Getting the message out . . . Waitaki Road Safety co-ordinator Jason Evered (centre) with Athletic Marist premier rugby players Brady Mercer (left) and Mou Aho (right) who are wearing the council-sponsored "Don't drink and drive" message on their shirts. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Road Safety Week kicked off early in the Waitaki district.

Athletic Marist premier rugby players have been wearing shirts with a “Don’t drink and drive” message across their shoulders this season.

The message was sponsored by Waitaki District Council road safety co-ordinator Jason Evered as another way of raising awareness about drink-driving.

The focus of this year’s Road Safety Week, running from May 17 to 23, is speed.

Co-ordinated by the Brake New Zealand charity, it is held annually, and the Waitaki District Council has been involved in promoting road safety initiatives across the district all week.

The Oamaru Opera House has been lit up yellow, joining other structures around the country, including Christchurch Airport and Auckland Harbour bridge, to show support for road safety.

The council has also made free ice scrapers available at the Oamaru Library, the council’s Oamaru and Palmerston offices, and distributed them around the district by the Waitaki Road Safe group.

Mr Evered has also been contacting local schools about proposed changes to speed limits around schools. The government is proposing lowering those limits to a maximum 40kmh in an urban area and 60kmh for all rural schools.

The government also had a “Road to Zero” strategy, aimed at reducing deaths and serious injuries on New Zealand’s roads by 40% over the next 10 years.

For Waitaki to meet the target, the district would need to reduce the number of fatal and serious-injury crashes by 20%, to 11 each year – although the target was always zero, Mr Evered said.

Last year, there were 60 crashes in the Waitaki district, two of which resulted in fatalities and seven serious injuries. Since January 1 this year there had been 22 crashes, seven of which resulted in serious injuries and one a fatality,

“We’ve still got lots of work to do.”

Mr Evered works closely with the police on different road safety initiatives.

Most recently, he has been using data from black tube counters to help police identify problem areas.

“Police, when they can, they’ll dedicate resources to patrolling that area, to try to reduce the motorists’ speed and, obviously, the crashes.”

Fatigue was also a big issue in Waitaki, Mr Evered said.

It was a contributing factor in 20% of fatal crashes in the district, double the national average of 10%.

“In some ways, we are a through-town, and so people are driving long distances through the Waitaki and are having crashes.”

Go yellow . . . The Oamaru Opera House is lit up yellow for Road Safety Week. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

The council also worked with Waitaki Road Safe and police to organise public holiday fatigue stops at long weekends, and Mr Evered also worked with local companies that operated shifts to help educate shift workers.

In March, Mr Evered spent a morning watching parents and caregivers drop their children off at school and was shocked and disappointed by “the terrible and dangerous driving that was on show”. He had passed on his concerns to the principal of the school in question, and police.

The number of people texting or using a mobile phone was “incredible,” he said.

Fines for using a mobile phone while driving had recently increased to $150, but Mr Evered did not believe it was high enough.

When he was a police officer in London, Mr Evered would confiscate drivers’ phones if they were caught using them while driving.

“I was asked to stop doing that, but that certainly made a huge difference and I think that would make a huge difference in New Zealand.

“I don’t think it would be very popular . . . but I’m sure it would make people think twice.”

Mr Evered’s key messages for Road Safety Week were simple.

“Pay attention and be as safe as possible on our roads, especially with winter coming.

“Keep the speed down, make sure your windscreens are clear in the mornings and just drive safely.”