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Concern as crash rate rises

School Community Officer Senior Constable Julie Orr and Wairarapa Road Safety Council manager Bruce Pauling. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

Mobile phone use, speeding, and distracted drivers worry experts

Emily Ireland

Ninety-two people have died on Wairarapa roads since the turn of the century.

And with Wairarapa’s crash rate steadily increasing since 2013, it’s time for drivers to check where their attention truly lies before they take the wheel, according to experts in driving behaviour.

A Wairarapa Midweek analysis of Wairarapa crash data from the New Zealand Transport Agency shows there were 251 crashes in 2013 – a rate of 5.9 crashes per 1000 people living in Wairarapa at the time.

This jumped to 340 crashes last year – a rate of 7.6 crashes for each 1000 people.

In last year’s crashes five people died, 36 were seriously injured, and 84 received minor injuries.

There was also crash damage done to at least four bridges, 51 fences, 17 light posts/power poles, and 15 trees.

Already this year, three people have died on Wairarapa roads and, as at June 29, 195 people have died on New Zealand roads.

Bruce Pauling, the manager of the Wairarapa Road Safety Council, said the national road toll this year was trending upwards to “disturbing levels where we may see a road death toll reach 400”.

Wairarapa Midweek asked Pauling what factors may be behind Wairarapa’s rising crash rate, and what drivers needed to take into consideration to prevent further injuries and deaths on our roads.

“It’s a complex problem and we do know that often there is more than one cause of a crash,” Pauling said.

“Locally, the crash causes are pretty much the same as the national trends, with speed being a major factor, drink-driving an issue, and the emergence of drivers not being able to leave their cell phones alone.”

“Local drivers are as good as other drivers in New Zealand, but our rural roads are completely different from our larger towns and cities, and have more associated risks being narrower, winding and having very little room for error, with narrow bridges and roadside trees and ditches.

“I also believe courtesy and consideration on the road has gone out the door over the years, as our lives have got busier.

“We need to relax and show patience and courtesy in our driving.”

Pauling said it was common knowledge that a slower speed impact resulted in less death and injury.

“We have to ask ourselves, why aren’t we prepared to slow down a few kilometres an hour to stop crashes and save lives?”

Just last month, 238 speeding tickets were issued in a three-hour period outside Solway Primary School with one driver clocked going 85kmh in the 50kmh area.

Both Pauling and School Community Officer Senior Constable Julie Orr were shocked at the result.

“Kids are precious, and they are important, and ultimately they could be crossing anywhere outside a school area, so you just have to be mindful,” Orr said.

Pauling hoped that dedicated Road Policing teams would be restored to full capacity to prevent speeding and dangerous drivers.

“Drivers will modify their behaviour if they constantly see police on the roads and therefore know they will be stopped and ticketed for bad driving.”

Drivers who accumulate 100 demerit points within two years are suspended from driving for three months.

Pauling wants to see demerit points increased for dangerous driving behaviours and the timeframe for demerit accumulation lessened to 12 months.

“Increase illegal cell phone-use demerit points and fines, as it is obvious to everyone that people are flaunting these laws and killing themselves and others on our roads.”

Pauling said a lot of agencies along with the Road Safety Council were doing their best to reduce crashes and their tragic results.

“But we need the driving public to take more responsibility and improve their behaviour, including not to drive impaired, not exceed posted speed limits, drive to the conditions, belt up, and turn those phones off.

“We’re all in this together, and as a community we all need to contribute to make our roads safer.”

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