John Stringer knows all too well the dangers of rural intersections.
The Mayfield-based Trailways Transport owner comes across bad driving on the Ashburton District’s rural roads every day and believes locals are some of the most complacent drivers in the world.
Last July, one of Stringer’s drivers was involved in a fatal crash at the intersection of Hackthorne and Maronan Valetta roads when the driver of the car did not stop at the intersection and collided with the oncoming truck, which had right of way.
It is one of the rural intersections on the Ashburton District Council’s list for a signage upgrade and a change from a giveaway to a stop sign.
But following a coronial report into a different fatal crash in the district, highlighting the potential dangers of rural intersections, Stringer says complacency, rather than signage, is to blame.
Putting up more signs won’t stop “inattentive drivers making bad decisions”, he says.
Stringer has clocked up over 5.5 million kilometres in trucks and believes locals who know the roads are often the worst culprits.
“It’s complacency and a lack of attention.
“Mid Canterbury is one of the worst places in the world for complacency, with so many fatalities on straight road intersections.
“Anybody is going to wind up dead if they don’t stop at the wrong time.”
An increase in signage isn’t going to solve the human error issues of complacency, Stringer said.
“Give way means you still have to stop for oncoming traffic, so what’s the difference?
“You can add all the signs you like but it won’t make a difference if someone’s on a cell phone or not paying attention.”
People, particularly younger drivers, needed to understand “there is no reset button” if they make a bad decision on the road.
“They are just not paying attention.
“I firmly believe it’s a privilege to drive on the road, not a given right.
“People need to respect it.”
Stringer believes that maybe the licensing and examination process needs to be more stringent.
His comments come after a coroner’s report noted signage as being a contributing factor to a fatal crash at a rural intersection in Mid Canterbury.
In his report released this week, Coroner Marcus Elliott said a driver’s failure to notice a stop sign was the likely cause of a fatal crash between a truck and van at an intersection near Ashburton in 2021, killing four.
Elliott concluded the crash occurred because the driver did not stop at the intersection, travelling into the path of an oncoming truck, which had right of way.
The layout of signs and markings at the intersection were the likely reasons the driver missed the stop sign, he said.
The council told the coroner that it considered signage and markings at the intersection at the time of the crash to be compliant.
Advanced warning signs and larger stop signs have since been installed, and the road markings have been repainted.
Another coroner’s report, released in 2022, into a 2019 triple-fatality at the intersection of Hepburns and Mitcham roads recommended safety improvements to 79 of the district’s rural intersections.
The Hackthorne and Maronan Valetta roads intersection was on the list and was awaiting an upgrade when Vishwam Sankar, 36, was killed when his car collided with a Trailways truck at the intersection on July 17 last year.
Council infrastructure and open spaces group manager Neil McCann said funding for the rural intersection upgrades is being proposed as part of the long-term plan for the 2024/25 year.
“We are working through the list now and will continue into the next financial year and beyond when additional intersections are identified.
“The contractor manages the order of the upgrades to fit in with other work around the network.”
Some upgrades have already been completed from existing budgets, he said.
“Many of the intersections have the minimum required in terms of sign size and quantity.
“The upgrades include larger signs, additional signs on the right-hand side, new warning signs and new chevron sight boards.
“So we will be achieving more than the minimum with changes from give way to stop on several of the intersections.”
By Jonathan Leask, Local democracy reporter
LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.