Police concerned at head-on collisions

Police fear worst is ahead after lucky breaks

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 10/12/2013
Dangerous driving
BARRY HARCOURT/Fairfax NZ
KEEP LEFT: A bus travelling between Milford Sound and Te Anau crosses over the centre line despite arrows warning drivers of the need to stick to the left.

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A spate of head-on collisions on southern roads has police fearing a fatality could happen.

It was only a matter of luck no one was seriously injured in three separate crashes in Central Otago on Sunday.

An increase in traffic for summer and foreign drivers forgetting which side of the road to drive on made the roads even more dangerous, police say.

Cromwell police attended three vehicle collisions within a few hours on Sunday with one involving an American man driving on the wrong side.

"It was very fortunate no one was killed in these collisions," Sergeant Simon Paget, of Cromwell, said.

About 4pm a 34-year-old Queenstown man lost control of his vehicle on State Highway 6 in the Kawarau Gorge.

The vehicle spun out and ended up down a bank, Mr Paget said.

The man, who was alone, suffered whiplash and was taken to the Cromwell Medical Centre. He will appear in the Alexandra District Court charged with dangerous driving.

About an hour later, a 43-year-old Wanaka man's vehicle crossed the centre line on State Highway 8B and collided with an oncoming vehicle. He was taken to Dunstan Hospital for observation.

The driver of the other vehicle was unhurt and inquiries into the cause of the crash were continuing, Mr Paget said.

At the same time, a 29-year-old American man drove on the wrong side of the road after pulling onto State Highway 6 near the Goldfields Mining Centre, and his vehicle collided head-on with an oncoming vehicle.

A 24-year-old Queenstown woman in the second vehicle was taken to Invercargill Hospital with a broken sternum and a broken rib.

The man has been charged with dangerous driving causing injury.

Mr Paget said it was the second crash in two weeks Cromwell police had attended involving tourists driving on the wrong side of the road. On November 30, an American man drove for 2 kilometres on the wrong side of the road after exiting the one-lane Lindis Crossing bridge. He collided head-on with another vehicle.

Southern District acting highway patrol team leader Geoff Sutherland said there was an influx of tourists and a higher level of traffic complaints at the beginning of the summer season.

A lot were only in the country for a short time and were trying to do as much as they could, Mr Sutherland said.

"Some nationals are just poor drivers, while fatigue can be a factor for others. They lose concentration and revert back to driving on the side of the road they do back home,’’ he said.

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Many tourists underestimated the length of their journeys in the south.

The distance and length of the trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound often caught foreign drivers by surprise. ‘‘They think it may not be far to go but by the time they do their boat trips it ends up being a 12- to 14-hour day,’’ Mr Sutherland said.

"They are in a rush to get back to their accommodation, are tired and next minute they are losing control of their cars going into corners.’’

Mr Paget said police would be out in force as part of the Safer Summer campaign, which was targeting speed 4km above the posted speed limit.

Motorists should drive to the conditions, especially in the wet, maintain following distances and report bad driving to police by calling *555 or 111.

- The Southland Times

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