Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Near road death experience

Listening to: Barking - Underworld (2010). Seems an apt title to describe the way many people drive in this country :)

We nearly killed someone driving home from out camping holiday in Taupo yesterday. There was a fatal crash on the main highway, and we were diverted down a narrow back-road. When I say narrow, I mean barely wide enough to merit lane markings in the middle, and occasionally losing those too. While technically open road limited to 100kph, it is the kind of road you'd be dumb to go much faster than 80 on, and made me slow and pull over a little whenever I met any oncoming traffic (of which there was plenty since it was diverting from the other side of the crash site as well). So we are on a narrow unfamiliar road, which I'm driving at about 60-70 for comfort and safety. We get to this blind right hand corner when it happens.

A motorbike appears, coming the other way at speed, heeled over in the turn and on my side of the road. He's stuck in his turning arc and will hit us in about two seconds. Aside from the thought of "WTF are you doing on my side of the road you freaking idiot!", time briefly stopped at that point, before reflexes took over.

We had been driving along a section of road with a grass bank to our left with no verge, but luckily right then there was a gravel patch a couple of metres wide on the outside of the bend.
I pulled hard into it, braking heavily to the point where the car nosed down so much the skirt under the front bumper scraped the edge of the tarmac (resulting in the marks in the pics) as we came to a halt, hoping the ute behind us was paying attention and didn't hit us. The rider missed us by a couple of metres and sailed on, seemingly oblivious to just how close he came to being a hood ornament. After muttering a few things I hope Charlotte doesn't repeat we gathered ourselves and moved on, scared and more than a little angry at being endangered in such a stupid way.

There are a few aspects about it that piss me off. Detouring was fine, but travelling at a reasonably quick but safe speed (not crawling by any means) on the back road still caused traffic to pile up and tailgate me, since they obviously thought they should be going faster. If I had been going only a few k's faster we would have been wearing the guy on the bike. No ifs or buts, it was that close. The girls in the back would probably have been okay, but Fi and I in the front might have been in trouble.

The merchant banker on the bike annoys me most. To get on the road he has already been diverted by the flashing lights, police cars, and 'Crash Ahead' sign. Yet this reminder of consequences doesn't phase him (probably because he thinks it's somebody else's problem, and it won't happen to him anyway because he is a good rider) and so he just piles on like there is no-one else on the road, and nearly has a head-on with a family minding their own business as a result. This is how people die on the roads. I hope he got the shakes after our near miss. I hope he still has them.

The other thing that annoys was after regaining the main road we came across all the grinning idiots flashing their lights at oncoming traffic to warn of a police car up ahead. I don't know if this happens in other countries, but it seems to be a 'damn the man' tradition here. I see this all the time, and it is idiotic. There is a well rehearsed and tired argument that speed cameras are more about revenue gathering than safety, but it is a self selecting tax; if you don't want to contribute don't speed. I wonder what they thought when they got to the diversion, or if they heard about what happened up the road. Speed alone doesn't kill, but the attitudes behind speeding do.

I've said it before, but the attitude behind a lot of NZ driving habits is seriously warped. 18 people were killed in crashes over the Christmas/New Year period this season, practically all of them due to utterly avoidable stupid driving. I've also mentioned before that I survived a high speed crash (caused by my own stupid driving) when I was much younger. I wonder if more people had an insight into just how swift and violent an experience like that is whether it would make the behaviours safer or not.

After spending a week in a tourist town, we were expecting some hair-raising driving from the tourists, but while the overseas tourists in Taupo could be tricky drivers at times, the locals were worse. There were numerous episodes of craziness, but the most shining example was a guy in a farm ute we met in a Taupo carpark. Since there seems to be a bylaw that all carparks in Taupo must be illogically laid out (seriously, they are weird), we wound up reversing into a park from a long way out. Held up by us for all of 10 seconds, our ute driver smugly smiled and shook his head at us obvious noobs, before driving away. All the while he had an unrestrained Jack Russell terrier sitting in his lap. Can't see how that could go wrong. You're laughing at us mate but who is the bigger fool?

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