Bikers slam aggressive hill drivers
Aggressive drivers are endangering motorcyclists on the Rimutaka Hill and have even tried to run them off the road, a biker group claims.
The comments follow the death of motorcyclist Andries Nieman in December, when he failed to take a corner, was thrown from his bike and hit by a car coming the other way.
Members of the Wellington branch of Bikers Rights Organisation New Zealand (Bronz) accept the driver was not at fault, and admit that a group of "hothead" bikers, not affiliated to Bronz, often ride dangerously on weekly organised trips over the hill.
But they say riders are not the only ones to blame for injuries and deaths on the road.
"Cars and trucks are constantly cutting corners and across the median line . . . there are cars trying to do the 'drift course' up there, even trying to run riders off the road," Bronz Wellington president Byron Cummins said.
Drivers at the scene of Mr Nieman's death were "aggressive, abusive . . . lambasting ‘bloody bikers' ".
He said drivers' attitudes towards bikers had improved since motorcyclists boosted their profile through ACC levy protests in 2009, but still left a lot to be desired. He also said road planning on the hill favoured four-wheeled motorists, even though the notorious stretch of State Highway 2 had one of the highest volumes of motorcyclists in the country.
Standard crash barriers did not cater for the impact on motorcyclists who hit them, failed to stop them sliding underneath, and included dangerously protruding posts.
New crash-barrier and roading infrastructure technology developed in Victoria, Australia, led to a "massive, measurable reduction in motorcyclist injury and death", but Bronz's efforts to get the New Zealand Transport Agency to trial the developments on the Rimutaka Hill had been ignored, he said.
But NZTA's Wellington highways manager Rod James said neither of the two motorcyclist deaths on the Rimutaka Road in the past 10 years was a consequence of a rider striking roadside barriers, and barrier modifications for motorcyclist protection were untested in New Zealand.
"As soon as a suitable product becomes available, we will assess its suitability for installation."
The agency had spent about $1 million since 2012 on new guard-rails and was considering more, he said.
Other motorcycle-safety measures included constant debris-clearing, skid-resistant road surfacing, hazard signs, rider safety training and NZTA experts riding over the hill to get a motorcyclist's view, he said.
The agency was also looking at a speed-limit reduction for the hill.
The Automobile Association said Bronz was right to denounce car drivers cutting corners on the hill.
"It's popular with motorcyclists, and high-risk, and if there's any sort of collision it's always going to be the motorcyclist who's most seriously hurt," spokesman Dylan Thomsen said.
No-one had complained to police about motorists deliberately targeting bikers but any such claims would be investigated, Wellington road policing manager Donna Laban said.
"Certainly it's not just the motorcyclists that are causing the danger."
The Rimutaka Hill Road is ranked as the third "riskiest" highway in the country in terms of crashes per kilometre.