Troubling rise in pedestrian toll

By Mathew Dearnaley

Photo / File
Photo / File

Pedestrian deaths have surged to an alarming level in defiance of a generally sinking road toll.

Ten people have been run down and killed while walking since January 1, compared with just one in the first three months of last year.

That led to a renewed call from the walking federation Living Streets of Aotearoa yesterday for the Government to change road rules to give pedestrians right of way over vehicles at intersections.

The Transport Agency's rolling 12-month road toll showed 297 deaths by Thursday, 40 fewer than at the same time last year.

But 86 of those occurred since January 1, compared with 73 for the same portion of 2011.

Forty people killed in the 12 months to Thursday were pedestrians, up from 30 for the previous year.

By yesterday afternoon there had been no deaths over Easter from road accidents, although an 84-year-old man was deemed by a coroner to have suffered a fatal heart attack before crashing his car in Glen Innes, East Auckland.

The man died in Auckland City Hospital after the crash yesterday morning, but the police say that will not count towards the road toll.

Five people were killed on the roads last Easter, and 12 in 2010.

Acting road policing manager Inspector Rob Morgan said the lack of road deaths so far this Easter was a great result, although he urged drivers facing traffic queues on their way on the way home today not to become complacent.

He was at a loss to know why so many pedestrians had died this year, but believed it was too early to call it the start of a trend.

Mr Morgan did not know if a greater use by pedestrians of distracting gadgets such as iPods or cellphones should be blamed, as in the United States, where researchers say 47 people were killed last year while walking with headphones - up from 16 in 2004-05.

Living Streets national president Andy Smith, of Walk Auckland, said the pedestrian road toll gave urgency to the organisation's campaign for people crossing intersections on foot to have the right of way.

"We have dealt with car deaths by being sensible but our eyes should now be on pedestrian safety," he said.

His group says New Zealand is lagging behind countries such as Australia and Britain, where drivers must give way to pedestrians crossing roads into which they are turning.

It wants New Zealand to go further by matching places such as British Columbia in Canada and Illinois in the United States, where vehicles must "yield" to pedestrians crossing any roads in front of them at intersections.

The Government has agreed to consider the issue, but only after giving the recent rule changes for vehicles turning against opposing traffic time to settle in.

Former Associate Transport Minister Chris Tremain said in an email on April 2, a day before being transferred to another portfolio in a Cabinet reshuffle, that he was interested in Mr Smith's suggestions.

But he said transport officials had told him that extra changes on March 25, when the give way status between vehicles turning left and right was reversed, "might have complicated things for road users".

"Officials will look further at the possibility of changing the rules relating to turning traffic and pedestrians once the recent changes to the give-way rules are embedded," he wrote.

Mr Smith said the new vehicle rule changes would not make pedestrians any safer until they were given specific legal protection at intersections, and it was an unacceptable for officials to drag their feet while lives were at risk.

- NZ Herald

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