Police to target highways and schools

By Sandra Conchie, Sam Boyer

Police will target highways and schools in an effort to drive down the region's road toll after 14 people died on Western Bay roads last year.

The Western Bay road toll has been steadily climbing since 2009 - bucking the national trend. New Zealand had its lowest road toll in six decades with 284 deaths in 2011, the lowest since 1952.

Ten people were killed on Western Bay roads in both 2008 and 2009.

But in 2010 that figure rose to 13, before rising again last year.

The Bay's top road policing officer said the area's road toll was too high but cited progress made by his team as a contributor to keeping the fatalities lower than they might otherwise have been.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

The Bay had a horrific start to 2011 with a double fatality that killed two local men in a head-on smash on Oropi Rd on January 11.

Greerton father-of-six Robin "Tom" Fong, 68, was coming home for breakfast when the light truck he was driving collided with a motorcycle coming the other way.

Both Mr Fong and the motorcycle rider, Pyes Pa father-of-three Chris Vickers, 55, died at the scene. Mr Vickers was on his way to the petrol station on Oropi Rd.

Mr Vickers, who was best known in Tauranga as a boat builder, was on holiday from his job as a postie when the crash occurred.

At 68, Mr Fong had continued to run his accounting business Taxation Consultants but spent most mornings at "the farm" - a lifestyle complex laden with avocado, passionfruit and tamarillos.

Mr Fong's son Rodney Fong last night said his father was "the rock everybody looked to" and a year on he and his siblings and mother Lynn were still struggling to cope with the huge hole in their family unit.

The coroner has determined that no one was to blame for the crash and that the exact cause may never been known, he said.

"We have nothing but admiration for what the police did at the scene and since the crash and commend them for their efforts to try and drive down the number of serious crashes."

Mr Fong said it was not until his father was killed that he realised how bad the road toll was.

"Not until it happens to your family do you appreciate what police are trying to do to tackle it," he said.

Mr Fong applauded the police for their zero tolerance to motorists driving 5km/h over the speed limit.

He said he believed police and local authorities should be given greater powers to make changes and improvements to potential risk areas, whether it be reducing speed limits or adjusting road markings.

Mr Vickers' wife of 30 years, Joy Vickers, last night confirmed the coroner's report said that no one was to blame for the crash that killed her loving husband and best mate.

Mrs Vickers said she believed police did an awesome job and could not have done anything more to have prevented her husband's or Mr Fong's death.

"The crash had nothing to do with alcohol or speed or the weather conditions it was just a terrible accident. Sadly, the coroner hasn't been able to pinpoint what did happen or exactly what caused the crash. Unfortunately my husband suffered a terrible death and we can't find anyone or anything to blame and he's become another road statistic and nothing will bring him back," she said.

In relation to what could be done to help reduce the crash rate, Mrs Vickers said that was best left in the hands of the experts.

Senior Sergeant Ian Campion, officer-in-charge of Western Bay of Plenty road policing unit, said that although police had reduced the number of crashes on one of the key regional state highways, there was always more work to do.

In the past two years, the police winter presence on the Kaimais has resulted in a drop in crashes by more than 60 per cent.

"We've got summer and winter plans that focus on our highways," Mr Campion said.

"Everybody should know about the Kaimais. The Kaimais is a high-risk highway. During the winter months police are on the road there day in, day out. In the summer the focus is on State Highway 2 between Te Maunga and Paengaroa and on State Highway 2 north of Tauranga."

But the drive to lower the road toll extended further than just main routes.

"There's a whole raft of things we do. Things like ... seatbelts, inexperienced drivers, speed in general, intersection compliance. Really, it's about addressing the behaviours that cause crashes. It's about alcohol and drugs, it's about speed, it's about apprehending those people that engage in high-risk behaviour," Mr Campion said.

Even if the roading boss could halve last year's figure, he said it would still be too high.

"If you got down to five deaths a year, yes, I'd be impressed with that, but it would still be five deaths too many. Fourteen, that will affect hundreds of people, those deaths. It's just a waste. It's so unfortunate."

This summer has also seen police attack speeding drivers near schools.

There had been 300 infringements notices issued in the past fortnight near schools, a statistic that didn't reflect well on the community.

"That's certainly not a good reputation for an area to have," , Mr Campion said.

"I'm not quite sure how to get the message through to those people. School zones are high-risk.

"Everybody needs to rethink how they drive. Deaths on the road are not just a police problem, they are a community problem."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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