Four things we can do about the road toll (but won’t because they cost $$)
December 7, 2007
Number One: Two-lane motorways are STUPID STUPID STUPID and create more accidents than they’re worth.
Motorways should consist of at least three lanes and work like this (assuming a left-hand side of the road, inherited from Der Engerlish, steering wheel on the right model):
Left-hand lane – used for getting on the motorway and getting off. Otherwise, restricted to British Leyland Princesses and anyone over the age of 65.
Middle lane – everyone else.
Right-hand lane – Cars exceeding the speed limit and/or $NZ75,000 that are capable of exceeding the speed limit. These cars are best viewed by everyone as the zoom past at outrageous speeds. Oh, and cars that are ACTUALLY overtaking, not just trying to think about eventually some day overtaking.
In New Zealand any passing lane is typically greeted with shrieks of joy from the drivers followed by howls of outrage as EVERYONE pulls out into the right-hand lane and slowly, so slowly trickle past the car/truck/van that is blocking progress. Suckful.
Sadly in New Zealand we build two-lane “motorways” which simply encourage two kinds of behaviour. Firstly, it encourages everyone to bunch up behind the one car that insists of following the road code and driving at 95kph. Secondly, it encourages drivers to try passing on the left. This is an insane idea that, until fairly recently, was not only allowed in NZ law, but was the FIRST THING THE ROAD CODE TOLD YOU TO DO! Seriously, I couldn’t believe it.
SOLUTION: Three Lanes are Mandatory, not two. Preferably we would build four but that’s future-proofing and is illegal in New Zealand.
Number Two: There should be a HARD shoulder to all 100kph roads. Currently most of these roads have a slippery narrow wedge of scree bordered by a culvert.
For those that don’t know, the culvert in question is not a humorous American TV personality, it is a gouged out water channel that runs parallel to the road and is typically quite deep (six foot or more) but not very wide (four foot or so I would guess) and periodically bisected by someone’s driveway, resulting in a series of moats running like dashed lines alongside the highway.
This because ASTONISHINGLY dangerous when something happens up ahead on the road and a driver thinks OH NOES I MUST PULL OVER OR BE KILLED and heads for the side. They hit the loose gravel, slide uncontrollably into the culvert and then, instead of simply grinding to a halt with the car on its side in six inches of water (not really so bad I guess) they slam into someone’s driveway and get catapulted into a cartwheeling motion until the car comes to a rest somewhere nearby, typically a farmer’s paddock.
Worse, some of these culverts are also dotted with light poles, phone or power poles and any other kind of vertical wall of concrete you can think of. They’re really posts tree trunks with technical branches at the top but when your car hits one at xx kilometres per hour they become tin openers and all the air bags in the world won’t help as your car is cut in half.
SOLUTION: Soft shoulders to be replaced by hard; posts and other protuberances to be removed; culverts to be filled in (it’s called a sewer system – you should try it).
Number Three: There should be a solid barrier between oncoming traffic and yourself.
In New Zealand, motorways are quite a new phenomenon so the typical barrier between lanes is a grass verge. This is great if you want to grow wild flowers and looks lovely in the summertime. However, when you want to stop cars slamming head on into other cars, this is less than effective. Worse, the verge I’m thinking of (southern end of the motorway heading south out of Auckland just before you rise up into the Bombay Hills) has drains dug in every hundred metres or so, meaning if you do find yourself out of control and sliding on the grass and should you find the wild flowers less than effective as a velocity inhibitor you will hit one of these holes in the ground and flip your car onto its roof to really remove any/all control you may have been regaining.
Can I also point out that if car A is travelling at 70kph and car B is coming towards it at 70kph then the combined impact is not 140kph into a brick wall but is in fact 70 TIMES 70kph or 4900kph (hat tip to Dave for pointing out my maths STILL sucks out loud) into a brick wall. It’s called the inverse square law and should be obeyed!
The upgrade to the wild flowers approach to deceleration isn’t much better – it’s a wire fence. That’s right, one strand of wire strung down the middle of the motorway. Recently some poor chap came off his motorbike and was CUT IN HALF by this. This isn’t a good thing (TM) and should be replaced at once.
I’m all in favour of walls that deform or absorb impacts somehow but at the very least I’d like a concrete barrier.
SOLUTION: If the road is 100kph it should have a barrier. A real one. Not flowers.
Number Four: Speed is a factor is BULLSHIT.
Every time there’s a crash the cops say “speed was a factor in the crash”. Well of course it was, that’s like saying “being in a car was a factor in the crash”. If the car was stationary then it was a lot less likely to hit the tree than if it was moving.
As a statement goes it’s your typical tech support kind of statement: entirely true but equally entirely pointless. See also “Oh, you’ve got a temperature”. Something which, I’m sure, even dead people have.
That’s it for now. I have other ideas (let’s talk cambre of the road, eh? And what about advanced driver training for skids and so forth) but I have dishes to wash.