*555 calls ‘huge help’: top cop


People who dob in poor or dangerous drivers are helping make roads safer, Central Otago’s top road-policing officer says.

Otago Lakes-Central area road-policing manager Senior Sergeant Glenn Wilkinson said there had been  no nasty smashes over the holidays so far and it was  “touch wood” for the remainder.

There has not been a fatal accident since August 2017 in the road policing area, which covers the Queenstown Lakes district, Cromwell, Alexandra, Roxburgh, Omakau and Ranfurly.

The *555 hotline was a “huge help”, he said.

It allowed concerned members of the public to report dodgy driving in real time,  officers in patrol cars driving out to stop the motorist as quickly as possible.

The hotline received about 500 calls for the area over the festive period — generally about 30 a day but peaking in the mid-40s in early January, Snr Sgt Wilkinson said.

“It’s hard to measure what hasn’t happened but given the focus we’ve had locally on getting to the high-priority dangerous ones as quickly as possible … that may have prevented any serious crashes,” he said.

“There’s every chance that one of those drivers could have gone on to cause a major crash.”

Calls where the driver was crossing the centre line or speeding were given priority.

“They’re the ones that can cause a head-on and therefore fatal crash,” he said.

Officers managed to find and stop those motorists more often than not, he said.

An extra nine road-policing officers were rostered on over the holidays, although that included those manning the booze bus.

Snr Sgt Wilkinson said the vast majority of calls were well intentioned, but some were not priorities.

“There might be someone braking into corners and speeding up at the overtaking lane, which while annoying for people isn’t dangerous or illegal.

“If we could get to all of them we would, but we focus on the speed and crossing the centre line, getting to those dangerous ones first.”

Six people died on the area’s roads in 2017, up from five in 2016.

But there has not been a fatal accident since the death of Ravineel Avikash Sharma (19), of Alexandra, on August 10. He was the front-seat passenger in a Nissan car that crashed into a tree in Coates Rd, near Alexandra Airport.

The hotline generally receives about 15 calls a day from the policing area in non-peak periods, most of them concerning drivers on the Crown Range road, Devil’s Staircase near Kingston and in the Kawarau Gorge.

Prosecutions were rare but dangerous drivers would find themselves in court.

They include a 29-year-old foreign national who allegedly overtook two cars in front of an oncoming vehicle on the Gibbston Highway about  7pm on Wednesday.

The two cars were forced to pull to the left to avoid a head-on crash, and at one point there were “three cars abreast” on the highway, Sergeant Keith Newell, of Queenstown, said on Thursday.

The man told police he was rushing to find a toilet because he had eaten too many cherries in Cromwell, Sgt Newell said.