Taking a short cut cost Sarah-Jo Manaena her life, left her pre-school daughters without a mother, and has left the driver of another car with daily flashbacks.
The 25-year-old was returning to Hastings along State Highway 50, a route she knew well, having taken her girls to see their grandparents on March 3, when she crossed the centreline and collided with a southbound car.
Manaena died at the scene, near Maraekakaho. Her girls suffered only minor injuries.
The driver of the other car, also familiar with the road, was shaken but was able to walk from her car, which rolled several times after the collision.
That driver, who does not want to be named, and Manaena's family, are now urging others to stick to their side of the road and are backing a police blitz that has seen dozens of drivers caught making the same mistake.
Senior Sergeant Greg Brown, officer in charge of road policing in Hawke's Bay, said Manaena's father, Max, wanted it known that the family were "still suffering tremendously and they are just thankful it wasn't worse in that the grandkids and [the other driver] is OK".
The other driver, a sales representative who drives hundreds of kilometres every week, yesterday recalled seeing Manaena's BMW coming towards her and "that horrible feeling of realising that the car was on the wrong side of the line".
"I remember gasping and swerving. That happened really fast. My car went up a bank and tumbled and rolled. That seemed to take an awfully long time and was incredibly painful.
"The next thing, there were local people there who stayed with me until emergency services arrived."
The woman, who is a mother herself, said: "I think about the accident a lot. It's certainly with me every day.
"But I truly don't feel upset at Sarah- Jo. She was just a busy young mum, she was in a hurry and she just made an error in judgment, which we've all done. Unfortunately, in this case, it had devastating consequences."
Brown said an operation to catch drivers on the wrong side of the centreline, started after Manaena's death, had seen 25 drivers crossing the line on the same corner, and another 25 drivers caught doing the same thing elsewhere.
"Those 25 were caught in just five to seven hours of observation," Brown said.
Until now, those caught have been fined $150 and issued demerit points, but from now on police would be looking at laying dangerous driving charges.
Since the crash, the single white line that Manaena crossed has been replaced with a double yellow line and a rumble strip.
"Sarah-Jo wasn't speeding, all the seatbelts were correctly fitted and road conditions were excellent," Brown said.
"She simply made a mistake. It's a mistake we don't want others to make, as this tragic event shows what the consequences can be.
"From our observations to date, I have to say I'm dismayed at how brazen some drivers are with their actions . . .
"It seems to be considered normal behaviour and, when we pull them up, they often say, 'We all do this', or 'I can see what's coming'.
"The truth is they can't, and we're saying 'now's the time to stop'."
- The Dominion Post
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