Police hit back at dangerous drivers

By Kiri Gillespie


Drivers with attitude problems and tail-gating have caused havoc on the Western Bay's worst black spots - but police are hitting back.

A five-month campaign targeting poor or dangerous driving began this week on State Highway 29, State Highway 2 north of Bethlehem and State Highways 2 and 33 on the way to Rotorua.

Tauranga highway patrol's Sergeant Michael Owen said the three highways stood "head and shoulders above the rest" when it came to serious crashes in the region.

"Our aim is to prevent the crashes because almost every single one is caused by driver error.

"You can't really change mechanical failure, but we can change driver behaviour."

Mr Owen said local drivers who used the highways most regularly were the worst offenders, especially for tail-gating.

"A lot of people don't know how far they should be behind another vehicle.

"When we stop them one of the first questions is: how far [back] do you think you should be following that vehicle?"

"The answer was normally: 'Um dunno'," Mr Owen said.

If a car was travelling at 50km/h it should be 20m, or five car lengths, from the car in front. If it was travelling at 90km/h, it should be 36m, or nine car lengths.

Mr Owen said driver complacency and a perception of a 10km/h speed tolerance supposedly allowed by police fuelled poor driving standards, regardless of road conditions.

"We had it last year... This one guy in particular had the absolute belief that he could drive at 110km/h.

That's absolute rubbish, but that was his belief. As flawed as it was, that's the sort of attitude that we are battling and want to bring down," he said.

"Even if most people are driving to 100km/h on SH29, given its steep incline and sharp corners, in the wet if they don't adjust their driving behaviour there is a recipe for disaster right there in front of us."

The social cost of fatal crashes on the Kaimai Ranges over the past five winters had reached $18.34 million. The number of serious crashes there reached $8.12m.

Mr Owen said winter transformed the SH29 into a "treacherous" stretch of road.

"In saying that, in the last couple of years we have run the programme driver behaviour has changed for the better.

"We are noticing people are taking a lot more responsibility."

Western Bay of Plenty councillor and vocal road safety campaigner Margaret Murray-Benge said tail-gating was a big problem in Tauranga and she was glad the police were focusing on the highways. "If you think of the tail-gating that goes on in this region, it's serious, and it's sort of an arrogant attitude that should have to change," she said.

Mrs Murray-Benge, who represents the Kaimai ward, was involved in a crash herself last year.

She crossed the centre line, hit a power pole and flipped her car.

"My accident was one of unbelievable stress that had me falling asleep, so I feel just delighted that they will continue to promote the safety of SH29.

"And with all the heavy traffic it gets now, it really needs it," Mrs Murray-Benge said.

Speeding and police infringement notices had both decreased since the first winter safety focus started two years ago.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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