Eating a bowl of weetbix while steering with their knees. Plucking nasal hair. Putting on makeup. Tauranga drivers are caught on camera doing a range of activities while driving, apart from having both hands on the wheel, says Wayne Hunter.
And it needs to stop, says the veteran police officer.
Being in charge of road policing for the Western Bay of Plenty means that Senior Sergeant Wayne Hunter deals with all the traffic incident reports, including minor crashes that come across his desk. And there’s a lot of them.
He also gets to watch the footage from Tauranga’s CCTV cameras. It means he knows what the main cause of minor crashes is around the city.
Drivers may blame many other things for their nose-to-tail smash - a power pole getting in the way, road works, “the other driver”, the road, congestion – the list goes on. But Wayne knows.
“Inattention absolutely,” says Wayne.
“You can’t fault the road. You can’t fault the other driver 99 per cent of the time. The driver in front may have braked suddenly but 99 per cent of the time it is due to inattention, particularly around road works.
“Road works are not the cause of these accidents, it’s inattention.”
The Tauranga Transport Operations Centre - TTOC where more than 900 CCTV cameras are monitored. Photo: Tauranga City Council.
Wayne says a lot of the time it’s drivers on their phone.
“We have so many cameras all over Tauranga now, and a lot of these crashes are on CCTV which I access and look at.
“There is congestion with road works but it’s a driver’s duty to make sure they’re aware of their surroundings and not be distracted.
“We have footage of people driving along, turning around to deal with children, on their phone, putting on makeup, eating breakfast – the bowl in their hand while steering with their knees – it’s all on camera.”
Busiest time of the day for a crash around Tauranga?
“We don’t have many issues around schools.”
He cites parents parking wherever they want to as they don’t want their darling walking too far from the school to their car – “that’s a council issue with their parking team and we leave that up to them”.
“The busiest time for us is 7.30am – 10am. That’s when we are flat out dealing with minor crashes; they block the roads and cause congestion.”
Crash on Hewletts Road. Photo: SunLive.
Hewletts Road becomes gridlocked very quickly when a minor crash happens there. But there are other hot spots around Tauranga.
“Any of the main arterial routes leading into the city. Cameron Road is not as bad as there’s other roads you can go around. Hewletts Road though, – the only way around is via Baypark [SH29A].
He says another place that builds up quickly with traffic following a minor crash is Hairini.
“A nose-to-tail there and traffic backs up fast as it has nowhere to go.”
The impact is not just on other drivers and their busy schedules, but a nose-to-tail also soaks up Police time that needs to be spent on road safety policing.
“Even a minor nose-to-tail will take a Police car off the road for 30-40 minutes not doing what I want them to do which is being out on the road doing speed enforcement, and seatbelt and cell phone enforcement.”
What to do if you are involved in a minor crash
Wayne says even if it’s a minor crash you must stop and check for injuries, and also pass contact details to each other.
“Ascertain if anyone has been hurt.
“What we’ve found is an increase in the people who have had a nose-to-tail not remaining but driving off. Or the person doing the offending has driven off, which means it’s effectively a hit and run following an accident.”
He says there are reasons why they do this.
“They might not have a licence. Or they’ve panicked and driven off. But then they may think about it and sometimes ring us. Or I get a report and follow up.”
A crash in Pyes Pa. Photo: SunLive/Supplied.
People not exchanging details can turn into an expensive headache for a car owner.
“People may say “yes it’s minor”, but the car may need to go to the panel beaters and this impacts on them - their pocket, and their time.”
He does attend the scene of serious crashes, but generally he is stuck in his office dealing with all the reports that come in.
“The big thing I get is people stopped and have spoken to each other but haven got each other’s details. So then they want us to track them down. But it’s not our job to get details of the other driver so they can get money out of them.”
Two recent reports on his desk highlight the issue.
“One is of a young fella who had a crash and it wasn’t his fault. He thought he had written down the other driver’s details but he hadn’t. His insurance company have asked him for details but I can’t give him that due to privacy.”
Wayne says as well as getting the other driver’s contact details, also get contact details of witnesses to give to your insurance company.
A crash on Tauranga Harbour Bridge. Photo: SunLive.
Another example he has is from a minor crash on the Tauranga harbour bridge.
“A young person in a crappy old car rear-ended a Porsche that had been registered just a week. The crappy car hadn’t been insured and there was thousands of dollars damage. So the insurance company went after the young person.”
He says power pole crashes are amongst the worst for expense.
“At least get third party insurance.”
Spots to watch out for around Tauranga
On November 21, a T-bone crash at the Mount Maunganui Rd/Matapihi Rd roundabout highlighted that drivers also need to stay observant and be aware when new traffic lights or other changes are introduced to intersections or roundabouts.
“There are traffic lights there now which started last week so it’s not a roundabout. But the driver was using roundabout rules.
“There are now three sets of lights on that [Mount Maunganui Rd/Matapihi Rd] roundabout. A car was on a red light and the driver thought there was no traffic coming so they could go. If they had realised there are traffic lights there that crash wouldn’t have happened.”
Emergency services attending the scene of the t-bone crash at the intersection of SH2 and Matapihi Road, Bayfair roundabout. Photo: Supplied.
He thinks another new and big example of where drivers will need to pay attention is at the Third Ave and Cameron Road intersection.
“It’s going to be a traffic light-controlled intersection. People are going to be driving through as it as if it was still a straight road. They need to not be distracted, pay attention to their driving and be aware of their surroundings.”
He says the Ninth Ave/Cameron Road roundabout will also have traffic lights installed.
“But that’s easy to see, as drivers are already used to it being a roundabout.”
Wayne’s messages for Tauranga drivers
Western Bay of Plenty’s senior sergeant in charge of road policing has a couple of simple messages for Tauranga drivers.
“Leave plenty of time to get to where you are going. You know you can get frazzled with Tauranga congestions so leave plenty of time to get to where you want to go,” says Wayne.
“If you’re going to be drinking, don’t drive at all. Even one drink is too much.”
He has plans in place to deal with drinking drivers.
“We’re going to have a lot of checkpoints out over the Christmas period.”
And the hope is that over the holiday season, drivers won’t be opening Santa presents, chewing on turkey, or eating pavlova and trifle at their wheels. Or using their phones. If they are, Wayne will be viewing it all on camera.
Both hands on the wheels people! And pay attention!