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Road to Zero: How young people can advocate change on our roads


Road safety education empowers young people to get involved in the urgent work of making everyone’s journeys safer. A kōrero with Fabian Marsh from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.


‘The number of people killed or seriously injured on New Zealand roads is something that we should not accept. Road deaths are not just numbers, there is real human loss behind these figures and, together, we can do better,’ says Senior Manager Road Safety Fabian Marsh.

‘That’s why the Government is taking an internationally proven Vision Zero approach to road safety. This approach guides our vision of a New Zealand where no one is killed or seriously injured in road crashes.’

Fabian believes that as a country, we can prevent the tragic outcomes on our roads. What’s more, young people have a role to play – more on this below.

His own job is focused on reducing harm on our roads through evidence-based strategies such as New Zealand’s road safety strategy, Road to Zero.

He works closely with the Waka Kotahi Board to develop and monitor its road safety plans and works with partner agencies to put strategies into action.

‘No single organisation can create a New Zealand free of road trauma; we’ve all got to tackle it together,’ he says.

Preventing harm

Like other road safety professionals, Fabian talks about crashes, rather than accidents – as the latter word can trap us into thinking little can be done to reduce harm. He also talks about the number of people killed or seriously injured, because improving road safety is all about people.

‘If property gets damaged, we can fix that, but people aren’t so easily fixed. We need to avoid serious harm in the first place by creating a road transport system that is forgiving of people’s mistakes.’

‘The number of deaths and serious injury on our roads is a preventable problem. We can reduce the level of serious road trauma in New Zealand by improving infrastructure, so our roads and streets are forgiving of people’s mistakes, ensuring speeds are safe and right for the road, improving the safety of our vehicle fleet and encouraging good road user behaviour.’

 ‘We know how other countries have done it and we have some great examples right here in New Zealand, and that knowledge informs our strategic work on the problem.’

Safe System: a lens for student investigations

Road to Zero is New Zealand’s road safety strategy from 2020 – 30 and, as a step toward the ultimate aspiration of Vision Zero, sets an interim target of a 40 percent reduction in deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

The strategy also recognises that to achieve Vision Zero we will need to create a Safe System.

A Safe System puts the safety of people first. It’s about reprogramming how we tackle road safety issues, from one where road deaths and serious injuries are treated as the price we pay for getting around, to one that is designed to accommodate human fallibility and vulnerability across all parts of the system.

For teachers and students with an interest in exploring road safety, he says the Safe System approach provides a lens to examine local and system-wide challenges and opportunities.

‘At its heart, the Safe System approach says that while mistakes are inevitable, death and serious injuries on our roads are not and that all parts of our transport system need to be strengthened to make sure mistakes don’t end in tragedy.’

Fabian says four principles are at the essence of the Safe System:

  • People make mistakes
  • People are vulnerable
  • We need to share responsibility
  • We need to strengthen all parts of the system

Everyone has the responsibility to act with care and consideration on our roads, but even the most perfect of drivers make mistakes. An analogy would be professional sports teams – they practise at their sport every day and yet we accept that players still make some mistakes on game day. Nobody is perfect all the time.’

‘When we say people are vulnerable, the point is that the human body has a limited ability to withstand crash forces. So, we need to do more to manage the interactions between the road environment, the vehicles on our roads and the speeds at which crashes occur to prevent people from being exposed to harmful forces above these limits and to make crashes survivable.’

‘Shared responsibility refers to everyone involved – the designers of our transport system and its users.’

Meanwhile, strengthening all parts of the system includes roads and roadsides, speeds, vehicles and road use, so that if one part fails, other parts will still protect the people involved.

Young people can demand change

Fabian says New Zealand’s school students can challenge the status quo and demand change.

‘They can ask why there is only a dotted line of white paint separating opposing traffic doing 100 km/h each way, or insist that everyone in the car is wearing their seatbelt before the driver starts the car.

Teachers and students can help change the road safety conversation by asking questions and leading the change we need to see. Fabian gives a couple of examples:

‘Teachers, schools, students and school communities can get involved and have their say on proposals to change speeds near their schools or local neighbourhoods.  People know their roads and how they’re used and it’s great to see students getting engaged in the process.

‘When Mum or Dad buy another car, it’s encouraging to hear young people saying, “make sure you buy a five-star car". Your vehicle plays a major role in keeping you safe on the road. Vehicles with 4 and 5-star safety ratings offer the most protection in the event of a crash.’

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