Friday, 19 May 2017


Traveling America with William Least Heat-Moon

I like to poke around second-hand book stores hunting for bargains that might contain information I may have missed, when that information was new. Recently on the hunt, I discovered a 1983 edition of William Least Heat-Moon’s 1978 Blue Highways, paid the money and took it home to be added to my pile of books to read.

When Blue Highways found its way to the top of the pile, I was in for an entertaining and informative time. In the opening pages, I discovered that Heat-Moon’s name is not as peculiar as it sounds. He has a mixture of Irish, English and Midwest native blood. 
Author William Least Heat-Moon

Following family traditions, his father was Heat-Moon, his older brother was First Heat Moon and so he had to be Least Heat-Moon. It makes perfect sense, but they added a William too so he could be called Bill for short, which also makes perfect sense.

But this Bill is no ordinary Bill. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1939, and has a Ph.D. in English and a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism from the University of Missouri. To compliment his academic qualifications, he has an extraordinary sense of humor, a keen eye for detail and a love of traveling the back-blocks. Added together and you have a writer of exceptional talent.

When his marriage broke up and his Missouri teaching job disappeared, Heat-Moon took to the blue roads of America, living in a small truck and parking overnight where ever the road of the day found him.

The blue highways of 1978 are now the red highways in current editions of the Rand McNally Road Atlas, which means that the author traveled the secondary roads, avoiding the interstates and big cities, while searching out the obscure, fascinating, humorous and historic sites. During his travels, Heat-Moon rubbed shoulders with local bar patrons, café owners, residents, rebels and other real-life characters and comics. His portrayal of local accents and customs is epic.

From Missouri, Heat-Moon circled America by headed east to the Atlantic coast, to the Deep South, across the southern United States to the Pacific coast, retracing some of Lewis and Clark’s travels and returning to the Atlantic through the northern states before turning for home.

Blue Highways takes the reader to peculiar or unpronounceable places like Wequetequock, Connecticut; Bad Axe, Michigan; Lookingglass, Oregon; Hog Heaven, Idaho; Defeated, Tennessee; Woonasquatucket, Rhode Island; Left Hand, West Virginia; Burnt Store, Maryland; Dime Box, Texas; Our Town, Alabama; Simplicity, Virginia; Only, Tennessee; Kennebunkport, Maine; Scratch Ankle, Alabama; Boreing, Kentucky; Dull, Tennessee; Mud Lick, Kentucky; Whynot, Mississippi, and many more fascinating places.

Heat-Moon is much more than a traveler with a yearn for odd and unusual places. He interviews the local identities, describing them and their surrounding with his unique mastery of the English language and a wit unsurpassed.

On Page 398 I came upon this tidbit of history:

At the bottom of Morris Street, across from the Tred Avon ferry slip, sat the Robert Morris Inn, the 1710 portion of which, built by a shipwright, was once the home of Robert Morris – Senior and Junior – a family of fortune and misfortune. The father died when wadding from a cannon fired in his honor struck him in the arm. The son, one of the wealthiest men in eighteenth-century America and a financier of the Revolution, was sentenced to three years in a Philadelphia debtor’s prison after a spell of reverses, one of which was the failure of the new government to repay his loan to the Continental Army.

Finding my old copy of Blue Highways was indeed a literary bonanza and I recommend it anyone interested in American travel, humor and history. But please don’t ask to borrow my dog-eared copy. It’s mine forever.

Thursday, 6 April 2017


Australian tourist loses limbs after bite from White Tail spider

The horror story of a white tail spider victim was carried by many major news outlets. It was reported that the tourist in Australia had lost both legs and his arms may also have to be amputated to save his life. But most of the news reports have now been amended or withdrawn due to a lack of accuracy.
A typical white tail spider.
Its reputation is worse than
its bite.

White tail spiders have fearsome reputation in both Australia and New Zealand. Almost everyone knows of someone who has been bitten with horrendous consequences.

So, what is the truth about one of Australia’s most notorious spiders?

