Tips for staying safe on West Coast roads

West Coast Road Safety Coordinator Glenys Byrne

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New Zealand roads can be daunting for a new driver preparing to sit their license. Our unique Kiwi road system, coupled with sometimes extreme weather, can truly test the skills of fledging motorists!

While Covid-19 has reduced overseas tourists on our roads, a boost in domestic tourism has kept the steady flow of cars and campervans on our tourist routes as Kiwis choose to explore their backyard. So, our roads remain busy. Add winter conditions of snow, rain, flooding, wind, ice, sun strike and shorter daylight hours – not to mention features like one-way bridges and rail crossings – and the risks to our safety increase. New drivers may be facing these hazards for the first time. 

Winter is a time to reduce the risk of danger with extra vigilance on the road. To be safe, you could stay at home and watch Netflix – or you could get out there and make the most of your journey! Just know that better awareness of your surroundings and taking some extra precautions can considerably reduce the risks to you and others on the roads. 

To minimise dangers when driving in bad weather:

  • Slow right down! 
  • Stay in control (lower speeds help you maintain control and give you time to react to the unexpected).
  • Maintain a safe distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front – follow the four-second rule in bad weather.
  • Be extra vigilant for people and hazards.
  • When light is low and visibility poor, turn your vehicle lights on! They make you easier to spot, and help you spot oncoming vehicles earlier.
  • Check weather and road conditions on the Waka Kotahi NZTA Website before you head out.
  • Know how to fit snow chains, and practice before your journey. Fitting chains like a pro saves time and earns respect! A pair of cheap work gloves stashed in the boot keep frosty, muddy fingers at bay. 
  • Don’t forget to de-ice windows, ensure window wipers are effective, and check tire pressure before you hit the road.

As well as extreme winter weather conditions, New Zealand has more than 3,000 road level railway crossings and nearly 200 single lane bridges! These can also present a challenge to new or unfamiliar motorists. 

Here are some tips for keeping safe on:

  • One-way bridges – be familiar with the road rules and signage. Only proceed if the bridge is clear of oncoming traffic! Take it slow and be prepared to stop.
  • Road level rail crossings – be prepared to stop at give way signs, stop at stop signs, and look both ways for trains. Stop if barrier arms and flashing lights are operating, and never drive under, around, or through a barrier arm while it is down or moving. Never cross the track when a train is approaching! You can cross when the lights stop flashing, the bell stops ringing, the train has passed and the road ahead is clear. 

Following these tips can ensure you and others get home safely this winter. Be safe, be seen. Arrive alive. Drive Safe West Coast!

Tai Poutini Polytechnic offers driver education. We are available to discuss your road safety concerns and to provide more tips to keep you safe on the road. Check out our FREE Learner License classes at the TPP Greymouth Campus.