There were 320 deaths on New Zealand roads in 2020. That is an appalling figure that would alarm any right-thinking person and when coupled with the thousands of crashes involving injury we clearly have a major problem. Often crashes are more frequent on specific stretches of road and when these aptly named high crash areas are identified, the road authority responsible for the road can focus on that location, responding with actions that have a goal of lowering the overall crash rates.
In the Stratford District, Opunake Rd is one such road. The statistics associated with Opunake Rd are alarming. There have been 57 crashes over the Past five years including three fatalities and 11 involving serious injuries. Averaging one crash a month on a single road is way too high.
This road offers a wide range of factors that contribute to the accident rate. It is an undulating road with tight corners including some with poor camber, narrow bridges, along with seasonal black ice and sunstrike. The road has many embankments and small gullies that are very unforgiving when driver mistakes occur. With millions of dollars to be spent over time, general safety improvements can be made to make the road safer.
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But there is another factor that cannot be ignored, excessive speed. In February the council gathered data to enable us to re-assess the existing speed limits on Opunake Rd. Over a 14-day period, cameras monitored vehicle movements on Opunake Rd and it totalled 8872 (or 633 per day), confirming this a busy rural road.
The slowest recorded vehicle was 10km/h (probably a tractor or similar) but the highest recorded speed was a shocking 160km/h. The stats get worse, with 5 per cent (443 vehicles) clocked at speeds of between 140-160km/h and 15 per cent (1331 vehicles) clocked at speeds of between 120-140km/h. Overall 71 per cent (6337 vehicles) were exceeding the present speed limit of 100km/h.
This is a crazy situation. I'm still trying to get my head around the numbers that are attributable to this road. Everyone knows speed is a major cause of crashes and the faster you go the worse the outcome. Put this in the context of a challenging rural with all its additional adversities, we simply have a situation where accidents are waiting to happen.
Changing driver behaviour is surely the quickest, cheapest and most effective way to reduce the accident rate on Opunake Rd. The council recently began a discussion with property owners along the road seeking their views on lowering the legal speed limit to 80km/h. Their responses will be very interesting when read in conjunction with the figures shown above.
In closing, I appeal to the drivers who think the speed limits don't apply to Opunake Rd and were included in the statistics shown above, be responsible and slow down. Your life and the life of others may depend on it.