Reading the Signs

We are constantly bombarded by road safety messages throughout media and along the nation’s highways and by-ways: “Make it click”, “If you drink and drive you’re a bloody idiot”, “100km/hr. – it’s a limit, not a target”, “Merge like a zip”. But despite these messages, Hawke’s Bay has seen an alarming spate of serious and fatal car crashes recently, especially along seemingly harmless, long, straight, wide pieces of road like the Hastings to HB Airport expressway. Why are people still making these same mistakes when they are constantly reminded of the hazards and what to do? It makes me think there might be a less obvious, yet more serious problem, to go along with speeding and drink-driving, that no amount of signage can cure – illiteracy.

I often catch a bus from in front of Napier’s Fire Station on Taradale Road. Across from where I wait is Alpers Terrace and a red, octagonal sign which reads “S-T-O-P” and is accompanied by a couple yellow lines that separate Alpers Terrace form Taradale
Road. Now, it may have been a while ago, but my loyal service through rain, shine and Cyclone Bola as a crossing guard at Tamatea Primary and Intermediate Schools taught me that this sign and markings meant “Stop!”, “Cease Movement!” “Depress the big, middle pedal of your car until you come to a complete standstill!” It would appear not everyone was as fortunate as I was to attend a Tamatea school in the 80’s and 90’s, because the number of cars, vans, 4×4’s and even trucks that barely slow down before driving straight through that stop sign (well, technically around it– going straight would put you in the fire station’s carpark) is truly frightening – especially when ignoring the road rules results in
around one crash on this corner every month or so.

The Eastern Police District has noticed this trend and every couple of weeks one of the boys or girls in blue will station themselves a few meters down the road from the corner, with those who choose to ignore the stop sign finding themselves funding the next big governmental project from their own pockets. But enforcement isn’t that easy or regular. While I was enjoying some pre-bus entertainment earlier this week watching an officer ticket one offender, at least three other cars ceaselessly waltzed through the stop sign while the policeman was otherwise occupied. Given a pen and ticket book (would
I also have to be deputised and get one of those neat silver stars?) I could make the local police (and central government) an absolute mint!

Equally troubling is the number of times my wife or I have almost been skittled, either on foot or in our car, by the drivers of cars who believe they don’t need to obey the “NO ENTRY” sign on Countdown Supermarket’s carpark exit leading out onto Carlyle
Street. And it’s not just Countdown customers who ignore the sign those going to the neighbouring gym, or taking a short-cut to avoid the nearby traffic lights add further potential bedlam. Metal on metal can make quite a noise, but metal on pedestrian
makes a far worse mess. It can’t be too long before something very nasty happens at that exit and I only hope it doesn’t involve my wife or me.

Another road rule black-spot is West Quay, the road along the fishing boat fronted bar strip in Ahuriri. If you have driven along there, you will know there are a number of one-way chicanes to slow the speed of traffic. At each of these twists and turns, there are an assortment of give-way signs with a small red arrow (car going this way must give way) and a big white arrow (car going this way has right-of-way). The number of times I have tried to go through one of these chicanes with the right of way, only to have another vehicle not give way and come charging through is phenomenal. And it keeps
happening! I have seen larger vehicles with the right of way stubbornly refuse to allow someone who hasn’t obeyed the road rules get past and have to reverse back to the give-way mark much to the amusement to all watching, I don’t know how many
minor crashes this road has seen in recent years, but if a panel beater was to open in one of the old Woolsheds, I bet he’d make a quick fortune.

HBRC’s “Roadsafe Hawke’s Bay”, who are tasked with, presumably, keeping Hawke’s Bay’s roads safe have not helped the literacy skills of the region’s drivers with a youth-targeted “SOBA.D” (for everyone over 14, that’s supposed to mean “Sober
Driver”) – “UNO UNO IT” (“You know you know it” – either that or it’s referring to an 80’s card game) campaign. What makes this brand even odder, SADD-er, or funnier is that there is already a New Zealand – based organisation called “S.O.B.A.” – the
Society of Beer Advocates http://www.soba.org.nz how’s that for mixed messaging?

Non-fatal crashes make up a far greater proportion of the nation’s road accidents and cost the country far more, for far longer than their head-line grabbing successors in severity. So often all it takes for any accident to be avoided is one little thing: Think, slow down, take a taxi, stop and give way. So much time, money, pain and trouble needn’t be expended if people were to simply READ! I hope you will take these words to heart, if you haven’t already. Those who may not understand what all the preceding figures and punctuation meant may not be so lucky.

Perhaps I should have pod-cast this?

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