Police investigating the death of an American tourist in a collision at a notorious King Country intersection have called for a speed reduction.
Waikato road policing manager Leo Tooman told the Waikato Regional Council regional transport committee on Monday that narrowing the SH37 intersection with SH3 would slow traffic down.
His comments come after Kallan Stithem, 31, died on September 20, after making a right hand turn from SH37, having been blackwater rafting at Waitomo Caves, and colliding with a concrete mixer. His new wife, Kirsten, 28, was seriously injured in the crash and is still in a critical condition following surgery.
The couple’s families have so far refused to comment on the crash.
"We have had a vehicle which is stationary waiting to make a right hand turn and you have had the deceased’s vehicle come up on the left hand side trying to make a right hand turn," Mr Tooman said.
"The obvious choice is to look left . . . Nobody deserves to die as a result of a mistake they have made."
Mr Tooman told the committee: "Eventually we will make up a report to the coroner who will make a recommendation.
"The best way to control things is to slow things down. If we can get that SH37 mouth narrowed down they will have to wait to make a left hand turn or right hand turn.
Mr Tooman also spoke of the need to educate overseas drivers about New Zealand roads before they arrived through in flight instructional videos and through the car rental companies.
"If you have got somebody else to follow it’s not too bad, but if you have got nobody else to follow that’s where they hit problems."
Mr Tooman’s comments followed concerns raised by Waitomo Mayor Brian Hanna who had the item added to the agenda.
Waitomo District Council is powerless to make any changes to the intersection because both roads are state highways which fall under New Zealand Transport Agency’s jurisdiction..
"Waitomo Caves is often the first port of call for a lot of international visitors. They pick up their car and they drive down there and they are used to driving on the right side of the road."
Mr Hanna said he’d received a lot of feedback following the accident.
"There’s been so many near misses and even locals struggle coming out onto the 100km zone. We need to take these safety issues seriously because it’s our reputation for tourism in the Waikato that is affected.”
New Zealand Transport Agency regional manager Harry Wilson told the committee the agency, which widened SH39 in November when it added a pair of traffic islands, was already working on a solution.
"We are on top of it,” he said. "We have got some ideas which we have shared with the council. There is no easy engineering solution here."
Resident Jim O’Haloran, who remembers his first fatality at the intersection 70 years ago, last week suggested a roundabout with a flyover.
Mr Wilson said such a solution was not pratcical.
"If you sit and look at topography you can’t put a roundabout on top of a hill, you have to try and make the road as self-explanatory as we can.
"We have got temporary traffic management in place. Out thinking is that we will modify it, slow it down, put in an 80km/h speed restriction. You can’t narrow it down completely because of trucks. Nothing is easy in this world.”
Mr Wilson said the agency was not aware that school buses stopped at the intersection until last week.
"There’s no clear signage there indicating which way Rotorua is located.
"We do have pamphlets about what’s different on New Zealand roads, we do have a website, but there’s always things we can do to improve things for tourists."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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