A man who died in a Marlborough car crash was eating chips and dip when he swerved off the road and into a tree.
University of Canterbury student Benjamin David Stantiall, 22, was driving his ute north along State Highway 1 near Seddon on November 7 last year, when he lost control while trying to avoid a north-bound tractor.
To avoid the tractor and another car in front of him that had pulled to the right, Stantiall swerved left and drove along the verge for about 25 metres before crashing into a tree. He died at the scene.
An autopsy confirmed he suffered multiple fatal injuries, including a massive brain injury caused by a sudden impact to the lower right side of his face.
In a report released today by Palmerston North coroner Carla na Nagara, she ruled Stantiall had been distracted and did not see the tractor until it was too late to brake.
Chips and dip were found in the ute's cab and the autopsy confirmed he had been eating at the time of his death.
''Following a moment of distraction - quite possibly from reaching for food/eating - Mr Stantiall found himself having to make a split second decision to avoid collision with other vehicles,'' na Nagara said.
''Of the three options available to him, he chose the one that posed the greatest risk to himself, and the least to the other nearby road users.
''Tragically he was unable to control his vehicle on the grass verge, leading to the fatal impact with the tree.''
Stantiall had not been speeding or using a phone at the time of the crash. No faults were found on the road or in his ute, and he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
He was not wearing a seatbelt but a pathologist was unable to confirm if this was a factor in his death.
''The case is a startling example of the devastating consequences that can follow momentary distraction while driving,'' na Nagara said.
At the time of the crash, police said Stantiall was driving home from university to see his family.
- Manawatu Standard