Death prompts call for rural intersection review

The intersection of Mitcham and Hepburns roads where triple fatality happened in 2019, has prompted a review into rural intersections.

Staff at Ashburton District Council have this week started reviewing rural intersections similar to those in the fatal high-speed crash of Chante Harmer and her two young children, near Ashburton in 2019.

The council review was one of the recommendations of Coroner Marcus Elliott following an inquest last year.

Council infrastructure services group manager Neil McCann said the Coroner’s report was released to the Ashburton District Council on April 11, 2022.

The process of reviewing 79 similar intersections around the district had started and will continue over the next few months.

“We welcome recommendations that help reduce the risk of accidents on our roads, and we will consider the issues raised in the findings when undertaking a review of our similar intersections,” he said.

Chante Harmer, 30, died alongside her 19-month-old Te Awanuiarangi and 8-month-old Wysdom after their car collided with another vehicle at Mitcham Road, near Ashburton, in April 2019.

Ms Harmer was driving two of her six children and other family members along Hepburns Rd and, after failing to give way at the intersection of Mitcham Rd, ploughed into a ute.

Police investigated the crash and the matter was referred to Coroner Elliott.

At the inquest he heard details about the crash and the intersection from police, the Ashburton District Council and Waka Kotahi NZTA.

Police said the give way sign Ms Harmer was travelling towards was clearly visible from 120m away but could easily be missed from a distance as it “blended into the background of the Canterbury landscape”.

The intersection itself had visibility issues for all drivers.

“Road signs and markings were not adequate to provide the safest environment possible for road users,” the coroner was told.

Concrete irrigation culverts on both sides of the road, a tall hedge and a row of poplar trees also resulted in reduced visibility.

Coroner Elliott ruled the cause of the crash was due to the fact Ms Harmer “did not obey the give way sign”. I have concluded that the reason Ms Harmer did not give way was that she did not perceive either the give way sign, the intersection or [the] approaching vehicle in sufficient time to stop.

“Although the evidence showed that Ms Harmer did become aware of the approaching vehicle and then braked, this was much too late to prevent a collision.”

After hearing lengthy and complex evidence Coroner Elliott determined the intersection should have been controlled by a stop sign.

“However, this does not mean that the council can be said to have contributed to the crash,” he said.

“I have concluded that Ms Harmer did not see the give way sign. Even allowing for some difference in size, it is equally possible that she would not have seen a stop sign in the same spot … and the crash would still have happened.”

Stop signs – and multiple warning signs further back – have been erected at the intersection.

Since the fatal crash, multiple stop signs – and warning signs further back – have been erected.

The council – along with property owners – had also worked to improve overall visibility at the intersection.

Coroner Elliott said in the Ashburton district alone there were 79 intersections considered similar to the one where Ms Harmer crashed.

“This crash illustrates the danger that drivers on long, straight rural roads may not identify the presence of an intersection insufficient time to stop.

“Drivers should be alert to the possibility of intersections on rural roads and pay close attention to signs and road markings warning of an approaching intersection.”

Along with his recommendation council conduct a review of their 79 intersections, he further recommended Waka Kotahi NZTA conduct “a review of international, national and regional practice of the use of traffic signs and markings that relate specifically to controlling risks at rural crossroads”.

“This should include consideration of the issues identified above in relation to warning signs,” he said.

A Waka Kotahi NZTA spokesperson confirmed last week that, based on the Coroner’s recommendations a review had been undertaken by consultants as well as a review by Waka Kotahi staff.

The review was at the draft stage.

~ Additional reporting New Zealand Herald