Provincial roads hold a deadly record for risk

By Mathew Dearnaley

Auckland and Waikato may have the highest number of road fatalities, but a Herald analysis of crash statistics has found that other parts of the country are much more dangerous in terms of distance travelled

This light truck was in collision with a logging truck on the Ahuriri Estuary bridge in Hawkes Bay.  Photo / Dean Purcell
This light truck was in collision with a logging truck on the Ahuriri Estuary bridge in Hawkes Bay. Photo / Dean Purcell

More people by far died on Auckland and Waikato roads than anywhere else last year, but Gisborne and Wairoa had the most fatalities in proportion to their traffic loads.

A Herald analysis of Transport Agency data collected from 67 districts has revealed the deadliest parts of the country in terms of personal risk to road users.

That is measured by the average number of millions of "vehicle kilometres" travelled between each crash in which people were killed or seriously injured.

Although Waikato roads claimed 66 lives - more than a fifth of a national toll of 308 deaths - the odds of being among the 10 people who died in crashes between the Wharerata Hills south of Gisborne and East Cape were almost twice as high as in the busier northern region.

That is because Gisborne had one fatality for every 38.7 million kilometres travelled, compared with 76.5 million in the Waikato and a national average of 135 million, rendering it the deadliest of the country's 16 regions.

Wairoa was worse off still, with seven deaths occurring at a rate of one for every 17 million kilometres and a serious injury every 6.3 million, making it the most dangerous district on both counts.

Six of those deaths and 17 of the district's 19 serious injuries occurred on state highways rather than local roads.

Although four of the deaths were in one crash, the overall picture is fuelling concern about growing numbers of logging trucks and other commercial traffic after KiwiRail stopped running trains last year between Napier and Gisborne.

Hawkes Bay was the third most dangerous region, after Gisborne and second-placed Taranaki, and Opotiki on the other side of East Cape was the third deadliest district, after Wairoa and Ruapehu.

Auckland, despite suffering 41 road deaths and 368 serious injuries, emerged as the second safest region after Wellington in terms of kilometres travelled on its roads - which amounted to 30 per cent of the national travel total.

But Kaipara in Northland had the second highest number of serious injuries of any district after Wairoa for distance travelled - 28 at a rate of one for every 8.6 million vehicle kilometres.

Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon blames excessive drink-driving for compounding the challenges of difficult terrain but also wants transport authorities to put safety first in their consideration of overtures from the region's bustling forestry industry to allow larger and heavier logging trucks on its struggling roads.

"The logging industry has been in the limelight in terms of truck accidents and logs falling off trucks," he said.

"That is a grave concern to the safety of commuters on the roads and they [trucking operators] are aware of this - they are always making sure their drivers drive as safely as possible within the law, but there are always one or two cowboys around, and that's a concern.

"Our road terrain is very testing - it's very young, it moves and there are continual roadworks, dropouts, so road conditions are not the best for heavy transport."

Although most logs from a harvest due to grow 60 per cent to a peak of 3.4 million tonnes a year by about 2020 are exported through Gisborne's port, rather than being sent by road to Napier or Tauranga, Mr Foon says reopening the railway line could reduce the number of trucks carrying farming or horticultural products out of the region.

He says Labour and the Greens have promised him they will reopen the line if they win next year's election.

Wairoa Mayor Les Probert is less optimistic about the line's future despite having more than 60,000ha of production forestry on his patch - from which harvested logs could be railed to Gisborne or Napier.

"We would like to see it kept open, but the amount of freight would nowhere near meet the cost," he said.

Although the Government announced $4 million for new passing lanes on bendy State Highway 2 between Napier and Gisborne on the same day KiwiRail said it could not afford the same amount to repair storm damage to the rail link, Mr Probert believes much more is needed.

"We are interested in having the whole highway upgraded - whether the money will be forthcoming for that is doubtful, but we're keeping the pressure on."

Wairoa and neighbouring districts are also lobbying for $30 million to provide tour buses with a sealed SH38 to Lake Waikaremoana.

He acknowledges that with Auckland, Christchurch and the Government's roads of national significance programme "just soaking up the available funding", there is little spare change for upgrading routes through provincial New Zealand.

Eastland Wood Council chief Trevor Helsen shares that concern, saying that although the Transport Agency does a good job with available resources, he believes there has been "some underspending" on road maintenance.

He believes the almost $7 million his industry contributes annually to East Coast roads through fuel taxes would justify upgrading highways from Tolaga Bay and Wharerata to Gisborne to carry longer and heavier trucks.

That would reduce the number of freight trips and reduce the chances of "rollovers" - such as happened to a trailer last week near Tolaga Bay - by lowering the centre of gravity of log loads.

New "multiple B-train" trucks also tracked around corners much better than older vehicles "so winding roads are not a big issue for them".

Read more: Long and winding road cause for anxiety

- NZ Herald

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