Dicing with Deadly December

Road side warnings on State Highway 2 at Te Puna.

Seven drivers, three passengers, one motorcyclist and one cyclist.

They were the people who set out on our roads last Christmas and did not come home alive.

They were the ‘you and I’s’ who became statistics, whose epitaph will read Christmas-New Year holiday period road toll 2015-2016. They were the ‘you and I’s’ suddenly, tragically and violently taken, who left behind broken hearts and broken families.

“I came home from conducting a funeral last week and I said to my husband: “If you really loved your family you would think before you did things’,” says celebrant Wendy Barton. “If you really loved your family, you wouldn’t drive fast, you wouldn’t drive drunk or stoned or tired.”

Her funeral service wasn’t for a road accident victim but it was a sudden death. “But it had exactly the same impact as a road accident,” says Wendy. “He went out and left his family. Nobody was ready to say goodbye and it was very, very, very hard. I was reeling from the fact they hadn’t had time to have the conversation.”

“Take special care,” says the AA’s Simon Douglas. Special because ‘Deadly December’ is the most lethal month on our roads and the worst of it is still to come.

“In the last five years December has averaged nearly 31 deaths on the roads, well above any other month.” This December there has been 13 deaths, eight less than last December.

But there’s no room for complacency because the reality of the road toll is fluctuations. A week can go by with no lives lost and then there will be a couple of “bad ones” to drive up the toll and help Deadly December win its dark reputation.

And with the death toll running at well more than 300 for the year, the AA points out the most dangerous part of Deadly December is still to come today and through the weekend, when holidaymakers pour out onto the nation’s roads.

“Protect yourself,” says Simon. And he has put up a five-point plan to protect against crashes and ensure you return safely from the holidays – drive according to the conditions, increase following distances, stay buckled up, stay 100 per cent focused on driving; and if tired or impaired, don’t drive.

Wendy reckons people say things like ‘I can’t give up…’, or ‘I just wanted to…’ or ‘I just had to do this or that’ but at the same time they’re saying ‘my family is everything’. “But if your family was everything to you, you wouldn’t do anything that jeopardised that.”

“You can look at the statistics and say ‘it won’t happen to me’. But when it does happen the impact is catastrophic. The family I was dealing with is a traditional family and looked to the man. With him gone they are rudderless.”

This, Wendy says, is a very good and timely reminder about the impact of a sudden death.

The official holiday period road toll for 2016-2017 starts at 4pm this afternoon, December 23, and ends 6am on Wednesday, January 4, next year.

The AA reminds motorists that, as in recent summers, the speed tolerance threshold will be 4km/h through December and January. And the Police will be out in numbers to enforce it.


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