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Friday, May 31, 2024
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Life in the slow lane

Several weeks after the installation started, drivers are expressing their discontent over the safety improvements to State Highway 2 [SH2] on Remutaka Hill Rd.

An NZTA Waka Kotahi video explaining safety measures – which include the installation of a range of passing lanes, stopping bays, and slow vehicle bays – that was shared on the Wairarapa Commuters Facebook page sparked complaints and ridicule from disgruntled drivers.

The NZTA Facebook post accompanying the video said the changes to the road allow “people travelling slowly to pull over so people behind them can pass safely”.

“As part of the safety improvements we’re making on this stretch of SH2, you’ll see the existing passing lanes changing to slow vehicle bays,” the post said.

“This still means people travelling slowly can pull over and let people pass. Slow vehicle bays are more appropriate in places where the road is curvy or narrow, such as over Remutaka Hill.

“In all cases, you must keep left and let people pass if you’re travelling slowly.”

Most of the 70 comments in response to the Wairarapa Commuters post consider the changes to have created a confusing and dangerous driving environment.

“Three times already I have been forced over the centre line with big vehicles not realising how short [slow vehicle bays] are, or drivers not knowing how to use them,” one poster said. “There is going to be the mother of all accidents because of them.”

Some, like this social media user, pointed out that “slow” is highly subjective: “Most slow drivers do not think they are driving slow. So, guess what? They mostly won’t pull over.”

Others cited speed as a contributing factor to what they consider to be the negative impacts of the safety improvements.

“The blindingly obvious thing to do is to replace the High Crash area signs with 60km/h limit signs. That is the safe speed that 90 per cent of the traffic use on that section. Thanks to the 100km/h limit, the other 10 per cent of the drivers in a hurry to die and take out other drivers in the process in their attempt to achieve 100km/h, are now encouraged to force everyone else into a short dead end. These pull-in zones are exacerbating the problem and not addressing it.”

One commenter who had “witnessed a LOT of near misses with [slow vehicle lanes]” and “multiple confused drivers” asked how many crashes had occurred so far.

A spokesperson for NZTA told the Times-Age that March 2024 crash data will not be available until the beginning of July.

Bruce Pauling, manager of the Wairarapa Road Safety Council [WRSC], can see “obvious merits in safety improvements over the Remutaka Hill Rd such as fixing potholes, clearing loose debris and rocks, better signage, and the improvements for motorcyclist safety with ‘under runs’ on existing side barriers and further side barriers”.

However, he shares commuters’ concerns that replacing existing passing lanes with slow vehicle lanes is leading to “driver confusion resulting in many anecdotal ‘close calls’ when negotiating these areas”.

“Suddenly changing these environments without advance education communications for commuters has not been smart,” he said.

Pauling acknowledged NZTA’s video about using a slow vehicle lane but didn’t “know the reach this has had”.

“I share commuters’ concerns of their lived experiences when a vehicle has pulled over to the left on the slow vehicle lanes, only to then have to pull out again a very short distance along, causing other vehicles to take evasive action and on occasions cross the centre line,” he said.

“This is causing crash potential and is certainly a very scary scenario,” Pauling said, speaking from personal experience.

“Because they appear to be the same as traditional passing lanes, many drivers automatically move quickly to the left lane only to see they are quickly running out of room. They then have to ‘jostle for position’ with cars that are overtaking them, leading to these vehicle conflict situations.”

Pauling said that the confusion is not unique to the hill road.

“It also manifests itself on the slow vehicle lanes between Carterton and Featherston. I have tested this myself, where I have continued in the right lane – as I was travelling at the posted 80km/h speed and entitled to be in the right lane – and have been tailgated, undertaken, tooted at, and worse.”

Mark Owen, NZTA regional manager for lower North Island and top of the South Island, said in a statement to the Times-Age, “We are still finalising works on the slow vehicle bays, along with other road safety works over the Remutaka Hill, which will be completed in the coming months.

“Any change to the road layout on our state highways is monitored to ensure the changes deliver a safer road environment. Where appropriate, further action may be considered to ensure the new design meets this intention.

“As part of the scheduled night closures later this month, we are planning to install supplementary signage at the slow vehicle bays. These signs will serve as prior notification to drivers of the approaching merge, and to prepare for drivers to safely merge back into the single lane.”

In the meantime, Pauling has some tips for drivers on how to use slow lanes and passing lanes:

“The legal situation is that when negotiatingpassing lanes, move to the left lane [unless you are overtaking] and then indicate, check for traffic, and move back into your directional lane at the end of the passing lane.

“With slow vehicle lanes, if you are travelling at the posted speed limit, you can continue in the right lane. The left lane in these circumstances is for slow-moving vehicles likely to impede the normal, legal flow of traffic.”

Pauling also advised drivers to be courteous and patient on the road.

“I also think that commuters need to share the road courteously with others and be patient [no matter what beliefs you hold about the posted speeds] as there will always be a further ‘hold up’ further along their journey, and usually, the small holdups don’t increase your travelling times significantly”.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Could we not just revert to the previous wording on the signage – ‘Keep Left Unless Passing’? The cross-hatched lines on the road do nothing to help, but at least they can be ignored.

  2. ‘Slow Vehicle’ lanes are all very well, but it needs a period of intensive enforcement to actually get the slow-pokes to pull over into them. The number of times I have been behind people travelling at 50 km/hr on that road, then still braking through every turn – no matter how small – and who flatly refuse to pull over, is staggering.

  3. Road safety committee a money waste more and more safety signage waste of money? Everything is in the road code book 📖. The biggest problem motorists is the road safety committee changing Everything ?? Road signage? Speed limits? No wander drivers are confused 😐 annoyed 😒 treated like learner drivers 😒 just ONE BIG NANNY STATE 🙄. DRIVING IN BRISBANE A FEW WEEKS AGO WAS GREAT 👍 JUST LIKE NEW ZEALAND WAS A FEW YEARS AGO. PLEASE STOP THIS NANNY STATE AND TREAT DRIVERS LIKE BEFORE 👍. LABOUR AND GREENS ROAD TO NILL ACCIDENTS A LOAD OF CRAP.

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