Driver distraction led to death

A young man, killed when his car left the road and crashed into a tree, may have been eating chips and dip at the time of the accident, a coroner has found.

Twenty-two-year-old Benjamin Stantiall died when the ute he was driving slid out of control and crashed into a fence on State Highway 1 outside Seddon in Marlborough on November 7 last year.

A coroner's report released today found that Stantiall lost control while travelling north behind two cars and a tractor.

Not realising the cars in front of him had slowed for the tractor, Stantiall approached at pace.

To avoid a collision, he swerved to the left shoulder of the road and travelled 25 metres along the grass verge before the car began to spin. Heavy braking caused the car's wheels to lock up and the car slid out of control, crashing through a fence and hitting a tree.

When witnesses rushed to help, they found Stantiall unresponsive.

A post mortem examination confirmed he had suffered several potentially fatal injuries, with a massive brain injury to the right side of his head.

While he had not been wearing a seatbelt, Coroner Carla na Nagara could not confirm that this had made any difference to whether the death could have been avoided.

The post mortem examination also revealed that Stantiall had been eating at the time of his death, and chips and dip were found in the cab of the ute.

Senior constable Greg Taylor of the Tasman District Crash Investigation Unit said there was no evidence of any vehicle fault or road fault. He also concluded that speed was not a factor.

The coroner concluded that momentary distraction had caused the accident.

"Quite possibly due to reaching for food/eating - Mr Stantiall found himself having to make a split-second decision to avoid collision with other vehicles," Ms na Nagara said.

She noted that of the three options [braking, swerving right or swerving left] Stantiall had, he took the one that posed the most danger to himself and the least to the other road users.

"Tragically he was unable to control his vehicle on the grass verge, leading to the fatal impact with the tree.

"The case is a startling example of the devastating consequences that can follow momentary distraction while driving," she said.

- By Cassandra Mason of Herald Online

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