Avoiding tragedy

The Queenstown Lakes District should always be a place where happy memories are made. We want our region to be remembered for its breath-taking beauty and for the fantastic holidays people enjoy here.

But this year there’s a shadow cast over the scenic journeys and landscape of the south and I’m bracing myself for this summer to be one of tragedy.

Why? Because it’s been a bad year on Otago roads and there’s no sign of it letting up.

Too many people have been killed and too many of our families faced Christmas with a vacant seat around the table. Our people have lost mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. Our community has lost valued friends and colleagues. Our Emergency response team has faced heart wrenching situations day in and day out.

So it’s been bad – personally I’d call it carnage. And it’s not going to stop unless we face up to it and decide our community is going to do something about it.

This starts with accepting road death is preventable. These are accidents that don’t have to happen. Death on our road does not have to be normal.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council is part of an initiative called Any number is too many. This starts with the belief that road death is preventable and that any death on our roads in one too many.

The programme also recognises that many of solutions start with us – the community. We know our roads better than anyone. We know the blind corners, we know where the sun strikes in the afternoon, and we know the intersections visitors find hard to negotiate.

We need to make sure this local knowledge gets to the right people – to us the Council and to the NZ Transport Agency so we can start to do something about it. You can go to the Any number is too many Facebook page right now and make a comment.

Some work has started.  The Transport Agency has just announced a multi-million dollar programme of work which will add a range of safety improvements to some of our region’s most dangerous highways.

This includes SH6 at the Kawerau Gorge and from the Haast Pass to Cromwell. An activated warning sign could also be installed at the intersection of State Highway 8 and State Highway 8B just out of Cromwell on the main route to Queenstown and Christchurch.

These small improvements will make a big difference, and there will more. But we need to look at the whole system, not just the construction of roads but how we drive them.

I used to race cars. I know how to drive and in controlled conditions far from our public highways and byways, I know how to drive fast. So this may sound odd, but racing knowledge is an excellent way to reduce road carnage.

When you race a car you find the limits of adhesion, the way to control skids, when weather conditions dictate slowing down. You learn to understand what your car is telling you and what the shape of the road means. But above all, you develop a very real understanding of what happens when it all goes wrong. It can be caused by something simple but the result is often devastating and irreversible.

This summer I want all of us to remember driving is a real skill and the roads are something we need to negotiate, respect and read. We are good drivers in Queenstown Lakes but sometimes we go into autopilot. We forget the machine we are in weighs several tonnes and is a very deadly weapon.

This summer while the media talks about road tolls and people around you bemoan it going up or going down, I’d ask you to pause and stop thinking about the toll as a number, as a price to pay for the privilege of travelling on the road but as representative of families and communities who are grieving.

Queenstown Lakes District Council is part of the Southern Road Safety Influencing Group and together we are making a call to stop referring to the road toll and start talking about road death. Next year we don’t get a clean slate on our roads, this is not school exams, this is life.

So this year, let’s make sure our special Queenstown Lakes summer is one made of happy memories, not a time of tragedy.

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