HDPA cutting our killer tourists some slack

There’s a road I like to take to get away from the city. It carries you north out of Wellington, passing the Hutt on your right.

At first, there are cars everywhere, but once you clear the motorway the vehicles thin out. You pass quaint tea rooms, cows in a paddock and old huts you assume must belong to DoC because who else would put a hut all the way up there?

The road begins to climb, gradually at first. The two lanes north reduce to one. And it’s narrow. But you don’t mind because from this road you get a stunner of a view. Bush, clouds threading through the hills, snow sometimes.

The road zigs left, then right, like a river winding around the mountain. You have to slow right down to make the corners. The drop down one side is scary if you stop to think about it. There’s only a ruler length between you and the edge.

This road isn’t a secret find of mine. It’s our second most important drag. State Highway 2, heading over the Rimutakas. It’s one of only two ways to get out of our capital by car, and it’s a road tourists drive every day.

In this outrage about the carnage tourists are causing on our roads, I reckon we may be forgetting our part in the crashes. These are our roads and they’re dangerous.

A couple of years ago I stopped for a drink at a roadside bar in South Africa. The light was failing so the barman told me to get going. “It’s a bloody windy one,” he warned.

I did as I was told. I drove through a gorge and the corners came. Even though the curves were sweeping, I began slowing down. I didn’t want to be surprised by those sudden turns.

But the sharp corners never arrived. I was back on the straight.

What the South African barman considered winding was nothing for someone who knows the Desert Rd, or that gorge that runs between Napier and Taupo, or Arthur’s Pass.

So, maybe the problem is not just the tourists. Maybe it’s our roads as well. That may explain why most visitors involved in serious crashes – and by that I mean where someone dies or is hurt – are Australians. Not Chinese. Not American. Not motorists accustomed to sticking to the right, but Australians who drive on the left, just like us. But think about Australia’s roads. Long, wide, so straight you fall asleep.

The official statistics tell us the top reason tourists crash isn’t them crossing the centre line. That mistake is way down the list of causes.

The most frequent mistake tourists make is losing control of the vehicle. It’s also the top reason Kiwi drivers crash.

We’re crashing for the same reason, on the same roads.

Not driving to the conditions, including windy roads, is what the problem is. ?Having said that, how many times are you driving outside of a city behind a rental car or campervan and they’re going a mighty 40-60 km/h? ? That alone is a source of frustration for experienced drivers that are then looking to get around people who aren’t pulling over at regular intervals.

It’s all well and good to “blame” the roads, but we have too many of them for ?country with few people to pay for them. ?And let’s be honest: ?do you really want to see a straight ‘safe’ motorway cut through the Rimutakas, up the Coromandel or over the Crown Road?

No we don’t.

The road toll sky rockets during official holiday periods because people take to the roads that are in a hurry to get where they are going, aren’t as experienced at driving on New Zealand’s highways and byways, and there are just too many of them.

We have about 3,000,000 tourists every year. ?A fair proportion take to the road, and some of those are going to mess up. ? Even though they present a larger proportion down the south of the South Island, they are in general doing a good job and getting where they want to go without leaving carnage behind them.

Some education about New Zealand’s roads and general expectations about courtesy would be great. ?But to blame the roads themselves as the cause of the problem would be the same as blaming Kim Dotcom’s full fridge for his weight problem.


– Heather du Plessis-Allan