$22m to fix dangerous rural roads

Julie Anne Genter
Julie Anne Genter

Thirty dangerous rural roads around the country will get rumble strips, safety barriers and more safety signs as the Government steps in to contain a road toll that is the highest since 2010.

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter announced the Boost Safety programme - $22.5 million to improve the safety of hotspots on rural highways across Northland, Taranaki, Manawatu-Whanganui, Canterbury, Otago and Southland.

The road toll this year to December 15 was 359 deaths - the most since 2010 - including a tragic accident in October near Taupo that killed four people and shook a community.

Today's announcement follows a crisis meeting Genter called last month with transport officials and police to discuss ways to improve road safety, including shifting existing funds away from State Highways.

The $22.5 million has been reallocated from the State Highways budget and will include rumble strips, signage, safety barriers, and targeted speed limit changes on 30 hotspots that are flagged as a real risk of death and serious injuries.

Rumble strips alone can reduce all crashes by about 25% and fatal run-off-road crashes by up to 42%.

Boost Safety is in addition to the $600 million Safe Roads programme for rural roads and will begin in February and be completed by July 2018.

It will also look into electronic signs for nine rural intersections that activate and reduce speed limits from 100kmh to 60kmh or 70kmh if a vehicle is turning into or out of a side road.

Seventy-four percent of all fatalities occur on open roads with speed limits greater than 70km/h. Most intersection crashes involve high-speed roads with crossing or turning vehicles.

Rural intersection activated warning signs (RIAWS) are already used in 13 locations around the country and will be looked at in parts of Northland, Waikato, Horowhenua, Canterbury and Central Otago.

More RIAWS could be rolled out and broader consultation with councils and other stakeholders will begin in March next year.

Genter said the Government had to act in the face of the worst road toll since 2010.

“Many deaths and injuries can be avoided on these roads by making some relatively simple changes.

“Despite what many people think, improving road safety is not just about getting people to drive better. It’s also about making our roads much safer, so that when people make mistakes lives aren’t lost.

“On too many of our roads a simple error, such as taking a corner too fast or being momentarily distracted, can be fatal.”

The Government will hold a road safety summit early next year to hear from local authorities about improving road safety. There will also be more funding added as the overall transport budget is revised.

Patrick Morgan, from Cycling Action Network, applauded the announcement, but cautioned that road shoulders need to be at least a metre wide before rumble strips were added.

“Adding rumble strips is a proven way to reduce risk, but these should only be used where there is an ample road shoulder for people on bikes,” Morgan said.

Earlier this month, police and the NZ Transport Agency launched the We Want You Here For Christmas campaign aimed at changing driver behaviour.

It focuses on driving too fast for the conditions, not wearing a seatbelt, driving while tired or impaired, and driving while using a cellphone.

Officers will also be out on the streets in force, doing random breath testing, alcohol checkpoints and checks on seatbelts.

Over the last Christmas-New Year holiday period, 19 people were killed and 104 seriously injured in 328 crashes.

The official Christmas/New Year holiday road toll will begin at 4pm on December 22 and end at 6am on January 3, 2018.

NZ Police tips to staying safe on our roads this summer:

• Make it click: Everyone should have a seatbelt on. Make sure you check children in the car are wearing them too.

• Drive to the conditions: Sometimes that means going way below the speed limit. Be courteous if the roads are busy.

• Leave plenty of time to get to your destination so you don’t have to rush.

• Don’t drink and drive.

• Turn the phone off and don’t use it.

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