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Stay safe on backcountry roads this summer

Media release

14 December 2017

Stay safe on backcountry roads this summer

DOC is investing in road signage on a problematic West Coast backcountry road this summer but says travellers must prepare, drive to the conditions and expect more traffic.

Back country roads are at their busiest during this time of year, says Buller District Operations Manager Bob Dickson. These roads will see up to 50% of their yearly use over a two month period, “we want people travelling to destinations off the beaten track to slow down and adjust their driving to the road conditions”.

DOC manages around 2300km of roads around the country, with many roads leading to destinations that have become increasingly popular in the last couple of years. Increased use has led to more crashes on some of these roads.

A DOC road leading to the Oparara Arches has seen a surge in popularity in recent times. Travellers visiting the Arches must drive a 15km stretch of gravel road. In the last eight weeks, there have been 18 traffic accidents on the Oparara Road, leading to serious vehicle damage.

Bob Dickson says many New Zealand and overseas travellers will have little experience driving on gravel roads. “We are investing in more signage in the Oparara to encourage people to slow down and take care, but we also want hosts and companies renting vehicles to give visitors a heads up about the special nature of these roads and how they should be safely driven”.

Many of the roads DOC manages are one lane, or narrow two lane roads, so special care should be taken around blind corners and speed adjusted appropriately. Road margins can also catch people out says Bob, “Never go onto a margin of a road without reducing to a very slow speed first – often the edge of the road will be softer, and on backcountry roads, ditches can be hidden by vegetation”.

People driving on unsealed roads should be aware the loose surface of the road offers very low skid resistance. Slow down when approaching oncoming traffic as dust could obscure your vision and loose stones could chip your windscreen. Dust from vehicles in front may reduce visibility so speed should be reduced and following distances increased to account for dust clouds and greater skid risk when stopping.

“Don’t ruin your summer fun through careless driving – take extra care, slow down and expect to share these roads in order to have truly rewarding experiences in our great outdoors,” says Bob.


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