Worst road toll in three years

By Kieran Campbell, Matthew Backhouse

Four people died when this vehicle left a Hawke's Bay road, hit a poplar tree and landed in a paddock, 2km up Waikare Rd, Putorino. Photo / Duncan Brown
Four people died when this vehicle left a Hawke's Bay road, hit a poplar tree and landed in a paddock, 2km up Waikare Rd, Putorino. Photo / Duncan Brown

Police are startled by a massive increase in the number of crashes over the holiday weekend and the worst Queen's Birthday road toll in three years.

At 7pm tonight there had been more than 800 crashes and at least seven deaths on New Zealand roads over the weekend, up from 361 crashes and one death over the same weekend last year.

National road police manager Acting Superintendent Rob Morgan said it was a bad result - particularly in light of the zero road toll over Easter.

"It's disappointing. We're saying the same things we said last long weekend and obviously people took a bit of notice on that weekend,'' Mr Morgan said.

"Road safety's about personal responsibility. It's about taking responsibility for your own actions and being responsible for other people that are in your vehicle.''

The official holiday road toll period started at 4pm on Friday and finishes at 6am tomorrow.

Police again showed a reduced tolerance to speeding, with drivers stopped if caught going more than 4km/h above the speed limit in a 100km/h zone, rather than the usual 10km/h.

Mr Morgan said officers would need to analyse statistics from the weekend before they knew if the approach - now a regular fixture of holiday periods - had been effective.

He said the surge in crashes may have been the result of fine weather encouraging more motorists onto the roads and noted the annual road toll was decreasing. Last year was the first time there was fewer than 300 deaths on New Zealand roads.

Four men died in one crash at Putorino, 60km north of Napier, early on Sunday.

They were Waihua men Lou Phillip Wesley, 47, and James Raupita, 42, and Raupunga men Jack Huata, 64, and Paul Thomas Parata, 48, known as Boydie.

Hastings woman Gail Annette Hansen, 67, was killed instantly after she was hit at the intersection of State Highway 2 and Higginson St in Otane about 6pm on Saturday.

A 19-year-old pedestrian was killed in Christchurch and a passenger died when a car hit a power pole near Stratford in Taranki.

'Wake-up call' for rual residents

Federated Farmers said the horror crash in which four farm workers were killed after drinking was a "wake-up call'' for rural residents.

The farmhands, who worked at Moeangiangi Station, had a drink at the Waikare Hotel before buying 48 bottles of beers to take away about 8pm.

Beer bottles were found at the crash site where three of the men's bodies had been flung from the vehicle.

Mr Morgan said the men were heading home from a friend's when they crashed shortly after midnight.

It was believed all four had been drinking and forensic tests would determine how much.

Police were investigating if any of the men, particularly those thrown from the vehicle, had been wearing seatbelts.

The deaths come little more than four months after four members of a shearing gang died in a crash, also in Hawkes Bay. Alcohol and excessive speed were thought to be factors and it was thought that only the sole survivor was wearing a seatbelt.

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams said evidence showed reducing the adult blood alcohol limit could lower the number of drink driving deaths - a move Federated Farmers has argued is unfair on rural communities.

Federated Farmers vice president William Rolleston today stood by its stance.

"It doesn't matter what you put it down to - the fact is that these are remote roads that people, no matter what the blood alcohol is legally, if they think they're going to get away with it, some people do (drink drive).''

But Dr Rolleston said people needed to know drink driving was a "dangerous occupation''.

He said the latest incident was a "a wake-up call for all rural people who might be drinking and flouting the law''.

"The difficulty in rural areas is that there are just so many roads and so few people on them, and so it really comes down to education and making people aware that they're not untouchable.

"There are serious risks involved and we as a community need to do what we can to make sure people are aware of that.''

Ms Williams said distance was a factor behind rural drink driving. The promotion and marketing of alcohol was also an issue, with rural sports clubs in particular linked to alcohol brands through sponsorship.

She said it was important for rural hotels to take some responsibility: "But at the same time, they can only do as much as they can do.''

The men's bodies will be taken to Te Maara A Ngata Marae after being released by authorities.

Marae chairman Edward Te Kahika called for a hui about the problem and hoped police would take part.

"It's something that our iwi needs to address to see what we can do to stop our young boys killing themselves.

"We can't have this happening all the time, with them leaving their loved ones behind. It's wasteful, young men losing their lives. So bloody young.''

Mr Morgan said police tackled the issue by visiting hotels and stopping drivers. He believed messages about drink driving were getting through.

"I don't think they haven't heard them in the country, they're just possibly choosing to ignore them in some places.

"We've made great gains over the last 10 years in road safety - the road toll has come down an awful long way. So we take that to suggest that what we're doing is working, and we intend to keep doing that.''

Waikere Hotel owner Tarn Butcher said the men had only one drink at the bar before leaving and Mr Huata and Mr Parata were regular customers.

"They were inseparable. Anywhere one went the other one followed. I had a chat with Boydie (on Saturday night) ... and you think `I'll see you in a few days'. It's a great loss.''

Mr Huata's older sister Kathleen Harrison said he was a "wonderful person'' from a family of 10 brothers and four sisters.

"Jacky was always a hard worker. We did a lot of wonderful things, like go dancing. He was a good rock and roller.''

Ms Harrison said her brother loved to cook, enjoyed his vegetable gardens and his interest in birds earned him the nickname "budgie man'' from his mum.

She said Mr Parata, who was a distant relative of the Huata family, was a "lovely person'' with a "lovely nature''.

"They always worked together. They were great mates.''

- additional reporting Matthew Theunissen

- APNZ

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