Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Road to Hell...

The Road to Hell...
Originally uploaded by Mr Reasonable.

I’ve just spent a few days up in Taupo with my brother who was over for a flying visit from the UK. We set off at 6:30am on Wednesday, had lunch on the way, stopped at the Army Museum in Waiouru (to remind us how stupid war and humans are) and then headed over the Desert Road.

I am a pretty courteous driver and as a father of small kids absolutely never break the speed limit through towns. Seriously I don’t. Life can be cruel and one rare unfortunate event can lead to an accident that nobody could foresee.

However, the open road is a strange drug and it is very tough on the fabulous straights to keep it down. The regular little white crosses on the side of the roads are a good reminder though and some of the sign-posts are simple and direct.

Having driven for many years in the UK I became very used to bright orange speed cameras and the many signs advising of upcoming cameras or speed check zones. No such courtesies appear to exist in NZ where there is an art to hiding cameras and unmarked Police Cars. The strategy in the UK is to warn drivers so that they do actually moderate speed in the areas where it is vital and/or dangerous such as schools or accident black spots. The motorway speed limit is 70mph but most drivers (and I do mean most) will hit the fast lane of the motorway and travel an entire journey between 80-90mph. This is tolerated as everyone is driving fast and there is an understanding about where it is safe.

The big difference in NZ is that the cameras appear to be simply there to derive revenue and boy are they well hidden. They are unmarked and cleverly concealed and rather than regulate speed in dangerous areas they simple seem to make drivers take risks in areas that they know a camera simply couldn’t be, like a very short but straight bit if road leading to a sharp corner. I witnessed many acts of madness.

But I remain confused. If I am travelling behind a vehicle at 85kph in a 100kph zone, am I permitted to exceed the speed limit to safely pass? Can I accelerate past the limit, zip past the caravan/car and then just drift back under once I am a safe distance past? Or am I supposed to get to 100kph, slowly pass the car on the wrong side of the road and then immediately get back into the left lane?

I actually opted for the latter. The car we were in generates 225bhp or 165kw, is turbo charged, has an intercooler and a 0-100kph slightly more than 6 seconds. It also has a top speed of over 240kph and so can really move. Needless to say, I have never approached these speeds on NZ roads; really, I haven’t.

We were on a long straight and up ahead there was a caravan which was travelling at a pace. It would have been around 30kph on the bends and then up to 95-100kph in the straights and looked very unsteady. I opted to blitz past. The road was clear for miles ahead; I could see several dips but nothing had been on the horizon for some time. 3rd gear (of 6) was selected and I moved out, pressed down and was gone. I pulled back into the left in a flash, the caravan a long way back, and came over a rise my foot easing off the go juice pedal but not braking, preferring to drift back down to a more reasonable speed. And there he was. Just down the rise, and invisible until the last second. A white van, dark windows. Smug.

So, am I guilty or innocent? The entire journey was made within the legal limits, yet when you overtake in a safe manner to limit the time on the right hand side of the road, do you opt for a slow lumbering overtake manoeuvre or a rapid in and out? What would you do?


  1. Good question! I believe it is far better to get back on your own side of the road ASAP even if it does mean peaking at something reasonably above the legal speed limit which probably means you were in the wrong to pass promptly and in future must stay on the wrong side of the road for as long as it takes to pass the other vehicle but then isn't driving on the wrong side of the road dangerous and illegal?

    Yes good question...

  2. You are correct, so in future I will drive on the right!

  3. Illegal, yes. Sensible, yes too...