Falling road toll cold comfort for victims' families

LIAM HYSLOP
Last updated 05:00 19/01/2014

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The road does not discriminate over its victims. In the 11 days from Christmas Eve until the morning of January 3, seven people died on New Zealand roads, ranging from an 11-month-old girl to a 52-year-old father.

Although the toll was the second lowest since records began in 1958, as police have repeatedly said "one death is too many".

Among those who died was a bubbly and caring mother of two who had it all ahead of her in 2014.

Lynelle Bray, 46, completed an accounting degree in April last year and, although she had struggled for eight months to find a job, she had finally landed her dream gig just before Christmas.

The past few years had been hard graft, raising two kids while completing her degree, but she had finally caught a break.

But on December 30 it came to an abrupt end.

The car she was driving collided with a bus at a Hamilton intersection and she died at the scene.

Jazmin, 20, and Jayden, 17, lost the mother they loved and Joy and Bevan Bray faced the anguish of burying one of their children.

Joy Bray said the loss was especially devastating for the children, leaving them without a guiding force. She and her daughter, known as Lil, talked almost daily on the phone.

"As a mother and daughter, that doesn't always happen . . . we talked about the things we were worried about and wanting to talk through and we've always been able to do that."

Just why do people crash over the Christmas/New Year period?

Official descriptions of the crashes this year included things such as "hit a barrier and flipped", "driver lost control and hit a bank" and "vehicle crosses the centre line, hits a ditch on the other side of the road and rolls" - all indicating careless driving was a cause, rather than external factors such as weather or alcohol.

Automobile Association motoring affairs general manager Mike Noon said from what he saw, this seemed to be the case.

"The crashes I saw seemed to be people making mistakes, everyday drivers making mistakes and it turned out badly."

There were a wide range of circumstances that led to those mistakes, including people rushing to get to events or tiredness from long drives, Noon said.

For the New Zealand Transport Agency, the causes of the crashes were not an easy thing to pinpoint.

NZTA communications manager Andy Knackstedt said that during the holiday period, journeys were often longer than normal and people were driving on routes that are new to them.

"Driver fatigue and other stressful things like heat, traffic jams, noisy children and general tiredness can all combine to make our roads riskier.

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"Plus, people on holiday may be less vigilant about not drink driving, keeping to a safe speed, not driving when tired, and always buckling up.

"People travelling on NZ roads during a holiday period need to be aware that there are more vehicles on the road, and more people driving on unfamiliar roads."

Police road policing manager Superintendent Carey Griffiths said although one fatality was too many, the number of summer fatalities was significantly down. The number of fatalities for December 2013 (23) was the lowest in 63 years, with January 2014 also on track to be one of the lowest.

But that is cold comfort for the Bray family.

Mrs Bray said it was rare to see Lil without a smile on her face, and she had a great ability to connect with people, something the overwhelming response at her funeral showed.

"She was always a lovely, happy, cheerful person and a sign of that is there was in excess of 350 people at her funeral, and we've received over 100 cards.

"You often pick up papers and they say [a person] drowned or died and they say what a neat person they were, but the number that we had at the funeral, and we're getting cards from people who we haven't seen for 20 years, and they all say the same thing," she added.

"I knew what merit she held with me, but to hear it from other people has been absolutely incredible."

HOLIDAY DEATHS

Sandy Paul Waenga Brown, 21, of Paua, died in the early hours of Christmas Day after being thrown from a Toyota Hilux south of Cape Reinga. The driver had lost control and hit a bank.

Olivia Lu, 11 months, died after her parents' car hit a barrier and flipped on to its roof near Paraparaumu, north of Wellington on December 28. She died in hospital, where her mother was able to hold her one last time.

A 56-year-old woman from China died in a crash between Te Anau and Mossburn in Southland on December 29.

Kahui Matauwhati, 4, of Masterton, died after her family's Isuzu Bighorn 4WD crossed the centre line, hit a ditch on the other side of the road and rolled on State Highway 4 near Taumarunui. Her death notice read: "God has taken another angel home".

Lynelle Joy Bray, 46, of Hamilton, died when her car collided with a bus in Hamilton on December 30. Her mother, Joy, said she was a bright, bubbly person who had it all ahead of her.

Gregory John Spargo, 50, of Auckland, died in a motorcycle crash near Bulls on New Year's Eve. His death notice said he died "doing one of the things which he loved best, riding his Triumph".

Norman John Lessells, 52, of Havelock North died after his motorcycle collided with a ute at 12.55pm on the Napier-Taihape road on January 2. 

- Sunday Star Times

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