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New Zealand's quirky intersection rule which leaves many motorists dithering over whether it is safe to turn right across the bows of left-indicating traffic is likely to be reviewed again next year.
The previous Government twice decided against changing the rule, which requires left-turning vehicles to give way to traffic crossing from the right.
That has left New Zealand as the only country applying such a rule and was against advice from the police, the Ministry of Transport, and even former Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven.
But the ministry said yesterday, after the issue was raised anew by the Automobile Association and transport experts in the Institution of Professional Engineers, that the rule was likely to be considered early next year as part of a wider review of intersection safety.
The ministry's general manager for land transport safety and environment, David Crawford, said officials would review all information relating to intersection crashes and their causes while developing a new road-safety strategy to 2020.
He said an initial analysis of a rule-change proposal in 2004 estimated it would mean at least eight to 24 fewer intersection casualty crashes a year.
Another ministry official confirmed later that the figure could be as high as 56 fewer injury crashes, yielding annual social cost savings of $12.8 million a year, if intersection safety improved as much as it did in Victoria after that Australian state reversed a similar rule in 1993.
Counting non-injury scrapes, crash numbers could fall by up to 162.
New Zealand followed Victoria in 1977 in introducing the rule, which led to an early spate of crashes involving confused drivers, but was left out of step with the rest of the world when the Australians reversed their decision.
Transport Minister Steven Joyce would not offer an opinion on the rule yesterday, saying it was important to allow the officials to carry out the review according to their timetable.
But the AA warns up to 100,000 tourists could be driving on foreign licences at any given time this summer and following conflicting give-way rules which they learned at home.
AA motoring affairs manager Mike Noon said New Zealand's version was "most probably the most confusing and poorly understood rule that we have".
Although it was designed to reduce the risk of rear-end collisions for vehicles waiting to turn right, he believed that was outweighed by the hazards of side or head-on crashes.
One major hazard was when a vehicle swung right into the path of an opposing driver who might have inadvertently signalled a left-hand turn, but was continuing straight ahead.
The other was when a left-turning driver had to guess the intentions of traffic in the rear mirror, and whether there was enough time to duck in ahead of a right-indicating vehicle.
"You've got this 'do I go, don't I go' standoff with everyone, then they both go at the same time," Mr Noon said.
Although the prevalence of flush median barriers has made it safer for right-turning vehicles to wait, and the police reported only three crashes involving those last year, Mr Noon accepted more holding bays and priority arrows might be needed at intersections before the rule changed.
"You'd have to do a comprehensive review of what you'd need to change, but ultimately you'd get a simpler system and fewer accidents."
Bruce Conaghan, chairman of the professional engineers' transportation group, said right-turning drivers were well-placed to see all potential hazards, unlike those turning left.
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