Coroner calls for nationwide rural intersection review after woman and two babies die at Canterbury intersection

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Chante Harmer was a mother of six children. Photo / Provided

The death of a woman and her two babies in a high-speed crash at a rural intersection in Canterbury has sparked a major review of similar stretches of road across the country in a bid to prevent future fatalities.

Chante Harmer, 30, died along with Te Awanuiarangi, 19 months, and Wysdom, 8 months, after their car collided with another vehicle near Ashburton in April 2019.

Harmer was driving two of his six children and other family members along Hepburns Rd and, after failing to yield at the Mitcham Rd intersection, rammed into an oncoming ute.

Chante Harmer held firm at an intersection and slammed into a ute at high speed.  She died alongside her toddler and baby.  Photo / Guardian of Ashburton
Chante Harmer held firm at an intersection and slammed into a ute at high speed. She died alongside her toddler and baby. Photo / Guardian of Ashburton

Police investigated the crash and the matter was referred to Coroner Marcus Elliott who conducted an inquest last year.

During the inquest, he heard details of the accident and the intersection where it happened from police, Ashburton District Council and Waka Kotahi NZTA.

READ MORE:
Ashburton horror crash: Mother, baby and toddler’s final moments examined at coroner’s inquest into 2019 death

Coroner Elliott then had to formally establish the cause of the accident, whether the ADC – as the local road control authority – had contributed to the accident and whether any recommendations were needed to reduce the risk of death in similar circumstances.

At the inquest, the coroner was told by police that the give way sign at the intersection Harmer was heading towards was clearly visible from 120m but could easily be missed from a distance as it “blended into the landscape of Canterbury”.

The intersection itself had visibility issues for all drivers.

“Road signs and markings were not sufficient to provide the safest possible environment for road users,” the coroner said.

Concrete irrigation culverts on both sides of the road, a high hedge and a row of poplar trees also reduced visibility.

Coroner Elliott ruled that the cause of the accident was due to Harmer “not obeying the surrender sign”.

“I have concluded that the reason Ms. Harmer did not yield was that she had not perceived the yield sign, intersection or [the] approaching vehicle long enough to stop.

“Although evidence showed that Ms Harmer became aware of the approaching vehicle and then applied the brakes, it was far too late to avoid a collision.”

He said that since the signage was a causative factor in the accident, he had to consider whether the ADC – as the traffic control authority responsible for intersecting roads – “contributed to the collision” .

“In particular, I considered whether a sign should have been in place on Hepburns Rd warning drivers of the approach to the give way sign [and] if a stop sign should have been in place instead of giving way,” he said.

The crash scene near Ashburton.  Photo / Guardian of Ashburton
The crash scene near Ashburton. Photo / Guardian of Ashburton

After hearing lengthy and complex evidence from police, council and the NZTA regarding the intersection, Coroner Elliott determined that the intersection should have been controlled by a stop sign.

“However, this does not mean that the council can be said to have contributed to
the accident,” he said.

“I have concluded that Mrs. Harmer did not see the yield sign. Even allowing for some size difference, it is also possible that she did not see a stop sign at the same place…and the accident would still have happened.

“Therefore, while I found the council should have acted differently in erecting a stop sign at this intersection prior to the accident, it did not contribute to the accident.”

The coroner was told that since the fatal accident several stop signs – and warning signs further up the road indicating that a controlled stop was imminent – had been erected.

The council – along with the landowners – had also worked to improve the overall visibility at the intersection.

Coroner Elliott said that, given the circumstances of the accident, he was justified in making recommendations “aimed at ensuring that motorists at this intersection and similar intersections are warned of the approach to the intersection , which gives them enough time to yield to vehicles traveling on the opposite road”.

The intersection where Chante Harmer crashed, pictured in 2019 after improvements were made by the council and landowners.  Photo/Google
The intersection where Chante Harmer crashed, pictured in 2019 after improvements were made by the council and landowners. Photo/Google

In the Ashburton district alone, there were 79 intersections believed to be similar to the one where Harmer crashed.

“The crash that is the subject of this investigation illustrates the extremely high cost
of a high-speed accident. There is a risk of deaths occurring in similar circumstances,” he said.

“This accident illustrates the danger that drivers on long, straight rural roads may fail to identify the presence of an intersection with insufficient time to stop.

“Drivers should be alert to the possibility of intersections on rural roads and pay particular attention to road signs and markings warning of an approaching intersection.”

Its main recommendation was that CDA conduct a review of the 79 intersections noted in the survey to see if the existing combination of traffic signs and markings was “adequate to provide the safest possible environment for road users. road”.

Additionally, he recommended that Waka Kotahi NZTA conduct “a review of international, national and regional practices for the use of traffic signs and markings that relate specifically to
risk management at rural crossroads”.

“This should include reviewing the issues identified above with respect to the warning
signs,” he said.

“As part of its research study on rural intersections, Waka Kotahi should identify the authorities responsible for rural intersections that are subject to the same potential risks as those identified in this case and provide advice on how to deal with these risks. .”

ADC Infrastructure Services Group Director Neil McCann said he welcomes any recommendations that “help reduce the risk of accidents on our roads.”

“And we will consider the issues raised in the findings when reviewing our similar intersections,” he said.

A spokesperson for Waka Kotahi NZTA confirmed last week that, based on the coroner’s recommendations, a review had been undertaken by consultants as well as a review by Waka Kotahi staff.

The review was at the draft stage.

The agency also recommended to the coroner during the final stages of the inquest process that a risk assessment of rural junctions be developed so that they can be ‘graded by severity’.

“We have engaged a consultant to develop a risk assessment process that can be used for the entire road network or by individual road enforcement authorities,” the spokesperson said.

“The work is complex and although well advanced, it is not yet complete or ready for distribution.”

It was also agreed that an “improvement works programme, prioritized by risk, which increases the level of control of security risks at rural crossroads” has been established.

This work was also in progress.

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