Drivers blamed for State Highway 22's dangerous reputation
A senior Pukekohe policeman is pointing the finger at Franklin drivers, as the Automobile Association dubs State Highway 22 the most dangerous state highway in New Zealand.
Sergeant Dean Borrell, of Counties Manukau South Police, said most crashes on the stretch of road that runs from Pukekohe to Drury were caused by bad driver decisions.
Borrell was backed up by local workers who use the notorious highway daily.
State Highway 22 (SH22) connects Pukekohe to SH1, at the Drury Interchange, via Karaka Rd and Paerata Rd. SH22 is unlike the rest of the network in that it is a rural highway with no median barrier.
Earlier this week, AA singled out state highways needing a significant and urgent cash injection to keep Kiwi drivers safe.
Roughly 40 per cent of the country's state highway network has a two-star safety rating, which means they feature hazards such as narrow shoulders, slanting surfaces, and ditches running alongside them.
And when taking into account all risk factors, the most dangerous road on the AA's list was SH22 from Drury to Pukekohe, which had an estimated likelihood of 0.39 deaths or serious injuries (DSI) per kilometre each year.
Sergeant Borrell said he had attended many crashes on the road over the years and most were caused by drivers going too fast, taking corners incorrectly or pulling out into traffic.
"It is not dangerous in design, it simply carries a massively bigger volume of traffic than it was ever designed for," he said.
Borrell said a notoriously bad area was the Blackbridge Rd intersection at Karaka where cars tried to turn across traffic travelling at 100kmh, in the few gaps.
He said the Waiuku turn-off was just as bad.
"Again cars turn across traffic in the few gaps available. [Drivers make] poor decisions on the passing lanes where drivers travel well over the speed limit and end up over the yellow lines at the end of the passing lanes.
"All to gain one or two spaces in the queue - having risked their and others' lives."
Borrell said it would help if slower drivers moved to the left where it was safe, to allow more consistent traffic flows.
"Drivers should allow more time to travel and be more patient. There is nowhere safe to pass."
Simon Watson, managing director, of NZ Hothouse which is located at 328 Karaka Rd on the highway, said he told his staff to be patient while driving on the busy road.
"It's better to be late, than be in an accident," he said.
The business has been operating on the road since 1999 and in that time, Watson said he had seen a massive increase in traffic.
He said the mornings were hectic, along with the 4.30pm till 6.30pm "reverse rush hour".
"There used to be a passing lane designed to handle underpowered trucks 30 years ago that has now been taken out," Watson said.
"It was taken out a few years ago and that helped us. Once cars hit our gate, they were going tremendous speeds and still on the wrong side of the road."
Jenny Litherland from Drury said on Franklin County News' Neighbourly page, she drove the stretch of road often.
"The condition of the road is good and the night lighting is great but some drivers are either too fast and impatient, or too slow, and do not pull over to let others pass safely. The danger is the driving ability of some drivers."
Litherland said it was dangerous overtaking, especially heading up the hill past the golf course, that was a factor.
"Driving at the beginning of Paerata Rd can exceed 100kmh sometimes, and yet it is a 70kmh zone. Overtaking on double yellow lines along this stretch of road is not unusual either."
Karaka School's office manager Debbie Withers said she had seen numerous accidents outside the school on Blackbridge Rd, just off the highway.
"When I'm pulling out at night I have to wait 10 to 15 minutes to get [onto SH22]," she said.
"And cars are going 100km. Parents [of school children] have the same problem."
She said she would support a lowering of the speed limit on the highway.
Borrell said there were long-term plans to improve the highway's safety.
"I know long-term there are plans to improve the two intersections I mentioned with round-a-bouts; and one day a new four-lane road may be built."
Ian Litchfield, general manager of Pukekohe Golf Club located on SH22, said he had been trying to work with NZTA since he started running the business over seven years ago.
He believes it's the road that's the problem.
He said the club's location, on the crest of a hill by a passing lane, made it tricky for members to access the club safely when turning right in and out of the club and onto the highway.
"I've seen several accidents, near misses and lots of arguments," he said.
Litchfield said he would like to see a round-a-bout built at the Waiuku turn-off.
"One suggestion would be a round-a-bout, but they need to get rid of the passing lane. The passing lane is the problem - it's too short and you can't see the finish."