It is not hard to find white tail experts and victims in Australia, and New Zealand where they were first seen in 1886. Horror stories persist of gruesome injuries and flesh-eating venom that can lead to serious illness and even death, if not treated quickly. But scientists tell us that while the bite can be painful, the white tail (Lampona murina) bite rarely carries any lasting effects, and they only bite if handled or provoked. This can include bites from spiders trapped inside clothing and bed covers.

In 130 cases studied by G. Isbister and M. Gray from 1999-2002, where the insect was seen to bite and was captured, they found no evidence of necrotic ulcers or flesh-eating. None of the 130 cases required hospital admission. The findings of the study were later published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

But the myth persists that the white tail is one of the deadliest spiders and that reports from scientists and authorities are a cover up. Typically, people will say, “That’s what they want you to believe.”

There is also a claim that the white tail spider is deadly because it eats Daddy Long Leg spiders which, it is claimed, are the world’s deadliest spiders, but their fangs are not strong enough to penetrate human skin. But this raises another question: How does anyone know that its venom is deadly if it has never penetrated anyone’s skin? The answer to the first question is simply that the daddy long legs is not venomous because it has no place in which to carry venom. And that rather makes a nonsense of the second question.

Like any bite or sting (cat, dog, bee, wasp, spider), not everyone reacts the same way to a spider bite. A few people have allergies that could lead to illness or death. Cats, dogs, bees, wasps and spiders don’t brush their teeth every day and that raises the possibility of infection. If you think you have been bitten by a spider, and you feel unwell, you should try to capture it for identification and take it with you when you seek medical help. But remember, if you didn’t see a spider, it probably wasn’t a spider. For immediate care, you should clean the bite with antiseptic or warm soapy water.  

