Horror crash: 'They see the signs at the last minute'

Westland St resident Heather Heaps says better signage is needed to ensure people do not drive up the motorway the wrong way. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Westland St resident Heather Heaps says better signage is needed to ensure people do not drive up the motorway the wrong way. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Residents of the street where an elderly woman drove on to a Dunedin motorway the wrong way, causing a horror smash, say action is needed to prevent fatalities.

Three people remain in Dunedin Hospital following Sunday's head-on crash, including a child who, police said, was wearing a lap belt and not secured in a booster seat as legally required.

The woman, believed to be in her 90s, drove more than 1.3km in the southbound lane of the Southern Motorway after driving the wrong way north along the Abbotsford exit on Westland St, about 6pm.

Heather Heaps, who has lived in Westland St for 23 years, said she once saw an older female driver head the wrong way along the turn-off before turning around on the motorway.

While the turn-off exit included No Entry signs, she and fellow resident Callan Gaut believed signs were needed at the entrance to the street.

Mr Gaut, who has lived in the street for four years, had seen cars speed up as drivers mistakenly thought they were heading on to the motorway.

''I have seen quite a few accidents when they see the signs at the last minute.''

He had also seen other drivers try to turn left from a traffic island into the motorway exit, and believed the signs might be obscured.

''If you are hugging left there you can't see the signs from the driver's side ... It would be a hell of a smash if someone was trying to go up that way.''

New Zealand Transport Agency senior safety engineer Roy Johnston said the agency would consider whether changes were required to signage or lighting following completion of the police crash report.

NZTA reviewed signage of the site in June 2012, he said.

Senior Sergeant Alastair Dickie said the signage to Westland St was ''very clear''.

''I haven't heard of too many motorists who have done what she did.''

Police received multiple calls about the woman's driving.

''It was an accident waiting to happen, and it did.''

Police estimated she was driving between 60kmh and 70kmh in the right-hand lane when she encountered a 4WD and a car travelling south in the 100kmh area.

''The car that got hit was behind the 4WD and couldn't see her coming. She came up to the first two and they parted and she came through the middle and hit him,'' Snr Sgt Dickie said.

He was disappointed the child in the other car was not in a car booster seat as required by law for children under 7.

Driver's fault?

When did I ever say it wasn't the driver's fault? I was pointing out is that it wasn't the driver offering up excuses, it was the street's residents raising concerns based on various things they have witnessed. You are making a very broad statement based on one accident, when the driver hasn't had the opportunity to comment at all.

Driver longevity

Measuring experience in years, the best drivers passed away from old age, are now under six feet, and it's not worth digging them up.

Anyone but the driver

Sorry lilly213 but your comment highlights the problem with a majority of New Zealand drivers in as much as it is never their fault. If a driver's tired they should pull over and rest. If they're unsure of the route, they should stop and ask at a fuel station. I have no doubt in my mind this was a terrible accident It is a tragedy for all concerned and should be seen as just that. However, it highlights a shortcoming in the current rules around driving licences and as such should lead to a review.

Younger driver re-testing.

Dunedin Dave: I agree with all your comments except those about re-testing those over 60. The majority of crashes are not caused by those aged over 60. Since most crashes are caused by the youngest drivers, they are the driver age group who need retesting at, say, every year up to the age of say 30. Most vehicles are tested very 6 months for safety reasons - why not drivers? The driver test should be an actual road test with no written test. It's what they do on the road that matters, not what might be in their head.

Read it, understood it

Residents are stating that the signs are causing drivers to drive the wrong way. Sorry, it is the drivers that drive the cars and not the signs that are the problem. How anyone can drive over 1km the wrong way down a highway is beyond me, and no amount of signage would have stopped this. The fact this person is elderly has no bearing on my thoughts, as there are plenty of older drivers who are more than capable. I do however have an issue when the type of sign is used as a scapegoat for drivers who at whatever age should not be behind the wheel of a vehicle. As said before, Kiwi drivers are the worst I have ever come across, and for the amount of cars on the road and distance travelled have more crashes than motorists on many far more populated road systems. Rude, never let you in, think 100kmh is a minimum speed to reach in any weather, undertake, have no idea of stopping distances and to top it all off they don't even legally need 3rd party insurance. When will this country wake up and start to take responsibility for the way they drive and stop blaming signs? Re-test drivers evrry 2 years, after 60 and make the driving test for all harder.

