Puna says the answer is teaching young, new drivers to be better, safer drivers, and that the government has to take responsibility for this.
Six years ago, Puna led a petition opposing compulsory helmets.
Signed by around 3,000 people, the petition caused the government to buckle on the compulsory helmet issue, enforcing instead mandatory motorbike helmets for speeds over 40kmh.
Puna says he didn’t just propose to government that motorbike drivers should be given the freedom to choose whether or not to wear helmets.
He says he also recommended a government-funded driving school that would teach learners defensive driving, duplicating the New Zealand system of having licenses at three stages – learners, restricted and full.
He also proposed that speed cameras should be installed all over the island.
Puna told government that 16-year-old learner drivers should be prohibited from carrying passengers, should only drive between the hours of 8am and 8pm and should be required to wear helmets.
The Tereora College teacher says it dismays him when students say they are going for their drivers’ licences because none has been taught proper defensive driving.
“The problem here is our kids are not educated properly how to drive. We think that because they can hold a bike and drive it they are ready for the roads.”
He says calling for mandatory bike helmets is the “easy way out, people will still speed, people will still be dying on our roads with or without helmets”.
“We need something that’s more sustainable and that is educating our young people to drive. Our young ones are the ones most at risk. They are the ones who need defensive driving lessons the most.”
And in this respect, Puna says government has to take responsibility.
He is adamant that rather than putting the burden on the population, government has to initiate something useful for our young people, learning to drive properly and safely on roads. Puna says bars also need to take greater responsibility.
“I’ve seen people wasted and still being served drinks.”
He revealed that at the height of the helmet issue, he made a full presentation of his recommendations to the then Jim Marurai-led cabinet and subsequently to a Parliamentary Select Committee. He says Marurai’s cabinet gave no input after his presentation and the government didn’t pick up on all the other things he put forward.
The father of five girls who had undertaken a defensive driving course overseas, says he is extremely conscious about teaching his daughters to be “alert, to concentrate and anticipate and think that the other driver is stupid”.
Puna believes it’s high time the government spent money on where the problem begins: 16-year-olds who are given full licences but have never been through a proper defensive driving course.