Covid-19: Road toll jumps back up after lockdown

The rate of people dying on our roads has jumped back up, following a record low during lockdown.

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Photo: RNZ Insight / Ben Strang

Drivers are being urged to slow down, check their cars and to take extra care as more traffic and pedestrians hit the streets.

But for more than seven weeks the streets and highways were nearly silent, with strict rules on non-essential travel.

Within the period, fatal crashes slipped to a record low: Just 9 in April.

But as the country opened up, drivers got back behind the wheel and 13 people have now died since the start of May.

The latest list of death includes a young couple in their 20s in Hawke’s Bay, a woman in her 30s from Tokoroa and a man in his 70s from Taradale.

The road toll is both disappointing and no surprise, national road policing manager Acting Superintendent Gini Welch said.

“As volumes increase on our road, so does what we call the collective risk.”

“Think about each other and take your time, be patient, be kind. That applies to your driving as well as every other part of your life,” she said.

Automobile Association road safety spokesperson Dylan Thomsen warns that drivers may be a bit rusty after weeks off the road and it’s not just the drunk or speeding drivers that are at risk.

“We’ve certainly heard anecdotal reports that since people have been back on the roads they’ve noticed others haven’t been driving as well as normal.

“Give yourself more of a buffer, leave more following distance, give yourself more time, because you and thousands of others out there may not be at 100 percent with driving at the moment,” he said.

Thomsen said it’s also time to fix up a lot of the country’s shoddy roads.

“Things like adding median barriers, improving intersections, widening shoulders. We have a lot of highways that carry a lot of traffic and they are narrow, with just a strip of paint down the middle.

“The potential of tragedy is just way too huge.”

Transport Agency spokesperson Mark Owen offered some important safety reminders.

“Drive to the appropriate speed, particularly keep an eye out for roadworks, fatigue is another big one so be mindful of that, watch for the distraction factor and check your vehicles – they’ve obviously been stored at home for a while so check your tires, tread and wipers.”

With bars reopening this week, the risk of drunk driving will go up.

Superintendent Welch said officers will be keeping a close eye out for those flouting the rules, with added presence around bars.

The Ministry of Transport said there have been 106 road fatalities year to date, 50 fewer than at the same time last year.

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