For more information on spider bites see: Ministry of Health New Zealand


Saturday, 11 March 2017


Perhaps some dash camera drivers are mad and dangerous too

A new craze has hit almost every town in the world. Drivers are racing to their nearest electronics store to purchase a car digital video recorder, otherwise commonly known as a dash camera, and New Zealand is no exception.
Many dash cam buyers are professional drivers who see themselves as threatened by over zealous law enforcement officers, or by truck and bus-hating car drivers. But car drivers and cyclists are also joining the queues at Supercheap Auto shops to line up for their dash cam fixes. Most dash cam buyers, whether professional or amateur, want bad drivers exposed and punished for their bad driving. Fair enough. But how good, or bad, is their own driving?
The dash camera is a two-edged sword. It can certainly expose drivers who have erred, deliberately, accidentally or through a lack of understanding of road rules. But the dash cam can also expose and incriminate the dash cam’s own driver. Facebook has many groups dedicated to exposing bad driving, as they see bad driving, but many of the group members have something less than a good knowledge of traffic law and safe driving practices. Most, perhaps 90%, see themselves as above average drivers, but a basic knowledge of mathematics would tell us that that is a mathematical impossibility. In simple terms, many dash cam drivers are not as good as they think they are.
One such Facebook group is Road Madness NZ. The group has over a thousand members with posts and comments appearing frequently. But many of the posts are pin-pricking affairs that would not interest police. A few expose serious and dangerous breaches of the law, while other posts reveal wrongdoing only in the mind of the camera operating driver. All too often in the group, rank amateurs are putting themselves forward as experts. Not only that, but some are too quick to shout down, denigrate and abuse those who do have the knowledge and experience, instead of gracefully accepting soundly reasoned opinions.
Before going further, let me lay my own credentials on the line. My professional driving career started in 1961 when I worked as a loader driver for an aerial topdressing company. My car licence was issued in 1957, two years after qualifying for a private pilot licence in 1955. In the years following, I was employed to drive all classes of trucks, buses, taxis and shuttles, and passed the exams for a driving instructor. I have driven commercially in three countries and still drive from 10 to 45 hours a week, at two months short of age 80. I estimate that my total driving experience is close to 10 million kilometres. I still don’t know everything there is to know about good driving and I can still make mistakes and have made plenty over the years. Many times, a mistake on my part could have led to an accident, but others took appropriate action and saved my bacon. In spite of mistakes, I must be lucky. So far not a single person has been injured due to any avoidable mistake on my part.
But to return to Road Madness NZ, I joined the group a few weeks ago, because it appeared to be a place where road safety issues could be aired and debated, and I have long had an interest in road safety matters. I have also recently been involved in the formation of a road safety organisation where, when fully launched, will provide a forum for professional and amateur drivers to work together to make our roads safer. So, some Road Madness NZ members and others could potentially participate in the new organisation.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be. One post on Road Madness NZ caught my experience eye as a post where the driver captured in the video clearly made a bad mistake, but I could also see that the dash cam driver had made a bad mistake which contributed to an already dangerous situation. A truck had failed to give way and turned into the path of the dash cam vehicle. If that wasn’t bad enough, the dash cam driver, after some gasps of horror, continued into the path of the truck at much the same speed until almost on the truck’s tailgate. Professional drivers see this kind of behaviour frequently. It is a kind of amateur teaching the professional how to drive, and it is very dangerous.
I posted the following comment:
Remember the slogan DRIVE WITH CARE. OTHERS MAKE MISTAKES. The driver of the camera car seemed more intent on making alarming noises first and braking later. If the truck had stopped after pulling out, the camera car driver would have been in grave danger of colliding with the truck. 
The truck driver made a serious error of judgement, but there was no need for the car driver to contribute to the danger by failing to take timely evasive action.
People who have dash cameras to catch other drivers should make sure that their own driving is above question.
The driver in question denied all responsibility for avoiding a collision and his language in later comments became abusive and obscene. In response, my comments remained respectful and courteous, but insistent that the dash cam driver could have done better. A few drivers agreed with my stance, but most did not. A point of contention, and not understood by some, was the legal requirement for all drivers to take whatever action is necessary to avoid an accident, regardless of who may have initially been responsible. They were talking about ‘right of way’ instead of ‘give way,’ without realising that in traffic law there is no right of way ever.
To sum up the encounter with Road Madness NZ, after dozens of comments, many of them whacky and unintelligible, I was expelled from the group. In short, I had rocked their cosy, dreamy boat. Leaving the group may be a blessing. I can now pursue more productive pursuits.
Watch this space for a new dash cam group on Facebook, where the rules will require respectful language, fair treatment and a genuine interest in road safety, rather than a place to brag about how they caught a mug driver red-handed, even if they had to speed up to 120 kph to get the number plate. To some Road Madness NZ members, the law is what they make it on the day, and that is madness.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017


Trump adviser is founder and CEO of outlaw taxi company Uber

Born in 1976, Travis Kalanick has an estimated net wealth of US$6 billion, but many people question how Kalanick, now an adviser to President Trump, acquired his wealth.

At the age of 22, Kalanick dropped out of UCLA to start his first business, Scour Inc, with a partner. It was an internet file sharing company. Scour was later sued for copyright infringement by three associations representing motion pictures, the recording industry and music publishers.

Trump adviser Travis Kalanick
Kalanick’s response was to bankrupt Scour and re-start the business as Red Swoosh using the same key team members. Within seven years (2007), Kalanick could sell the business for $18.7 million. In 2009, with Garrett Camp, he co-founded Uber in San Francisco and became the chairman and CEO of the outlaw taxi company and ride sharing organization.

Uber is now a worldwide operator in more than 500 cities, but its success is based on unlawfully invading the territory of legitimately licenced operators which, just like Scour and Swoosh, were based on imitating legitimate businesses. Kalanick is an expert at creating imaginary legal loopholes where no loopholes exist. He claims that he is only bringing driver and passenger together, but in effect he passes the buck to the driver, and, in monetary terms, often too few bucks as many former Uber drivers will testify.

In most countries, taxi drivers must be licenced and regulated for the benefit and protection of the travelling public. Typically, a taxi operator must hold a licence to operate a taxi business, and a licence to drive a taxi. Both operator and driver must undergo police character vetting and the driver must display an official photo ID card and hold a current medical certificate. The taxi operator must belong to an approved taxi organization and be bound by their rules and complaints and disciplinary procedures. The vehicle must meet Certificate of Fitness standards every six months, rather than the lower standard Warrant of Fitness at 12 monthly intervals. Getting into a legitimate taxi operation can take a considerable investment of capital, time and training.

