Crown Range crashes concern Police

When we had tourists driving our roads: Inspector Gini Welch and two tourists on the top of the Crown Range in 2017.

New Zealand has been slammed as the ninth deadliest nation in the world to drive in, according to a new survey by London financial website Nerdwallet. With a higher than usual number of vehicle mishaps on the Crown Range alpine pass these holidays so far, continuing a distinct trend, the embarrassing assessment has a ring of truth to it. 

Latest Police statistics revealed that between December 31 2020 and January 6 last week, there seemed to be a higher than usual number of vehicle accidents on the Crown Range and Cardrona Valley Roads. Police recorded seven crashes in this period alone, three of which occurred on January 2 alone.

Police Manager of Mobility and Safety Helen White said the primary trend for this “higher-than-usual record” was for single vehicle accidents related to driving too fast for the conditions. There was a significant amount of rainfall over that period which made the road significantly more difficult. Two crashes were likely caused by alcohol consumption and fatigue respectively.

“The worst area appears to be in the stretches immediately before and after the summit, where the road is narrow and windy. Again, the contributing factors were primarily speed in these areas in poor conditions.”

Drivers made four driving complaints over this period, reporting incidents of unsafe overtaking and vehicles crossing the centreline in this stretch of road.

Police advice to drivers was to remember to drive to the conditions and adjust speed and following distances when conditions dictate. 

“These vehicle crashes were all avoidable with more care and attention by road users,” White said.

Queenstown Lakes Deputy Mayor and Wanaka Councillor Calum MacLeod said proposed changes to the Crown Range Rd speed limit, to make the road 60 km/hr (the limit is currently 100 km/hr, with restrictions on corners), would eventually arrive, but a big problem was driver behaviour, and people using the road as a “race track.”

He added that analysis of previous data had shown that most of the accidents on the road occured when people thought they had a gap, but it was too short and they were caught out by blind spots.

“But we have to do this step by step over months and years, rather than decades. The council has installed crash barriers and tried to do some things to improve it,” he said. 

He warned that budgets would become tight in years to come due to Covid-19, and said that could be a constriction. 

The Nerdwallet study used the World Health Organization’s 2018 road safety report to analyse the best and worst places to drive across the globe, using number of road deaths, road quality, average speed limits, and funding on roadworks in different countries. With 353 deaths per million of population, New Zealand rated the ninth worst with 353 road deaths (71.9 deaths per million); in front of Croatia with 297 deaths (72.9 deaths). The US was rated the most deadly nation to drive in, with 36120 deaths (or 110 deaths per million). Norway had the safest roads, with just 108 road deaths in one year. 

A transport agency spokesperson said that although it is unclear how the rankings in the Nerdwallet study had been determined, the government agreed that too many people had been killed or seriously injured.

Between mid 2018 and January 2020, data from the Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency’s crash data mapping system showed Arrowtown and the southern end of the Crown Range road had 11 fatalities, 96 serious accidents, 270 minor accidents and 659 non-injury accidents. 

“New Zealand has many road safety challenges, including winding, hilly and often narrow roads. But we know we can and should do better,” the spokesperson said.

Read edition 1009 of the Wānaka Sun here.

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