Kiri is a digital journalist for bayofplentytimes.co.nz.

$73m boost to help reduce road toll

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Inez and Harry Johns were seriously injured in a crash and say they take their lives into their own hands every time they go out.
Inez and Harry Johns were seriously injured in a crash and say they take their lives into their own hands every time they go out.

A $73 million revamp of the Bay of Plenty and Waikato's most dangerous roads has been heralded as a significant step to curbing the region's appalling road toll but an elderly crash survivor says driver behaviour is the Bay's biggest problem.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges announced the investment yesterday as part of a $600 million Safer Roads and Roadsides Programme aimed at improving more than 90 high-risk sites.

Mr Bridges, who is also Tauranga's MP, said the project included nearly all high-risk roads where there had been five or more fatalities in the last five years.

A total of $73.9 million was allocated to the Bay of Plenty and Waikato's most dangerous roads, including State Highway 2 at Katikati and State Highway 29, which runs over the Kaimai Range toward Hamilton.

Mr Bridges said estimates were that the improvements would result in 900 fewer deaths and serious injuries on roads over the next 10 years.

"It's a significant step up in road safety investment by the Government and reinforces our commitment to reducing death and serious injury crashes on New Zealand roads."

The road improvements included realignment of corners in some areas to improve visibility, side barriers, median barriers, rumble strips, wide centre lines, road marking and improved signage.

Katikati pensioner Inez Johns said she looked forward to the improvements but it would take more than money to make roads safer.

In November 2013, Mrs Johns and husband Harry were travelling to go dancing when a drunk driver crossed into their lane, colliding head-on and inflicting life-changing injuries.

The 80-year-old was hospitalised with critical spinal injuries to her lower back and internal injuries. Mr Johns, 85, was hospitalised with spinal fractures to his neck and broken ribs.

Mrs Johns said she regularly saw people making mistakes on Bay roads.

"I think it's driver error in a lot of cases, especially at the Omokoroa turn off and the Youngson Rd intersection. The Whakamarama one is quite bad too. Twice I've had to brake sharply because people just pull out in front of me," she said.

"Turner Rd is a shocker. You haven't got a lot of visibility because cars come so fast.

"What I'd like to see is a safe lane like they have at Te Puna, where you go slow and get up to speed to then merge with traffic coming from Tauranga. But as it is now, you just take your life in your hands."

The couple experienced daily reminders of the crash but were trying not to focus on it.

"We are not the same people anymore physically. It knocked us for six. I just can't do a lot of things anymore. But you've got to get on with life," Mrs Johns said.

In 2013, the Western Bay achieved its lowest road toll since 2003, with six fatalities.

In 2014, 16 people died on local roads, and the 2015 provisional road toll for the region stands at 18 deaths. Already this year there have been four people killed on Tauranga roads.

Western Bay of Plenty Senior Sergeant Ian Campion said police welcomed any improvements to the roading network that made it safer.

AA Motoring Affairs general manager Mike Noon said upgrading roads with things like barriers, wide centrelines, rumble strips and better road markings made a huge difference in reducing crashes.

"The AA has been extremely concerned to see New Zealand's road toll increase from its record low over the last two years and it is great to see the Government taking strong action that will greatly improve road safety on our highest risk rural state highways."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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