Legitimate operators will always feel cheated by operators like Uber who tell their clients and drivers that they just need a presentable car to earn a fortune when the fact is that even legitimate drivers struggle to make a reasonable income. But Kalanick, now a member President Trump’s Strategy and Policy Forum, doesn’t worry about minor details.

Kalanick’s company tells drivers they don’t need to have an operator licence, a taxi driver licence, a Certificate of Fitness, a medical examination, police check or a driver logbook. They do tell them that they will need comprehensive car insurance, but that will be void if they have an accident while operating outside transport law. All over the world governments and cities are cracking down on illegal Uber drivers and putting them off the road, but Uber itself keeps on operating via the internet without being accountable and without paying local taxes. It’s a double rort. Meanwhile, Uber drivers could best utilize their time by looking for real employment.

But Kalanick’s great scheme, like most questionable operations, has a profound weakness. Uber has left itself open to be cloned by other dubious start-up operators, and that is happening at what must be an alarming rate for Kalanick. Already, he has been forced to cut his budget hire rates even further in a desperate attempt to boost revenue, and that is eating into the earnings of his drivers who were already grossly underpaid. Copying Uber is so widespread that the practice now has its own terminology – Uberization.

Even more alarming than Uber, and its ride-sharing off-shoot, is the Urberization (or Kalanickery) of the American Government with President Trump and Travis Kalanick sharing the same air.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017


Trump’s isolationist policies could make America a broken banana republic

Donald Trump’s politically naïve blue-collar voters stand to be the biggest losers if the new president makes good on his promise to pull the US out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other free trade agreements.

From a political standpoint, Trump may have read the mood correctly. There is always votes to be gained by telling voters what they want to hear, a Trump trait that extends to other policies too. For Trump, getting the votes was more important than being able to deliver on the promises. Getting the votes, by any means, was more important than the damage America would suffer if he did keep his promises.
International trade has been bringing prosperity to
increasing numbers for thousands of years

To understand how leaving the TPP will damage America, and the Trump Administration, one needs to understand the history of trade and economics, as well as the history of the Trans Pacific Partnership itself.

As long ago as the Palaeolithic Era (500,000-10,000 years ago,) people were discovering the importance of trading with neighbouring bands, or communities, by offering tools, food, skins and other commodities in exchange for the things they lacked. The world population at that time has been variously estimated at between 1 and 15 million people, although 3 to 6 million is generally regarded as a more accurate figure. It was at the end of the last great ice age when average temperatures were several degrees colder than now, and food was in short supply. Some had food and some did not, so they traded what they had for what they needed, and more people survived. It has been estimated that from the Palaeolithic Era prior to the Industrial Revolution, the average world GDP (Adjusted to 2016 US dollar value) was about $160 per year.

From the ancient bands developed the city states and later the nation states, defined areas with borders and government structures, usually kingdoms, where the ruler needed revenue. The best source of revenue was customs duty and tribute or bribery. Wars were frequent with rulers invading neighbouring territory to acquire what they wanted.
Opponents of free trade are often more gifted
with slogans than with logical argument 

We like to think of Europe as an early leader in economic wealth, trade, discovery and enlightenment, but before Columbus sailed off to the Americas in 1492, Europe was a struggling backwater. The powerhouse economies were in India and China and between them they accounted for 50% of the world’s trade and economic activity. Both countries operated extensive trade routes connecting the Far East with Eastern Europe, known collectively as the Silk Road. Both countries operated large fleets of sailing ships that plied the routes of the Indian and Pacific oceans, and the archipelagos of the East Indies, at least 1,700 years before the famous European explorers came on the scene.

Another myth that should be dispelled is that Marco Polo discovered the Silk Road and opened the world’s first major trade route. Polo was simply the first to have his travels recorded, as told to a fellow prisoner while he was locked away.

The Industrial Revolution (1760-1840) was made possible, not so much by the inventors of the machines, but the trade conditions that existed at the time. Industrialised production, and later mass production, would have failed without mass markets.
While most of the developed world is embracing free trade,
Trump is saying, "Stop the world. America wants to get off."

