New Zealand roads kill tourists, safety campaigner claims

A prominent road safety campaigner says the high number of tourist accidents is strongly linked to the design of New Zealand roads.

 Clive Matthew-Wilson, who edits the car review website,, says.

 “Many New Zealand rural roads are like a staircase without a handrail: you make a mistake and there’s a high chance of getting hurt.”

“There is no question that centre median barriers prevent exactly the sort of head-on collision that tourists are frequently involved in. There’s no question that rumble strips alert drivers who are crossing the centre line or drifting off the road.  Yet these vital safety features, which cost very little, are missing from some of the most dangerous roads in the country.”

Friday’s accident at Reporoa closely resembles another fatal accident near Turangi in May 2012, involving eight people in a rented people-mover van. The van at Turangi, which had drifted off the sealed road into grass and gravel, swerved, then flipped over when the driver over-corrected. Three people were killed and four were injured.

The driver was later charged and convicted of careless driving.

While there was no dispute that the Turangi driver’s inattention triggered the accident, it was pointed out at the time that there were a number of factors that turned a simple driver error into a multiple fatality. After reading submissions from Clive Matthew-Wilson, the coroner endorsed his recommendation that the fatal stretch of road to be fitted with rumble strips on both sides.

In both the Turangi and Reporoa accidents, the age of the vehicles meant that electronic stability control (ESC) was not fitted.

Matthew-Wilson believes Electronic Stability Control should be compulsory on all rental vehicles.

“Accidents that begin with a loss of control are common on vehicles that don’t have stability control. Electronic Stability Control reduces your chances of a fatal collision by up to 56% .”

Matthew-Wilson adds, “Before the 1980s, the authorities tried to lower the road toll through enforcement and education. The road toll continued to rise until, in the late 1980s, the cars and roads began to change in a way that stopped driver error turning into tragedy. There’s no point in repeating the failed policies of the past: the key to further lowering the road toll rests with designing a system around humans, instead of trying to fit humans into a system that is often very unforgiving of the most simple mistakes.”

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