Another driver-banner tries making the rules

Max Power declares, "If you are not aware of the road layout in front of you, or if you can't see the signs, you should not be driving."  

I've been aware of the road ahead of me just round the corner because it is a route I often follow, only to find that it has been changed due to an accident, road works or a decision to "improve" it by one of the innumerable ways people who plan roads keep on always having a job because there's always a road that can be fidgetted with.  I've been unable to see road signs because  vandals bend or remove them, and trees and shrubbery grow up with no consideration for motorists.  So confiscate my vehicle then chop my license into little pieces and push them under my fingernails, I deserve no mercy.


I love that comment - Depending what age she started driving, she has potentially been driving a lot longer than you". So under that logic, Collin Meads is 72 and Ritchie McCaw is 33. Therefore Meads must be a better Rugby player than McCaw.

Let's stop trying to sugarcoat this. The system in New Zealand puts a driver's right before the safety of the public. Nobody wants to take the licence of a dear old lady so the boxes get ticked and a licence gets renewed every year. The same thing happened to my Grandfather - I went driving with him once and he had no control over the car and caused havoc all around him. He had the sense to giive his licence over before he killed or hurt someone.

Did the residents tell anyone?

Did the residents tell anyone about the problem so it could be fixed or is it only now that it comes to light? Perhaps if people complained at the time it would prevent these tragedies from happening. Hard to blame the authorities if they weren't aware of it.

Did you read it?

Dunedin Dave - did you actually read the article? The woman was in her 90s and had been driving since Balclutha. I am guessing fatigue or other issues were coming into play here. Depending what age she started driving, she has potentially been driving a lot longer than you. Unfortunately sometimes people make mistakes and this one ended up badly. It is the street's residents that are suggesting improved signage based upon the things they have witnessed - it was not an excuse offered up by the driver.


I believe the police can make recommendations for signs, but it's up to LTSA to make it happen.

Also, these police have had two horrific crashes to help clean up. My thoughts go out to them, the fire brigade and ambulance staff, doctors and nurses - they are all human.

If all the residents are concerned about the road, why did they not go to their local MP, even with footage of said cars? Apart from ringing the police what else was done? Lately it's too easy to blame police. Most of the time they pull over a car, they get the line - why don't you catch real crime? 

As communities we need to make our MPs work for us. Stop sitting there thinking someone else will do it. [Abridged]


Always someone else

Typical Kiwi drivers response "it wasn't my fault it was the signage". Please, get real. In ten years of driving in Dunedin and over 30 in total in the UK and Europe I have never driven down a highway the wrong way. On a strange road or making a different journey I try and plan my route and drive accordingly if not sure rather than take the one speed fits all approach often adopted here. Driving is a skill that needs practice and with the adoption of automatics and power steering it has turned into a point and steer excersise that anyone can do.
I would suggest if you are not able to take on board different signage as you travel that maybe you should slow down rather than continue at 100kmh. Many I see seem to treat the maximum speed as a target, whatever the weather or conditions.
As for the lap belt, I did not read it as the police blaming the family - far from it. It was more as a warning to others that if not restrained in a reccomended way injuries can sadly be caused that might have been prevented. This family are in no way at fault and I wish them all a speedy recovery.

What sign, where?

