Yes, we can wish for wider roads – or we could drive on what we’ve got at appropriate speeds

No, it’s not built for speed….


A simple piece of good motoring advice is to drive to the conditions.

If the road is a bit rumpety, ease up on your speed.

And if you can’t stick to the road, probably you are driving too fast.

Alf brings this to the attention of his constituents, lest they come knocking on his door making demands for the Government to do something about our narrower roads.

He anticipates these calls on the strength of claims that a fatal crash in the central North Island had something to do with the condition of some of New Zealand’s state highways.

Those sorts of arguments are promoted by people who would like us to have autobahn-quality highways throughout the country, presumably so they can drive in a comparatively straight line over long distances at high speed.

It somewhat overlooks the fiscal constraints on all our public spending and the cost of building such highways.

Meantime, we are smart if we just condition ourselves to coping with the roads we have got and – for our safety and the safety of other road users – drive accordingly.

Alf sympathises with the families and friends of the accident at the weekend.

Eight American students, most from Boston University in their early 20s, were travelling in convoy with another vehicle of students to the Tongariro Crossing when their van rolled on gravel on State Highway 46, south of the Tongariro National Park, about 7.30am on Saturday.

Three died in the crash and five were hospitalised. One woman remains in a critical condition in Waikato Hospital’s intensive care unit, while two women are in a stable condition in Rotorua Hospital. Two other people have been treated and discharged.

Yes, it’s a tragedy.

But the editor of the Dog and Lemon car review website doesn’t help when he says it appears poor road design contributed to the tragedy.

Clive Matthew-Wilson says if the highway had been fitted with rumble strips and the asphalt was widened, it may have alerted the driver as they veered off the road and lost control.

“The evidence does suggest that if it had, for example, rumble strips on the road, or if the asphalt surface had extended another 300 millimetres to the left, this tragedy might not have occurred.”

Why stop at 300 millimetres?

Why not extend the asphalt surface another three metres? That should give a motorist a bit more room for error.

Yep, of course it’s ludicrous.

And Alf is pleased to find others agree with him in saying it is too expensive to make such changes throughout the country.

Simon Lambourn from the Automobile Association says the section of highway where Saturday’s accident happened is by no means the worst in New Zealand and is rated three out of a possible five stars in the country’s road assessment programme.

About half of the state highway network is considered three-star, or average condition.

“About 56 percent of it is three-star. So, all things considered, this is a road in average condition. Three-star roads are typically undivided and they do have some deficiencies … be it the alignment or the roadsides or poorly-designed intersections.”

The Automobile Association says many other factors will prevent crashes, including safer vehicles, good driving skills and making speed limits suit particular roads.

Ken Shirley, head of the Road Transport Forum and an old mate of Alf, described Matthew-Wilson’s remarks as a knee-jerk reaction.

He ventured that the most likely cause of Saturday’s crash was common to all crashes – excessive speed for the conditions, driver fatigue and/or inattention.

As Radio NZ reports, what caused the crash is now in the hands of the Serious Crash Unit and will be the subject of coronial inquiries.

Let’s wait to find what these authorities say.

Meantime, there’s no point in wishing we had better or wider roads. Let’s just drive in accord with the roads we have got.

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