West coast

Drive safely for Queen's Birthday weekend

With the long Queen’s Birthday public holiday weekend ahead, drivers need to stay safe and plan ahead, particularly if they are driving long distances in freezing, windy or wet conditions.

NZ Transport Agency

May 27, 2020


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Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency encourages drivers to be well prepared – inside and outside the car and in relation to the weather and driving conditions.

“We want all our travellers to get to their destinations and back again safely and to enjoy the journey,” says Waka Kotahi Journey Manager Tresca Forrester.

While Waka Kotahi highway crews will be monitoring past trouble spots with machines handy, people should also be ready for winter conditions, says Ms Forrester. All active work sites will be closed down for the long weekend so delays will be minimal and only at places with long-standing repairs underway.

“Across the whole South Island quite different conditions can affect our roads over the same weekend, so it pays for people to be aware of those differences if they are heading away from home and travel well prepared. Have food, water, and warm clothing in your car in case you need to stay put at any stage.”

For specific closures due to weather, slips or crashes which might have closed highways temporarily, as well as planned repair sites, check the traffic and travel map on Waka Kotahi’s website

Managing the South Island alpine passes

Waka Kotahi crews’ management of the alpine passes (Lewis, Arthur’s, Porter’s) and Haast Pass in South Westland will largely be the same this winter as last winter.

  • SH7 Lewis Pass and Rahu Saddle (near Reefton) will be Open or Closed.
  • SH6 Haast Pass to Makarora in Otago will be Open or Closed.
  • SH73 Springfield to Otira (ie both Arthur’s and Porters Passes) will be Open or Closed.

Please note however: People using alpine roads or going to skifields need to carry chains and know how to put them on. Weather can deteriorate fast in these high altitudes.

“The Open/ Closed system means drivers will be asked to park up or wait at a café in a nearby town for a short time if they get to a highway which has been closed due to snow or ice conditions,” says Ms Forrester. “The road crews will ensure the roads are gritted or de-iced and traffic can get through safely once it is safe to go.

The crews are experienced and want every one of our road users to be safe in wintery conditions.

“We encourage everyone just to pause before a winter journey and go through the safety checklist – a few minutes on planning may well save your life.”

Winter driving tips

  • Check weather and travel conditions on highways before you start your trip and on breaks throughout your journey - use www.journeys.nzta.govt.nz or call 0800 4 HIGHWAYS (0800 44 44 49).
  • Ensure your car is safe and equipped: spare tyre, warrant of fitness up-to-date, lights, brakes and wind-wipers all working, clean windscreen inside and out, check tyre treads to ensure good grip.
  • If you are travelling long distances, share the driving and have regular breaks.
  • Wear your seat belt throughout the journey and check your passengers have theirs clicked in too.
  • Driving on roads that are exposed to snow and ice can be treacherous, so slow down and drive to the conditions, not the allowable/legal speed limit. Increase the following distance between you and the vehicle ahead.
  • Be prepared when travelling in case of delays on the road, particularly in alpine conditions. Make sure you have warm clothes/food/water/charged mobile phone. In an emergency, phone 111. Bear in mind some parts of the highway have no cell coverage.
  • Learn about winter driving, including how to get your vehicle ready and if you are driving in an area where chains may be needed, practise putting them on before you go so you are not caught out. https://www.nzta.govt.nz/safety/driving-safely/winter-driving/
  • If extreme weather or treacherous road conditions are forecast, consider whether you really need to travel.