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2023 van crash in NZ that killed 3 S’poreans serves as a warning not to drive when tired

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  • Driver fatigue was identified as the likely cause of the 2023 New Zealand van crash that killed three Singaporean students.
  • New Zealand's rural highways present unique driving challenges, including undivided roads and a higher risk of serious accidents.
  • Tourists should take preventive measures such as resting adequately, familiarizing themselves with local roads, and driving at safe speeds to ensure road safety.

The 2023 New Zealand van crash that tragically ended the lives of three Singaporean students has brought to light the severe risks associated with driving while fatigued. This incident, which occurred near Geraldine in the Canterbury region, underscores the importance of road safety and the need for drivers to be well-rested before taking to the roads.

On April 17, 2023, National University of Singapore undergraduates Sherwin Chong Shi Yun and Xinyue Yang, both 21, and Jia Jun Vincent Lim, 24, were traveling in a rented campervan when it collided with a barrier and caught fire. The crash happened at the intersection of State Highway 79 and Te Moana Road, a location known for its rural and undivided roads. The coroner's report, released in June 2024, identified driver fatigue as the likely cause of the accident.

The Dangers of Driver Fatigue

Driver fatigue is a significant factor in many road accidents, particularly on rural highways where long stretches of road can lead to monotonous driving conditions. According to the coroner's findings, the driver of the campervan may have been awake for more than 12 hours before the crash occurred. This prolonged period of wakefulness likely contributed to the driver's inability to maintain control of the vehicle.

"Fatigue impairs a driver's reaction time, decision-making abilities, and overall alertness," said the coroner. "It is crucial for drivers to recognize the signs of fatigue and take appropriate measures to rest before continuing their journey."

Road Safety in New Zealand

Driving in New Zealand presents unique challenges, especially for tourists accustomed to different road conditions. The country's highways, particularly outside major cities, are often two-lane and undivided, increasing the risk of head-on collisions and run-off-road accidents. Mark Newsome, principal engineer for road safety at WSP, highlighted that state highways, which make up only 12% of New Zealand's road network, account for a disproportionate number of serious crashes.

"Tourists need to be aware that driving in New Zealand is different from driving in more urbanized environments," said Newsome. "The lack of median barriers and the rural nature of many roads require heightened vigilance and adherence to road safety practices."

Preventive Measures for Tourists

To mitigate the risks associated with driving in New Zealand, experts recommend several preventive measures for tourists:

Rest Adequately: Ensure you are well-rested before embarking on long drives. Take regular breaks to avoid fatigue.

Familiarize with Local Roads: Spend some time driving on urban roads or motorways before venturing onto rural highways.

Drive at Safe Speeds: Adhere to speed limits and consider driving even slower than the maximum allowed speed, especially when driving larger vehicles like campervans.

Use Pull-Off Bays: Utilize pull-off bays to allow faster vehicles to overtake safely.

Stay Alert at Intersections: Be particularly cautious at give-way or stop-controlled intersections, checking multiple times for oncoming traffic.

The 2023 New Zealand van crash serves as a poignant reminder of the dangers of driving while fatigued. By understanding the unique challenges of driving in New Zealand and taking proactive measures to ensure adequate rest, tourists can significantly reduce the risk of accidents. Road safety is a shared responsibility, and staying vigilant can help prevent tragedies like the one that claimed the lives of three promising young students.

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