U Turn Madness

By Patrick O'Sullivan, Amy Shanks


Expressway U-turns are "madness", say police, after the second near-fatality yesterday between Napier and Hastings.

A 49-year-old truck driver, who did not want to be named, was heading toward Omahu Rd in Hastings about 4pm when he saw a woman in a small Toyota Raum doing a U-turn across his path.

"She didn't even look, I was watching her and she didn't even look at me," he told Hawke's Bay Today.

"She was right in my lane sideways when I hit her. If I hadn't started turning into the other lane, I could have killed her. Her car spun around about two-and-a-half times. I'm just glad she's okay."

It was miraculous neither the driver nor the 74-year-old woman was injured, despite the crash being in a 100km/h area, Hastings Police Senior Constable Tim Rowe said.

"I have never seen anything like it. This was more than lucky, this was purely down to the skill of the truck driver. When it came in that it was a truck versus car on this stretch of road ... I thought we would be dealing with something far more serious."

The woman was checked over by St John ambulance officers at the scene, and was in shock.

"I think it's really just hit her how lucky she is," Mr Rowe said. "She had two [small breed] dogs in the car with her and they are both fine."

While police praised the truck driver's fast reactions, he claimed he was just doing his job.

"We are always looking 800m in front of us, we are up high so we can see for quite a distance. She's lucky that the trailer was empty, if it was full you would be looking at about 30-plus tonne. Empty it's more like 20.

"I saw her in time and slowed down to about 80km/h and started turning. If I had hit her straight on it would be a bit like you or I standing on a piece of tinfoil. I'm no hero, I just did what any other truck driver would do."

The 49-year-old, who has been driving trucks for 15 years, said while he had witnessed a lot of crashes, this was his first. "It's every truck driver's worst nightmare. This is my first accident in a truck, car, bike, anything. Luckily for me I had three eye witnesses who saw what happened."

He hoped the woman would understand that her actions could have caused a far more serious incident, but he was more concerned with getting home to see his family. "I am going to go home and give my children a hug."

The accident follows another Expressway U-turn crash last month, when a 3-year-old boy was flung from a BMW after it collided with a 17-tonne truck. He suffered severe injuries, as did the car's 31-year-old driver who remained in the car as it was shunted 50m.

Hawke's Bay road policing sergeant Clint Adamson said in these types of crashes "people always tell us they looked". "It is madness to do a U-turn in a high-speed environment because if you get it wrong there is going to be serious injuries - at a minimum.

"The Expressway is designed for the quick movement of traffic going up to 100km/h. Doing a U-turn in that environment is dangerous - the likelihood of misjudging speed is quite high as evidenced by these crashes. We have roundabouts throughout the Expressway so it is just a case of going no more than two or three minutes to turn around."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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