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Watching the would-be carnage on the Kaimais

By Sandra Conchie

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Bay of Plenty Times reporter Sandra Conchie got a first-hand look at some of the bad driver behaviour on display on SH29 over the Kaimai Range where three people have lost their lives this year.
Wayne Hunter. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN
Wayne Hunter. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN

Speeding, rapid lane changes, cutting corners, not keeping to the correct following distances ... I see it all on a stretch of highway that is one of the most notorious crash spots in the region.

I see a car pull back on to the highway in the face of two trucks coming up the hill heading towards Tauranga as I'm standing at the Kaimai summit lookout talking to acting head of Western Bay of Plenty road policing, Sergeant Wayne Hunter.

At the same time, a line of cars heading down towards the Waikato side is tailgating a truck.

At 80km/h, their following distances should be at least eight car lengths, or 32 metres, but they are within two to three car lengths - the two-second rule has clearly gone out the window.

Within 10 minutes the list of bad behaviours grows and it's all happening metres from the spot where a head-on collision claimed the life of 17-year-old Jasmine Clothier on Saturday.

Jasmine Clothier.
Jasmine Clothier.

It's not an isolated case. The following distances of many vehicles are far too close. It would only have taken the vehicle in front to slam on its brakes and someone else's name would have been added to the list of crash victims.

I saw one car coming up the hill heading towards Tauranga doing 90km/h and because the driver was going too fast while taking the corner, the vehicle ended up in the middle lane and the driver had to cut across to the other lane to avoid hitting a truck.

It's crazy stuff.

Time and time again as Mr Hunter and I sit in his unmarked patrol car, motorists take risks. A frustrated Mr Hunter shakes his head.

"People have got to modify their driving behaviour and it appears the only way to do that for some drivers is to give them tickets.

"Today the road is dry and it's beautiful driving conditions. Just imagine what would happen if people were doing these sorts of stupid behaviours in the wet."

Mr Hunter says most drivers in the Kaimai summit area are doing 60-70km/h, but others were doing 80km/h or more.

While the speed limit was 100km/h on this notorious crash spot, drivers would have far better control at the lower speeds, he says.

On our journey back to the city, Mr Hunter notes some drivers are travelling well over 100km/h - he clocks two vehicles at 107km/h and 110km/h.

"When we stop people for speeding in the passing lanes they often tell us they need to do 115km/h to get past the other vehicle safely, but just because it's a passing lane doesn't mean they're entitled to do over 110km/h," he says.


Even I feel very intimidated when I am coming out of this road because of the speed and following distances of many vehicles.
Sergeant Wayne Hunter


Adhering to the correct following distances was vital, especially as sheep wandered out on to the highway.

Mr Hunter says most vehicles are travelling within three cars lengths of each other when they needed to be at least eight.

"We also get a lot of *555 complaints about people passing on the no-passing lines, especially drivers getting impatient with slower trucks."

One of the most dangerous areas is the intersection with McLaren Falls Rd.

"Even I feel very intimidated when I am coming out of this road because of the speed and following distances of many vehicles," he says.

Mr Hunter says he will support a speed reduction on this stretch of highway to 80km/h but the solution to reducing the crash statistics is mostly in motorists' hands.

"Driving home that message is a constant battle."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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