Throughout history, trade has always been controversial. The local producers always want to protect their market from cheap imports, while the consumers want choice, and governments want revenue. But history also shows that trade barriers, in whatever form, stifle economic growth, prosperity and employment. Trade unions and socialists have generally been opposed to easing restrictions on trade because they see free trade as something that will destroy local jobs and make the rich richer. But in a classic case, British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, leader of the Conservative Party, used the support of the left-leaning Whigs to repeal the infamous Corn Laws during the Irish famine of 1845-1852. The repeal permitted grain to be imported at a price people could afford to pay.

More was to come in the United Kingdom. In 1859, John Bright, a tireless campaigner for free trade, asked in Parliament why, instead of spending money to prevent a French invasion, did the government not try to convince the French to enter a free trade agreement. The outcome was the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty which reduced tariffs substantially and increased the flow of goods between the two countries by 100%. The treaty quickly sparked other European trade agreements with corresponding increases in trade and jobs.

After World War Two, the 1946 Bretton Woods Agreement, an attempt to stop trade barriers being erected, was signed because many people believed that trade protection was a principal cause of war. Twelve years later, in 1958, the European Economic Community came into being with six member countries and grew rapidly to become the European Union with 28 countries sharing the benefits of free trade.

In the United States, free trade has also been controversial, but historically has been proved to be a success. Right from the outset when the 13 original states formed the Union, trade between each of them and other nations was a driving force. As more territories joined the Union, trade expanded. By the time the 49th and 50th states joined in the 1950s, the USA was already the world’s largest free trade block with the world’s highest standard of living.
In the decades that followed, the United States has effectively pushed out its trade borders even further. It has free trade agreements with a host of countries including Australia, Canada, Chile, Bahrain, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, Singapore, Morocco, Peru, Dominican Republic, Panama, Colombia, most Central American countries and South Korea. Also in the negotiating pipeline are agreements with the European Union, Thailand, New Zealand, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and several others, including the Trans Pacific Partnership.

The TPP had its origins in 2002 at the APEC Leaders Meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, when New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, Singapore PM Goh Chok Tong and President Ricardo Lagos of Chile floated the idea of a new free trade zone, known as the Pacific Three Closer Economic Partnership. The agreement came into force in 2006 and Brunei joined in 2009. Meanwhile, Pacific Rim countries were queueing up to be a part of the action. The old agreement was renegotiated and renamed the Trans Pacific Partnership with the USA, Australia, Peru, and Vietnam joining the negotiations in 2008. Malaysia, Canada, Mexico and Japan joined later to make 12 partners in all.

In recent years, governments and business leaders have generally been in favour of expanded free trade, while unions, workers and socialists are generally opposed to free trade, and all free trade negotiators have had to run the gauntlet of public opinion. In private sittings (the only way possible for the best outcome) negotiators must get the best possible deal they can on the greatest number of sticking points. In trade negotiations, horse trading is the name of the game; a point scored here, a point conceded there, is a step closer to a satisfactory result. There are always winners and losers in the detail, even though many on the side-lines want total victory on every piece of detail, or the entire agreement should be dumped.

Understanding the concept of expanded free trade can be daunting for many people without political and trade experience. But by reversing the concept, with an example of a diminishing trade block, even Donald Trump should be able to understand the perils of not being a part of the TPP. Let us use for an example the United States itself. Let us supposed that 37 states, including California, Texas, Illinois and Ohio, were to leave the Union and impose tariffs and quotas on imported goods from the remaining states. The 37 states would face a serious economic downturn, but the economic life blood would be squeezed out of the original 13 to the extent that they would probably require foreign aid to survive. Wall Street would face the worst downturn in its history. Factories would close and farmers would walk off their land. Tens of millions would be unemployed and unable to obtain government aid.

