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Fatal crash intersection was awaiting upgrade

Fatal crash intersection was awaiting upgrade

A fatal crash that killed a father-of-two occurred at a rural intersection that is set to be upgraded over safety concerns.

Vishwam Sankar, 36, was killed when his car collided with a truck at the intersection of Hackthorne and Maronan Valetta roads at 9.45am on July 17.

Sankar and his family had moved to New Zealand from the US last year and had celebrated the birth of their second child three weeks before the tragic accident, the New Zealand Herald reported.

The crash has been referred to the coroner.

Ashburton District Council infrastructure and open spaces group manager Neil McCann said at the start of July, the intersection had been included as part of the 2023-24 annual work program to have gated 'give way' signs (signs on both sides of the road) and 'give way ahead' warning signs installed.

“On review following the crash, this has been changed to replacing the 'give ways' with stop controls, gating the 'stop' signs and warning signs, and installing a directional sign with road name to provide extra information for drivers approaching from the south,” McCann said.

The intersection was included in the council’s review of 79 rural intersections in March, which was recommended by the coroner following a fatal crash at the intersection of Mitcham Road and Hepburns Road in 2019.

A budget for the proposed changes is being prepared for the 2024-27 long-term plan, McCann said.

“There was no priority order but seven intersections have already had minor sign changes completed.”

Councillor Rob Mackle was inspired to pursue a council seat after being first on the scene of that fatal crash in 2019, where he performed CPR on an eight-month-old baby who later died in hospital.

Following the latest fatal crash at a rural intersection, Mackle is demanding more action.

“There just seems to be the repairs or minor details changed just to cover council’s bums, as it looks to the public. We need to be doing a lot more.”

Roading manager Mark Chamberlain said the council has been working on having the appropriate warnings and signs at its rural intersections.

“We just have to spend the time and money upgrading the signage.

“Having bigger signs on rural roads, and the appropriate one as well. My preference is 'stops' rather than 'give ways' at rural intersections.”

The Hackthorne and Maronan Valetta intersections had only had two previous crashes reported, Chamberlain said - one injury and one non-injury in 2012 and 2014.

The council is currently reviewing future budgets for signage to fund the gradual replacement of many 'give way' signs with 'stop' signs at rural intersections.

The change to stop signs had support from councillor Phil Hooper.

Because a lot of rural intersections are high-speed intersections, “that’s when misjudging happens”, he said.

“A lot of it won’t matter what we do, there is still going to be human error,” Hooper said.

“If you are stopped you can make a better assessment.”

Mackle believes more can be done, and proposed placing rumble strips at rural intersections with main roads as an option.

There is no evidence to prove rumble strips are an effective method in approving driver behaviour, Chamberlain said.

As they are driven over “they lose their effectiveness quite quickly”.

“If they were effective, we would have them everywhere.”

Splitter islands, installing extra signs in the middle of the road, are also options the council is considering at some rural intersections but require widening the road to ensure larger vehicles can still turn safely.

A report updating the work that is going into safety upgrades around the district's intersections was requested by Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown.

By Jonathan Leask