Better passing opportunities for safer and hassle-free journeys

During the summer, we holidayed in the beautiful Golden Bay and Tasman Region at the top of the South Island. The drive to Golden Bay from Christchurch is a minimum of 5½ hours, mainly on two-lane, two-way rural roads. Other than the first 40 minutes of the trip there are relatively few passing lanes on this route and queues build up behind slower moving vehicles causing driver frustration. While this includes campervans, caravans and vehicles towing boats, it also includes people like myself who prefer to drive at lower speeds (remembering that the posted speed limit is maximum, not a target!), especially through curved road sections. I also had a heavily weighed down vehicle.  So, my trip experience included both getting stuck behind slow moving vehicles and sometimes being the cause of delay.

We know that frustrated drivers are more likely to take risks, such as passing (using the opposing lane) when there is limited/insufficient visibility. While driving the route both ways, I reflected on the importance of passing lanes and pull-over bays (both formal slow vehicle bays and informal road widening) in addressing driver frustration.  Given I am conscious of driver frustration (and its impact on safety) and my discomfort having a driver sitting close behind when travelling at speed, I looked for any opportunity to pull over and let other vehicles pass. 

While the number of passing lanes on that route is still very limited, there are a number of slow vehicle bays and even more informal shoulder widening and stopping bays.  There is also signage encouraging drivers to pull over and let faster drivers pass. Generally, I saw most drivers being considerate and pull over, but not all drivers. Although, I am conscious that some of the pull-over areas are not signed and not suitable for vehicles pulling campervans and boats and are therefore not suitable stopping areas.  Indeed, some pull off areas have unexpected hazards like gravel and potholes which may not be evident when a decision is made to pull over. Overall, it is great that there are many places where slower driver can pull over to let others pass; but more can, and should, be done.  

Shane Turner's trip
A little piece of paradise - Kaiteriteri beach

My experience is fairly common when driving on most South Island highways, where passing lanes are generally in short supply. I am also conscious that on some 2-lane routes, especially in the North Island, and during holiday periods, due to high traffic volumes, there are crash (and efficiency) problems at merge areas of passing lanes, as frustrated drivers try and overtake late. On these higher volume highways, we ideally need four-lanning or the Swedish 2+1 configuration, with alternating passing lanes.    

In the past there has been considerable investment in passing lanes and slow vehicle bays by the NZTA and its predecessors.  While there are still passing lanes being built there is in my opinion a strong need to significantly increase investment into building more passing lanes (including 2+1) to provide more passing opportunities and address driver frustration.  More passing lanes will improve road safety and reduce unnecessary delays.  In more tortuous/mountainous areas there is also a need for more investment in formal pull-over bays and developing more slow vehicle bays, with advanced signage.  The goal being to make it easier for slower moving vehicle drivers to do the right thing and stop to let following vehicle pass, leading to more hassle-free journeys.            

Our road safety plans going forward need to address driver frustration through creating more passing opportunities, including more passing lanes (traditional, 2+ 1 and 4-laning) and more formal pull-over bays and slow vehicle bays. The construction of passing lanes/bays emerges as a critical step in creating a more reliable, safer and less frustrating transport network.