New Yorkers, if they could afford to buy a car from Detroit, would pay possibly double what they currently pay. Slower production in Detroit plus import duties would be crippling for both sides of the new border. What would be the point in adding 50 or 100% to the cost of New York doing business with Chicago, or for Miami trading with Atlanta? Tighten the trade noose even more and make it unprofitable for Fifth Avenue, New York, to trade with Seventh Avenue in the same city. Why would any politician in his right mind want that to happen?

The answer to that is Donald Trump. Trump believes in restricted trade. Trump will fail America more seriously than America has ever been failed before, because staying out of the TPP and other free trade deals will isolate America more than it has ever been isolated since 1776. If Trump turns his back on the other 11 countries of the TPP and the 28 members of the EU plus the other countries that already have free trade agreements with the USA, he will have unemployment lines standing shoulder to shoulder from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  
Trump’s policy from the mouth could be the ruination of a great country. Already, there are murmurs that California may want to go independent. Texas could follow. What will really happen to America if the man of the mouth shoots from the lip once too often? Could there be another civil war? I certainly hope not, but the pot is brewing. With this president, America is headed for banana republic status.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017


Road safety campaign fails as death rate rises in New Zealand

Highway patrol police are at a loss to understand why their road safety messages have fallen on deaf ears, thereby allowing a substantial rise in road fatalities in 2016. They are particularly concerned at the increase in deaths during the holiday period which ended today.

The holiday period ended with 19 road deaths, up more than 50% on the same period last year. The toll for 2016 is 330 deaths, up slightly on the previous year, but the trend appeared to accelerate in the final months of the year, indicating the likelihood of an even higher toll for 2017. By world standards, New Zealand with a population of 4.5 million, is not doing very well on its roads.

The all-time record number of road fatalities in New Zealand was 843 in 1973. After 1973, the trend has been generally downwards, but there have been factors other than good driving habits to account for the trend. Seat belts became law after 1973 and that had an immediate effect on the annual toll. Roading improvements played a smaller part in the post 1973 trend. More awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving also played a part. But the single greatest factor was the part played by imported used vehicles, mostly from Japan. The used imports were built to higher safety standards and had many features to make driving easier and therefore safer. They also replaced many locally assembled vehicles that were years beyond their safe lifetime.

While vehicles and roads have become safer, drivers have not, despite stricter legislation and ramped up enforcement. Many drivers habitually ignore what they consider minor laws, like stop signs, speed limits, passing and merging rules, following distances, and licence conditions. But ignoring ‘minor rules’ can quickly lead to an attitude where major rules can be ignored too. A lack of self-discipline on the smaller things often leads to a total disregard of many laws and a lowering of general standards of behaviour.

For many drivers, driving a vehicle that does not meet road worthiness requirements is often seen as nothing significant, and such a driver may also regard the requirement to have a current driver licence as not important either. It then becomes only a short step from there to driving drunk at excessive speed. Drivers in this category, I believe, should be treated as criminally insane and there needs to be a system in place to make it impossible for them to drive any vehicle. More on that later.

This writer and long-time professional driver believes it is time for police, road safety campaigners and politicians to return to the drawing board and draft an entirely new strategy. Much of what has gone before should be thrown out and replaced with far-sighted new plans. They must accept that the old ways have failed tragically, and that they need a new plan that will bring the public on board.

Except for the criminal driver mentioned above, the emphasis must change from stick to carrot. Punishment, where possible, must be replaced with education; demerits should be replaced with rewards. Fines, where fines are unavoidable, should be income-related with the fines revenue going to charities or foreign aid to dispel the misconception that fines are merely revenue gathering and have nothing to do with road safety.

Based on eLogbook, GPS tracking and remote disabling technology used by vehicle finance companies, a new technology could be developed to include a smart-card driver licence. Use of the new integrated system could be made mandatory for all new drivers, drivers with convictions and commercial drivers. The smart card could replace, or be additional to, the traditional ignition key, meaning that the engine would only start for a current licence held by a person authorised to drive the particular vehicle. The smart-card driver licence would lead to fewer accidents and insurance claims, and would be beneficial to all road users. Remote disabling would give police a safe and effective alternative to dangerous pursuits. As a bonus, the GPS component could assist in solving crime involving motor vehicles.

