‘Absolutely needless’ deaths: Otago has its worst road toll in a decade

Otago has had its highest number of crash deaths for more than a decade, sparking a stark warning from police.

There have been 24 road fatalities in Otago and 11 in Southland so far this year. There were also 24 fatalities in Otago in 2007.

In Southland, there were eight last year and 12 in 2018.

In the past two weeks alone, four people have died in crashes around the region.

Yesterday, one person died and one was injured in a crash on State Highway 1.

Emergency services were called to the crash at Hillgrove, near Moeraki, at 3pm. Two helicopters, police, fire and St John attended.

Nationally, 309 people have died on our roads so far this year. That compares to 336 in the whole of 2019.

And, as holidaymakers prepare to hit the roads in droves over the coming weeks, police are pleading with motorists to drive safely and ensure they make it home.

Senior Sergeant Nik Leigh, of Dunedin, said impaired driving, speed, distraction, and people not wearing seatbelts had all been factors in various serious crashes this year.

Crash hot spots included the northern and southern approaches to Oamaru, Moeraki, the highways between Dunedin and Evansdale and Dunedin and Milton, and the northern and southern approaches to Balclutha.

The difference between a near-miss and a serious or fatal crash could come down to luck, he said.

“It’s tragic, at the end of the day. These are people that won’t be there for Christmas, they won’t be there for wedding anniversaries, they won’t be there for birthdays.

“They’re all tragedies and absolutely needless.”

Because people could not head overseas on holiday, New Zealand roads were likely to be busier as people travelled domestically.

That meant people needed to consider fatigue when travelling long distances, he said.

Police were also still spotting people driving at “ridiculous” speeds in urban areas. Now school was out for summer, there would be more children out and about.

“Someone travelling at those speeds won’t have time to react if a kid runs out in front of them.”

The silly season was called that for a reason, and many people would be indulging at Christmas and New Year parties.

Because of that, a dedicated impairment prevention team has been established to ensure people are not drinking and driving.

“We will be out there, we will be visible, and we will be breath-testing everyone.”

Snr Sgt Leigh acknowledged people could become desensitised to safety messages.

They thought it could never happen to them — but it could, and it did.

“We’ve all got families, we all travel. That could easily be one of us.”

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