It’s amazing the pearls of wisdom that one can gain in an unlikely setting. 35 years or so ago I completed an electrical apprenticeship and worked with many characters along the way. One of those characters, Grant, had a number of pithy sayings that we still talk about to this day. These “Grant-isms” are known for their simple logic and plain good sense.

Grant was a guy into American cars, he had a Chevy and a Cadillac (and, despite loving all Caddys, he was utterly disdainful of anyone who would sing a song about a Pink one). As one would expect from someone who loved cars and driving, Grant was into roads. One day while driving on a highway to get to a job somewhere, Grant piped up and suggested that: “if the Yanks were running this country, there would be a six-lane highway from one end of the country to the other.”

I was thinking of this particular Grant-ism last night after arriving back from a quick family trip to Marlborough to see family (Happy Birthday, Mum!). The day before we drove up, the main highway near Kaikoura was closed for many hours after a multiple-fatality car accident. On the way back, we had to make an extensive detour since the road between Havelock and Blenheim was closed due to another car crash. All weekend the news was full of accident after accident that would have a huge economic, social and emotional toll on those involved, the wider community and the nation as a whole.

As I was driving back just north of Kaikoura, I had a think about all those accidents. Now I’m well aware that Police officers prefer not to call motor vehicle accidents “accidents.” In their view, there is nothing accidental about a crash – it is a specific cause of poor driver behaviour. not driving to the conditions and the fundamental state of our roads.

While the first two are undoubtedly the root cause of these crashes, and one would not disagree that people should slow down, stay in their lane, pass safely and remain attentive, it is the final causative factor, the state of our roads I wanted to opine about this week.

Now I get we’re facing economic armageddon and that the powers-that-be have to juggle massively divergent priorities in terms of funding – health, education, social welfare, transport. I get that there is a far from bottomless pit of money and that New Zealanders, generally speaking, are quick to demand that the Government do more, but very slow to agree to higher taxation levels. I get all that and I sympathise with anyone having to try and balance things that are fundamentally out of balance.

But all of those disclaimers given, I couldn’t help but notice that my drive north of Kaikoura passed huge sections of road that were rebuilt from the ground up (actually, from far below ground level and up) after the Kaikoura Earthquake. When they did so, the authorities in charge of those decisions went all out to provide incredible stopping points where one can watch the seals and their pups playing, enjoy some fresh Kaikoura crayfish and have a breather. All worthy investments. But what is even more worthy is the money that was spent, admittedly only in distinct areas, to erect lane separation between Northbound and Southbound lanes.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of crashes in New Zealand, and virtually all of the really nasty multi-vehicle ones, involve an errant driver – either through speed, slippery roads or inattention – crossing the centre lane. In places like the new Kaikoura Highway, or the Hamilton Expressway, that is impossible since roading engineers have designed separation in from the outset. Either through lane barriers or by building the inbound and outbound roads separately altogether.

On my regular commute between the North Canterbury town where I live and Christchurch, I pass dozens of locations where I have attended traumatic car crashes in my role as a Firefighter. The vast majority of those incidents, bring back a picture seared into my memory. That picture is of a vehicle or two out in the middle of the road, torn to pieces and with the resultant death and destruction evident.

It’s not actually a hard problem to solve – we might not get Grant’s vision of a US-style six-lane highway along the length of New Zealand, but lane separation on all main highways in New Zealand would massively reduce our shockingly high road toll.

Grant was a smart guy, his penchant for cars displaying “chrome, fins and tonnage” may not have been my style, but when it came to road making plain sense, he knocked it out of the park.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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