AS January slides into February, holiday- makers drive home from Central Otago and the congestion that smothers many of the region's small towns begins to recede, unfortunately leaving a behind a devastating road toll.
Nineteen people died on New Zealand's roads over the Christmas holiday period this year, from December 23 to January 4, the highest holiday road toll in four years. Three serious crashes happened in the Cromwell district during that time and two more fatalities have occurred in the past three weeks on the district's infamous crash zone, the Crown Range.
Road accidents are the sad result of the Queenstown Lakes District Council's anticipated influx of about 100,000 visitors over the holiday period. Traffic snarl-ups and delays are a common occurrence during the peak holiday period and this summer was shaping up to be even busier late last year, with some traffic counts already up 15% on 2015. While I join the locals in my home town of Wanaka grizzling about ridiculous supermarket and petrol-station queues, there are far more serious consequences of squeezing so many motorists into a mountainous area. My heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones on our roads during what is supposed to be a happy and relaxing time of year.
On a more positive note, it was great to see initiatives attempting to mitigate road rage. The NZTA and Christchurch Transport Operations Centre sent out helpful reminders of the busiest places around the South Island. The six hotspots for congestion listed the direction, date and time that traffic was expected to be heavy.
Also cause for optimism in the motoring world, are the high safety rankings of new cars produced in 2016. The Australasian New Car Assessment Programme (Ancap) published 45 new ratings last year and of these, 43 achieved the maximum five-star Ancap safety rating and two yielded a four-star result. An area of improvement in 2016 was the increase in active safety assist technologies being fitted. Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) entered the new-car market across a wider variety of market segments and price points. Ancap predicted 2017 will see a further acceleration in this important area of vehicle safety as it ramps up its test criteria and places greater emphasis on safety features which help avoid a crash. So if you are looking to purchase a new car this year you can find out how your current or prospective new car rates at ancap.com.au/safety-ratings.
Lastly, the team at Drivesouth send best wishes to Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon, whose 2017 World Rally Championship season started in the worst possible way last weekend when a spectator involved in his crash at Monte Carlo died. It must be an incredibly tough time for Paddon, co-driver John Kennard and the Hyundai team and we can only hope that with the right support and counselling, they will be back in form for round two, Rally Sweden from February 9.
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