21 Jun 2022

Picton crash aftermath: Call for better design, more maintenance spending on NZ roads

9:35 am on 21 June 2022

More investment is needed in maintaining and upgrading the country's road network instead of focusing solely on reducing speeds, Transporting New Zealand chief executive Nick Leggett says.

Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett

Nick Leggett wants to see many of the country's roads re-engineered to help improve safety. Photo: RNZ/ Tom Kitchin

There have been two fatal crashes in two days in Marlborough, both involving collisions between trucks and vans.

A collision on State Highway 1 on Sunday took the lives of seven people and two others were injured.

The second deadly crash happened just 30km away on State Highway 6, also involving a truck and a van. The van driver was killed in the accident.

Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand chief executive Nick Leggett said roads were only as safe as those driving on them. Several factors usually contributed to fatal accidents, including driver behaviour.

He criticised Waka Kotahi's Road to Safety campaign where the emphasis was solely on lowering speeds and said that not enough money was being invested in roads.

So the quality of road surfaces was often questionable and the design of the roads often needed to be improved.

"Newly built re-engineered roads are safer; there's no argument about that and when you in real terms reduce the road maintenance budget and the budget that allows for re-engineering and re-designing you are compromising and to say that speed is always the major factor is too narrow..."

Waka Kotahi had lowered the speed limit on SH6 in the last two years and "crowed" about the fact that lives had not been lost.

Thousands of Nelson and Blenheim people had told Waka Kotahi that speed was not the issue on SH6, it needed to be upgraded.

"We haven't seen the commitment to that and it's just one of the situations across the country sadly," he told Morning Report.

"Road to Zero is really too focused on other factors rescuing drivers from situations and our position is whether you're driving a truck, a car or a motorbike you need to be aware of the situation and we're actually calling for a truck safe week because there is a need to focus on safety around trucks. Truck drivers are often having to deal with the trauma of these accidents."

The scene of the fatal crash near Mt Pleasant, south of Picton.

The scene at the crash that took seven lives near Picton on Sunday. Photo: Supplied / Trish Rawlings

He said a campaign was needed - similar to that undertaken around rail crossings - to build awareness of the need for safety around trucks, and taking into account how big they are and their inability to stop quickly.

"And the consequences of hitting them is much more serious."

Leggett said median barriers were the quickest and easiest way to stop vehicles drifting across the road.

They could be used on many roads around the country where other more expensive options seemed unlikely although the trucking industry had mixed views on them.

As far as SH1 was concerned where the seven lives were lost near Picton, Leggett said it could be a case of "last mile and first mile problem" around the approach or exit to the ferry terminal.

Drivers were often tired and there needed to be education and awareness around fatigue.

Motorists could also get frustrated because it was a 100km/h area but they were slowed down by a large volume of trucks.

The speed limit needed to be reduced a little "so that people weren't building up an appetite to overtake and to speed".

Lower speeds on SH1 not the answer

A transport operator says the narrow section of road where seven people were killed in a head-on collision with a truck allows no room for human error.

Halls Group Transport manager Brett Hamilton said SH1 is an arterial route, and the government should invest in making it safer, particularly the corridor between Picton and Blenheim.

He said all road freight navigated through that section of road and when something went wrong "there's just no give in it".

He said barriers would be ideal and he would like to see them used on many state highways.

Practical steps were needed to try and improve infrastructure and physical barriers between oncoming vehicles "is a huge step in that direction" to prevent head-on crashes.

Some of the country's roads have been built on some challenging terrain, Hamilton said.

"There's certain areas on it that definitely need huge improvement and investment to make the infrastructure better to accommodate the freight tasks and the different modes of vehicle that are operating on the network."

He said SH1 should not have its speed limit reduced to 80km/h because it would be another control that took motorists' minds off the task of driving safely.

"We need an efficient freight corridor and we've got to invest in making that infrastructure better."

Priority list set for median barriers

Waka Kotahi said there was no median barrier at the crash site south of Picton because barriers were put in on a priority basis.

The New Zealand Transport Agency said prior to that, the last fatality on the 1.5km stretch between Freeths Rd and Lindens Rd was in 2012, and there had been no serious injuries since then.

The full 26km from Picton to Blenheim had had five fatalities and 21 serious injuries since 2012.

By comparison, it said median barriers were put in on Centennial Highway north of Wellington after 17 fatalities and 15 serious injuries.

"Safety interventions [including median barriers] are prioritised according to risk," it said.

The agency said it spent $2.5 million on 27km of side barriers between Picton and Blenheim between 2013 and 2016.

A technical engineering assessment of speed limits on the road was done earlier this year.

"The findings of this assessment, together with a risk-based national speed management plan currently being developed by Waka Kotahi, will inform any future decisions on changes to speed limits for this section of SH1."

'A wonderful young man'

South Auckland's Pukehoke High School is in mourning after one of its Year 10 students, Mark Legud, died in the tragic crash near Picton on Sunday.

The boy's older brother, Luie Legud, who is in Year 11 at the school, survived the crash and is in Wellington Hospital.

He is one of only two survivors.

Pukekohe High School principal Richard Barnett said the school community was coming together to support each other.

Staff were doing their best to support those students and staff who knew the brothers particularly well.

A Year 10 assembly will be held this afternoon to try and help those students and other assemblies will be held later in the week.

Staff members were unanimous in praising the family and the school wanted to do everything they could to support them in the weeks ahead.

"We're doing that through our counselling team, our teachers came together and rallied round the students who know those two boys well yesterday and a number of teacher aides as well were able to offer support."

He described Mark as "a wonderful young man", 'a fantastic citizen of the school" who "who had a bright future ahead of him".

"It's absolutely tragic."

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