Six people have died on Otago roads this year.
Which is six too many.
Six people who were probably at a whanau Christmas in 2020, not knowing it would be their last.
That’s before you even think about those with life-changing injuries as a result of someone else’s poor decision-making.
In a recent accident in South Canterbury, four lives were lost in a road accident and others seriously injured.
Initial reports suggest the driver may not have given way at an intersection.
Media reports portray the driver as a much-loved son and brother, who will be dearly missed.
The other people who died were loved family members, too.
Four lives lost, others destroyed beyond repair.
It’s the story behind every road crash reality — a trail of grief and destruction that those left behind will never recover from.
So many road deaths are preventable, and that’s something that both saddens and frustrates me.
All that pain, and it didn’t need to happen.
It’s simply a result of poor decision-making.
There are a lot of offences you can commit using a car — careless driving, dangerous driving, driving causing injury, drink-driving, repeat drink-driving, failing to stop for red and blue lights, the list goes on.
There is no shortage of people coming to Queenstown District Court on Monday morning for one or more of these reasons, some are sheepish, remorseful and new to the court.
It’s likely the offending will be a one-off.
Others have been there many times before.
Dangerous driving and other offences require a degree of recklessness, but a careless driving charge could happen to anyone who takes a corner too fast, or simply leaves the handbrake off when distracted.
In this area, many drivers are a piece of grit away from a careless driving charge, or worse.
Let those without speeding tickets cast the first stone.
The reality is most of us can’t say we’ve never put a foot wrong on the roads.
At some point in time in a lifetime of driving we’ve made a mistake.
It might be following too closely, not waiting three seconds at a stop sign, skidding on grit, misjudging our speed on a corner, or being distracted by some thing and not watching where we are going.
Usually, we’re lucky there wasn’t a car coming the other way when we hit black ice and slid across Lake Hayes Road late one night.
I’m speaking from experience there.
We all need to take more care on the roads, and to educate those around us.
If you’re a passenger in a car that’s been driven badly, or by an alcohol- or drug-impaired driver, then speak up.
Better still, get out of the car.
In recent years, various governments have increased the penalties for those convicted of land transport offences as part of a range of measures to improve road safety and reduce the road toll.
Previously, a first-time drink-driving offender would be sentenced to a fine and a six-month period of disqualification.
Now, anyone with a breath alcohol level over 800 micrograms per litre of breath (or blood equivalent) will be ordered to have an alcohol interlock licence for one year, though some exceptions apply.
There are costs and logistics associated with an interlock licence.
The car won’t start if alcohol is detected on your breath.
The penalties for breaching an interlock licence are hefty.
Repeat offenders can also be subject to interlock licences and indefinite disqualifications.
Once the interlock has been in place for a year, a zero-alcohol licence is compulsory for the next three years.
In practical terms, that stops a drink-driver from driving with any alcohol in their system for four years.
The intention of these provisions is, of course, to improve public safety and keep alcohol-impaired drivers off the roads.
Only in exceptional circumstances (such as a life and death situation) will you get any leniency from the courts when driving contrary to a court order.
Disqualification means just that.
Judges don’t make court orders only for them to be ignored.
For some, a loss of licence will be difficult, and in certain situations you can obtain a limited licence to drive for work or personal reasons.
Let’s all make it our mission to stay safe on the roads this winter.
If the Queenstown traffic holds you up, don’t do anything rash or reckless.
Wear your seatbelt.
Drive a bit slower and arrive late.
It’s better than never arriving at all.
Tanya Surrey is a Mactodd associate and Queenstown duty lawyer