OPINION: One question that stems from a front page story yesterday suggesting Nelson drivers are worse than those in comparable cities is: Why? And, perhaps, a point from the same angle in the story: So what else is new? Correspondents to the editor - and editorial writers, too - have been pointing out some of the more obvious deficiencies in Nelson drivers for years.
They tend to avoid using their indicators, except for some odd moments when they are not supposed to use them at all. Every second or third driver seems hopelessly confused by the rules around signalling at roundabouts - though, to their credit and against all predictions, most did get the hang of the new right-hand turning rules comparatively quickly.
Too many Nelson drivers pull out into nonexistent gaps and meander along, oblivious to the frustration and potential for chaos in their wake. Too many find themselves halfway through an intersection without having looked left, right, or perhaps even straight ahead. Too many seem not to notice bikes, however lurid the lurex. Worse are the jerks who seem to enjoy endangering cyclists, perhaps awarding themselves points based on how close they can edge towards the handlebars without actually clipping them.
Much focus is placed on young car hoons, both by the police and the non-petrolheads among us. And yes, at times their antics can weave between criminal and insane. Flooring it on the open road can mean their vehicles reach the sort of speeds where, should the unexpected happen, the consequences are severe.
However, Nelson is not alone in having a small group of "car enthusiasts" as some prefer to be known. They pull donuts and drifts in Invercargill, Napier, Palmerston North and Papakura too - so it is unlikely to be this particular group that is responsible for the bulk of the bad driving in our city.
One demographic trend Nelson is well-known for is the large, and rising, number of elderly. However, they are not the main driver of this trend, either. Nelson does sneak into the top 12 regions for accidents involving elderly drivers, but only just.
Perhaps the most pertinent point is that the bad rap for Nelson drivers is hinged on a New Zealand Transport Agency report based on statistics for the four years to 2009. It identified 15 intersections with high crash rates and based some findings on the so-called social cost of accidents at them. The report has to be read carefully. A fatal accident at an intersection would rate highly on this index, even if few other crashes occur there.
The city council and other agencies have done significant work on many of the intersections identified in the report, and latest stats suggest the accident rate has come down significantly since 2009, both as a result of this work and significant publicity campaigns in recent years.
The council, meanwhile, has set a three-year performance target which aims to trim the crash rate to levels below that of the peer group cities listed above. More work is to be done, particularly on improving the traffic flow on Waimea Rd.
The latest stats suggest the council, police and other agencies are on the right road. We can all play our part in making sure the lower crash target is met.