The weekend's tragedy near Turangi has exposed one of the fundamental problems about driving on the open road in New Zealand.
The country's roading network varies hugely in its quality, and drivers rarely adjust their behaviour accordingly.
No other vehicle was involved in the horrendous accident, in which three young people were killed. The vehicle drifted into gravel and it appears the driver over-corrected and the vehicle rolled.
Even though it was a stretch of state highway which should be the country's best roads, it wasn't an easy road. In fact, about half of New Zealand's state-highway network is rated as average. This means it has deficiencies in alignment, the roadside – as was the case here – or poorly designed intersections.
If this is our best, what does this say about our vast network of minor roads?
New Zealand's geography and small population make it impossible to bring all roads up to the same quality, particularly in rural areas. The money is not available to gold plate every piece of road. Yet there is an assumption in this country that the 100kmh speed limit is universal. Many drivers insist they must travel at 100kmh, regardless of the conditions. It seems to be ingrained in our country's psyche. Lower your speed on any rural road, even on a wet day, and in no time you'll find yourself with a vehicle up your backside.
There must surely be a case for more care in the way speed limits are allocated, instead of leaving it up to inexperienced drivers to judge.
This accident, as with most, was a result of driver error. Those involved on this occasion were foreigners, but every other day of the year they are Kiwis. New Zealand authorities put plenty of effort into enforcement against drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs and against drivers who speed. We love enforcement.
What seems to be forgotten is driver training, which is minimal.
Somehow, this approach needs to change. Resources need to be relocated and more emphasis must go into training drivers, so that the nuances of driving in different conditions are better appreciated.
And the message needs to go out strongly that not all roads are created equal, and that if the conditions are difficult, you slow down.
- © Fairfax NZ News