Monday, December 4, 2023
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Indications are we may need a new approach

Road crashes and general mayhem on rural roads and along our state highways are staple items for any newsroom. Every day, traffic incidents across New Zealand are an all-too-regular occurrence.

It is only the spectacular crashes that make the front page or lead the broadcast news. It has to be something out of the ordinary to merit special mention. The incident on Tuesday evening in Masterton fits into that category.

On that occasion, a car crashed into the front bedroom of a residential house. Amazingly, no one in the house was hurt, but the driver was taken to hospital for a routine check.

There have been several road incidents on that particular section of road.

The Masterton District Council roading services team was asked if they had any new plans to mitigate the apparent risks. The response came in, as one might expect, in council-speak. They said it was “important to recognise that addressing poor driver behaviour through engineering solutions alone may not be feasible, or the most appropriate solution”. Or, no.

We were told that relevant road safety enhancements had already been put in place by the roading services team, such as resealing the road surface, installing road markers, and signposting an advisory speed limit of 35kph. So some safety measures were considered necessary then.

As much as I’d like to think the driver of the vehicle that crashed into the house this week was observing all the rules, including driving at 35kph, it’s highly unlikely that was the case.

Has the reduction of speed made that stretch of road safer? We know of one person who has been seriously injured in an early morning hit-and-run since the speeds were lowered there. Again, it’s unlikely the driver was following any of the rules.

There are plenty of long rural roads in Wairarapa where the speed limit is 100kph. The majority of drivers on those roads are careful and observe the rules. But we regularly see the consequences of those who choose a different approach. Tyre marks where people have spent their evenings doing burnouts or wheelies on the back roads are commonplace. We also see abandoned, stolen cars which have been pinched in town and taken off for a joy ride – and then dumped in a ditch.

Can this behaviour be stopped or reduced by putting up barriers, reducing speeds, or increasing signage? No.

An interesting observation from this newsroom is that many crashes on rural roads involve a single vehicle.

We have covered incidents where drivers have collided with stock, overturned on a straight stretch of road, or left the road on a hard corner. None of these incidents involved, thankfully, another vehicle and could have easily been avoided. Speed was an issue. The vehicles were travelling way over the limit.

Authorities can spend millions of taxpayer [and ratepayer] dollars on all sorts of modifications and other things, but if people don’t care about following the rules, none of it will make a single bit of difference.

Perhaps the cash would be better spent focusing on managing the non-compliant minority so we have fewer crashes to cover in the media.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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