Fatality feared as skateboarders push limits

Skateboarders are speeding down some of Dunedin's steeper streets at more than 50kmh and the craze is going to end with someone getting killed - and not necessarily a skateboarder, say concerned authorities and residents.

Residents and road users in Opoho say new, smooth tarmac in Signal Hill Rd and Opoho Rd is increasingly attracting groups of skateboarders.

There is nothing illegal about the activity; in fact, skateboarders legally have to ride on the road, although they are not governed by the same safety rules as other road users.

Dunedin teacher Elaine Kelly contacted the Otago Daily Times yesterday after a 16-year-old skateboarder crashed into her car at the bottom of Opoho Rd on Sunday.

She and her husband, who was driving, were terrified when they saw the skateboarder round a bend on their side of the road, she said.

Her husband swerved to avoid him but he fell and slid under the couple's car.

"We had our 14-month-old baby in the car ... it was very scary."

The skateboarder was wearing full leathers and a helmet and escaped with bruising only.

She said he was part of a group, one of whom was using ski poles to balance himself as he skated down the road.

Ms Kelly said she was concerned skaters were using the road inconsiderately and endangering other people.

"It's fine if you want to jump off a 10-storey building, but don't take me with you."

Opoho residents said yesterday skateboarders took to the street in the evenings and at weekends.

One resident, who had been "waiting for ages for something awful to happen", described meeting them coming down in the street as "terrifying".

Another said the skateboarders appeared to be reasonably organised - some groups had lookouts at each intersection - but people were still "pretty worried someone is going to get killed".

Bus driver Rajendra Prasad said skateboarders often went past the bus on Opoho Rd at speeds above 50kmh.

"It should be stopped ... If they want to use the road like that, they should pay road taxes and get a licence."

But one skateboarder spoken to said it was only as dangerous as the rider wanted it to be, and the boards were reasonably easy to control and slow down.

Experience, when riding downhill, counted for a lot.

The "hill bombing" was "very concerning", Dunedin City Council road safety adviser Henriette Rawlings said.

Although skateboarders were legitimate road users, the law was anomalous regarding safety. "We are demanding that other road users, motorcyclists, cyclists etc wear safety gear, but skateboarders are not required to wear it."

They also did not need to use lights, and had no brakes or registration requirements.

From 2006 to 2010, 13 crashes involving skateboards and cars had been reported in Dunedin, including five serious crashes, but no fatal ones.

The council could look into bylaws but needed hard evidence it was a serious enough problem to justify that, she said.

Constable Louise Pearce, of North Dunedin, said the weekend's crash had been waiting to happen, and she, too, feared it would take a death before anything would change.

"As it was, this guy was just very, very lucky not to be dead."

Police were aware downhill skating happened on other streets too, such as Stuart St and High St, but received complaints from Opoho Rd about once a fortnight.

Police could issue tickets for careless use of a skateboard, but it was often difficult to identify offenders.

The video below is one of several posted on YouTube of Dunedin hill bombing.


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