The tragic loss of seven people in a crash on State Highway 3 near Waverley last week has me pondering human nature and our acceptance of crazy risks.

I was driving back from Hawera to Waverley on the day of the accident, arriving maybe 20 minutes after the head-on and being turned back to take a detour before police had set up the diversion signs.

The number of police cars present indicated how serious it was, but I was shocked when I heard the details and heartbroken as the numbers dead grew over 24 hours.

Read more: Nicola Patrick: St John's is a stark contrast against Trump's America
Nicola Patrick: High time to make a fashion statement

Advertisement

Nearly every day on our roads many of us think to ourselves "There but for the grace of God go I". We have become tolerant of our road toll. And our contribution to it.

A moment's distraction, whether changing the radio station, eating breakfast on the run, looking backwards to yell at the kids, all magnified by driving while tired - we are so close to being another statistic.

Except those who die are not statistics. They are real people, leaving behind shocked and grieving families. And those who survive are never the same again. The costs are not just financial when it comes to fatal or serious accidents.

We act like we are untouchable, immortal, safe from harm in our thin metal shells on wheels. We aim to reach 100km/h, or more, regardless of the weather conditions and our concentration, and the nature of the road.

I drive the Parapara regularly and feel complacency in myself as a driver creeping in - the familiarity breeds contempt in action, but with unforgiving consequences.

And the drivers who overtake on the Parapara, or other windy roads, or stretches with limited visibility, please just stop. Don't do it.

As humans, we haven't always demanded this need to travel so fast. But we've got used to it - imagine if we decided to significantly reduce the open road speed limit to reduce the consequence of serious crashes, there would be uproar.

Wikipedia tells me that the New Zealand open road speed limit was 80km/h until the mid-80s. It also says that New Zealand allows a limit of 110km/h but only under certain conditions - a dual carriageway with two lanes in each direction, median barriers and no corners rated under 110km/h.

Median barriers - they stop head-ons in most cases. You can't drift into the path of an oncoming vehicle if a median barrier lies between.

It's not cheap, but the NZ Transport Agency has a plan to target 480 kilometres of priority roads with $716 million of expenditure to introduce median barriers. They have another 500km on the hit list, with a more expensive price tag of $1.3 billion due to additional works required to widen and straighten sections.

That's nearly $2 billion for 1000km of road - but the benefit is estimated to be a reduction in 220 deadly or serious crashes per annum.

While the way the financial cost of fatal vehicle accidents is calculated can be critiqued, NZTA publishes an annual report of its estimate of the cost - in 2016 is was $4.73 million PER ACCIDENT.

We need more forgiving roads as the consequence of this moment of inattention where there is a possibility of a head-on is massive. We can't fight the physics of two solid objects moving towards each and impacting at high speeds.

If we're not going to give up our addiction to cars any time soon, and if we're not going to significantly reduce the speed limit, then prioritising median barriers is a sensible investment.

Finally, a reminder. The road rule is that drivers are required to slow to 20km/h when passing a stopped school bus. That makes sense - an energetic kid stepping out from behind a bus deserves a chance, and so do we, wherever we are driving.

Nicola Patrick is a Horizons regional councillor, works for Te Kaahui o Rauru, and is part of a new social enterprise hub, Thrive Whanganui. A mother of two boys, she has a science degree and is a Green Party member