Avus is absolutely correct: "Alastair Dickie should open his ears. How many residents have to tell of the number of motorists they see driving or attempting to drive the wrong way down the off ramp."  
Signage is indeed plentiful and readily seen if you already know where to look. This reminds me of the frustration of people using new tools such as laptops, almost anything electronic, for the first time.  The manuals are written, apparently, by people who already know how to use them, who probably were involved in their development.  Instead they should be written by people who know nothing until they open the box, and then have an expert showing them, while they write down step by step in plain non-expert language. he same should apply to road signage.  If drivers are demonstrating that there is a problem, there's a problem.  No amount of saying there isn't one will fix it.
The exit from Green Island to the overbridge gets me every time.  So far I've never turned on to the wrong one, but every time I mentally prepare to turn, then remember the correct one is a little way further along.  If I were new to that route, and if I were watching out for other traffic, perhaps pedestrians and cyclists, would I notice the signs?  
There is another risk factor that annoyed me hugely the last time I drove to Christchurch for the first time in many many years.  All along the way there were signs that had the colouring and style of important information such as bridge under repair.  But no, they were "helpful" reminders of a general nature about driving safely.  Helpful?  Taking my attention off the job of driving to read these nanny-notices?  And there were so many, I wondered why when it's OK to clutter the roadside with messages we're forbidden to read text messages while driving. Advertising billboards are visual pollution but at least we as drivers quickly recognise that they can safely be ignored.
Less assertion that they're managing the road signs just fine and dandy, and more attention to how their signs work in real life, especially for people who do not use that route regularly, is what's needed. 



Driving is not a right

If you are not aware of the road layout in front of you, or if you can't see the signs, you should not be driving. No debate. 

Motorway accident

There are two references in this story about the 7 year old not being in a booster seat. The child was restrained in a seat belt and at this point until the police inquiry is complete, it is surely wrong to assume that the childs injuries would have been any different if the child were in a booster seat.

Surely the attention should be solely focused on the fact an elderly driver drove the wrong way, and that there might well be insufficient signage in that particular area.

I think it is unfair and quite insensitive for the police to be deflecting critical comments towards the family in the other vehicle in their direction at this point when they are still in hospital.  [Abridged]

Driving abilities

Driving is a skill ... one that not everyone is capable of. It is about time NZers took some responsibilty for their own driving skills and stopped blaming bad driving decisions on tourists. As kiwis we get tested on our ability only once in our lives, and this is when we are teenagers. Most drivers go on to form bad habits i.e. not indicating, not stopping at stop signs, parking and passing on yellow lines etc. The road rules have changed quite considerably even since I got my license 17 years ago, yet there is no test to see if I understand them. I am a professional driver having driven tour coaches for the past 9 years and I see mistakes every day. I occasionally make one myself - I am, after all, only human. One that really gets on my nerves is at roundabouts I always see drivers indicating incorrectly obviously because they cant fathom these changes. When will the NZ government introduce 10-yearly theory tests? I'm sure the public will hate this, but that is only because they are afraid of losing their licenses.

Raises questions

Why are our 90 year old citizens driving. Is public transport appropriate and effective?


I see the Police were "disappointed" that the five year old child was not in a booster seat, and I am sure we all concur.

However, I am 'disappointed' that Dunedin Police seem to do very little in enforcing basic but incredibly important traffic laws, like the booster seat law.  I have to say I am yet to see any child in this area between about 5 and 7 years old in a booster seat as required by law.

No enforcement - little compliance.  Which also explains the incredibly high number of red light runners, people failing to indicate, give way, stop for pedestrians crossing, etc.

Same old story, and same little change to police enforcement of traffic laws in Dunedin.  

Crash cause

The accident had nohing to do with a child's seat belt. It's not for a mere commenter to suggest how others should comment, but I'm hoping no responsibility for the accident is attributed to those driven into.

Facts vs ego

Alastair Dickie should open his ears. How many residents have to tell of the number of motorists they see driving or attempting to drive the wrong way down the off ramp.

He states the signs are "very clear" and "I haven't heard of too many motorists who have done what she did".

How many more people have to do this before he listens to the facts.

The current signage is not working effectivly enough to make every motorist aware. It's too easy to sit back and spout on about how the signs are clear. Obviously they aren't as many drivers are demonstrating.

It is happening Mr Dickie, so let go of the "I know better" attitutde and be a part of the solution not the problem.


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