All drivers should be subject to the same driving time limitations. The driving time and rest period records, whether paper or electronic, that currently apply to some commercial drivers, should apply to all drivers, professional and amateur.

The current system of roadside checks for vehicle compliance and breath testing could be extended to include driver re-testing. Drivers failing a brief oral test of traffic law could be immediately required to submit to a more extensive test, and in the event of another failure, they could be required to undergo a full driver assessment, refresher course and licence test within a specified time. For most infringements, this system would work better than instant fines or a court appearance.

Split speed limits (different limits for different classes of vehicles) have failed to make driving safer for anyone. The assumption has been that heavy vehicles should have a lower speed limit because they take longer to stop in an emergency. But that assumption is wrong, except at very low speeds when a heavy vehicle may have a lag time between acceleration and braking. At highway speeds, heavy vehicles will often stop short of cars in a nose-to-tail pile up. This is because the heavy driver has a better view ahead, is often more experienced and alert than other drivers, and has a long wheel base which makes it easier to retain directional control under maximum braking. Many American states that once had split speed limits have now changed to uniform limits as the safer option. It is always safer to go with the flow.

Passing lanes on many New Zealand highways are inherently unsafe. The current policy of one kilometre long passing lanes is the problem. For many drivers, a kilometre is long enough to start a race, but not long enough to safely finish the race. It would be better to have passing lanes at least five kilometres long, even if that means fewer such lanes.

Road markings and signage are sadly deficient on most New Zealand roads. No passing lines are often misleading and just plain inappropriate. When I observe no passing lines, I often wonder if the person(s) making the decisions about where to put the paint, has ever driven on a road with traffic coming the other.

Road crash investigation is another area requiring a new approach. The motive for investigation appears to be to find fault and to prosecute. The objective should be to find the primary and contributory causes so that the chances of a similar accident in the future can be reduced or even eliminated. During investigation, a closer look at drivers is a must; what have they been doing in the hours leading up to the accident? How much driving experience have they have got in total and with the vehicle involved? How many previous accidents and/or infringements have they got? Did they learn to drive with a driving school and a professional driver, or did they learn from friends or family? These should be key questions for investigators. However, many of these questions will remain unanswered unless drivers are required to record their driving activities and experience, the way pilots are required to record their flying.

In the opening comments, mention was made of moving the emphasis from stick to carrot. We know that the payment of fines fall into two categories: some fines are paid as simply as buying a newspaper, and the offender keeps on offending. The fine is nothing. The second category has a backlog of unpaid fines because he/she cannot afford to pay any of them, and once again that offender, with nothing to lose, keeps on offending. Demerit points are another part of the stick that needs to go. Demerits are no deterrent to people who only drive an hour or two at weekends, and are unfair to professional drivers who face a greater range of demerit offences and drive on average five times the distance that average amateur drivers do. When a professional reach 100 demerit points he not only loses his licence but also his income. Clearly, fines and demerits don’t work as well as we would like.

So, here's the carrot. Every driver licence could carry a classification from say F to A with F being applied to the first full licence issued. As drivers gain experience, without any  infringements or avoidable accidents, their licence could be upgraded to a higher class. A class A for example could apply to any driver who completes a million kilometres with no avoidable accidents or infringements – a true professional. Drivers would have to be constantly vigilant to avoid downgrading. This system would have benefits for professional drivers seeking employment and others required to drive a company vehicle as part of their work. Rental and insurance companies would look favourably on highly graded drivers. Such a system would be a real incentive for drivers to drive by the book with all the care and attention that driving calls for.

But you say, don’t worry about that, within five years manually-driven cars will be a thing of the past. Well, no. There will always be manually-driven cars. In all probability, it will be more than thirty years before fully automated cars outnumber others. Even the worst drivers will consider themselves safer than robots, so the motor vehicle, as we know it, is literally here for the long haul.

Meanwhile, the problems of road safety are not going to go away of their own accord. Only a concerted effort and some radical thinking are going to reduce the accident rate and save precious lives. The big question is, will the bureaucrats and politicians be brave enough and innovative enough to tackle it?