Grape harvesters on highway a 'recipe for disaster'


Evan White says the combination of trucks, harvesters and heavy traffic on SH63 could be lethal.

Harvesters and highways don't mix at the best of times, never mind when it's the South Island's "white knuckle highway".

Dairy farmer Evan White says traffic along State Highway 63 is already a "rat race" and will struggle with slow-moving grape harvesters added to the mix.

Police agree that caution is needed, and urge all motorists to co-exist on the State Highway 1 replacement during the annual harvest in Marlborough.

Grape harvesters make their way up the Wairau Valley during last year's harvest. (File photo)

Grape harvesters make their way up the Wairau Valley during last year's harvest. (File photo)

State Highway 63, which passes through Renwick, is bordered by more than 50 kilometres of grapes, which will be collected over the coming weeks.

Wairau Valley residents worry accident is imminent on narrow, battered SH63
Pressure builds on alternative State Highway 1
'Flat out' inland 'Quake highway' has truck driver's wife fearing the worst

The highway forms part of the South Island's new main trunkline between Picton and Christchurch and includes SH7, 65 and 6.

Farmer Evan White says if motorists are not focused they could drive into the back of slow-moving grape harvesters.

Farmer Evan White says if motorists are not focused they could drive into the back of slow-moving grape harvesters.

White, who lived 60 kilometres west of Blenheim on SH63, said some drivers thought they were invincible and the demands placed on the route were concerning.

"All the gondolas and harvesters can really do is about 40kmh, if you get a convoy of them it seems like a recipe for disaster," he said.

"If people are not 100 per cent focused they will go right into the back of them.

A truck heading south on State Highway 7 with a queue of cars behind it.

A truck heading south on State Highway 7 with a queue of cars behind it.

"The traffic, harvesters and trucks under pressure is just a lethal combination."

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Five people have died on the new alternate highway between Picton and Christchurch, with two young Christchurch men the latest to join the death toll after a crash on Tuesday.

The crash, involving a white car and a Freight Lines truck, happened about 5 kilometres north of Culverden on State Highway 7 about 8am.

Five people have died on the new alternate highway between Christchurch and Picton, with two Christchurch men the latest ...

Five people have died on the new alternate highway between Christchurch and Picton, with two Christchurch men the latest to join the death toll after a crash on Tuesday.

Putting harvesters onto the highway would only increase the dangers of the entire route, White said.

"You're taking your life into your own hands when driving this road," he said.

The average number of vehicles passing through St Arnaud, on SH63, on a daily basis had increased from 41 to 579 since the quake - a jump of 1306 per cent.

The only way harvest would pass without serious incident was for drivers to be cautious at all times, White said.

"The freight, people and grapes all need to get through - if we're all sensible, we'll all get there," he said.

"Surely it's better to get there five minutes late than not at all.

"If you don't need to take the road, don't."

Marlborough highway patrol team leader Sergeant Barrie Greenall said all vehicles needed to co-exist, which could be difficult due to the difference in speeds.

"The last thing drivers would expect is a slow-moving agricultural vehicle in the middle of State Highway 63," he said.

"Harvest is upon us and you may be at the end of a long journey, but you still need to be aware."

Hazard lights on harvesters could come at you quickly and caution was advised to those who might be at the end of a long drive, Greenall said.

"Be alert and pay attention," he said.

Police and Marlborough Roads organised a driver information session last week to remind agricultural drivers of the hazards.

Last year, a total of 45 spills were recorded on Marlborough roads due to the grape harvest.

 - The Marlborough Express


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