not that “something”. There has got to be a better way. No doubt the police would have a role–in the reactive policing model. People who do harm and damage to others should be prosecuted in the criminal courts in the worst cases, in civil courts where lesser damage is at issue. Get rid of the “no-fault” ACC socialist nirvana compensation scheme. Hold people responsible and accountable for their actions, rather than trying to make them responsible by ensuring their compliance with micro-managing regulations. Focus police upon crime, not death prevention. Last time we checked manslaughter was a crime.  Abolish all national speed restrictions and replace them with local authority restrictions and rules, and local authority policing of the rules. If local authorities can supervise parking, they can supervise (local) road rules, regulations, speeds etc.

Yes, this would result in an “uneven” system of roading governance. It would also mean that the rules and regulations would be more under the scrutiny of local communities. Realistic trade-offs would be more likely. Sure a local body might have a “zero death” policy in their area. But the cost to the local community, to business, employment, commerce, and civic freedoms would be far more apparent, measurable, and tradeable. The resulting administrations would likely be more reasonable and realistic, coupled with fewer vainglorious messianic pretensions.  It would be reflect a system of administration more appropriate to our fallen world. 

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