Grim holiday toll sets police on hunt for answers

By Mathew Dearnaley

The long weekend takes a shocking turn with at least seven deaths and 807 crashes. Photo / APN
The long weekend takes a shocking turn with at least seven deaths and 807 crashes. Photo / APN

Police will trawl through the wreckage of a grim Queen's Birthday weekend in search of reasons for more than twice as many road crashes as occurred during last year's holiday.

"We'll have a good look over the next week or so and see if we can drill down into the data and find any common threads or causes," acting national road policing manager Superintendent Rob Morgan said last night.

Not only had there been seven holiday weekend road deaths by then, but police had attended 807 crashes by 1pm yesterday, since 4pm on Friday.

That was more than double the 361 reported by the same time on Queen's Birthday weekend last year, during which there was only one road death.

With 12 hours left to run on the holiday period ending at 6am today, Mr Morgan was at a loss to explain why police were so much busier this year, apart from fair weather which could have encouraged more people to get behind the wheel.

But he said the weekend should not be considered in isolation to indicate road safety efforts were failing.

"We wouldn't look at this weekend on its own and say something's not working - if we're looking for trends we can say we've had a continual improvement in the road toll for the last 10 years."

Although the seven holiday deaths have pushed the toll since January 1 to 125, up five on the same time 12 months ago, Mr Morgan said "ups and downs" were to be expected during a year.

Before Easter, which was the first public holiday since records began in 1956 to enjoy a zero toll, there had been nine road deaths over a 24-hour period.

"So we have those statistical blips or whatever you want to call them - I hesitate to do that, we're talking about people's lives, but just looking at figures alone, you have to look at them over the long term."

He said the weekend's toll had to be put in perspective, given that more than half the deaths were in one crash.

He was referring to the deaths on Saturday night of four farmhands in a vehicle which went out of control, ending up in a paddock, at Putorino, about 60km north of Napier.

Mr Morgan said alcohol was a suspected factor in three of the weekend's four fatal crashes, the exception being at Otane in Hawkes Bay soon after dark on Saturday, when a pedestrian was struck and killed by a car.

She was Gail Annette Hansen, 67, of Hastings.

A 19-year-old man also died after being hit by a car in Christchurch and a man died and three people were hurt when a car hit a power pole south of Stratford in Taranaki on Saturday.

- NZ Herald

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