Winter's official arrival coincides with the Queen's Birthday holiday weekend, and the NZ Transport Agency advises people heading away to take extra care driving during the long break.
State highways in Northland and Auckland will be busier than normal as people take advantage of the last long weekend break until the end of October, says the NZTA's Regional Director for Auckland and Northland Stephen Town.
'The days are shorter and the weather unpredictable, and it is important that people allow more time for travel, drive with patience, and make sure their vehicles are winter fit to help them reach their destinations safety," Mr Town says.
In the past five years to 2011, there have been a total of 649 crashes on Northland and Auckland state highways and local roads during Queen's Birthday weekends. Five people died in those crashes, 33 were seriously injured, and 147 received minor injuries.
"We do not want to add to those statistics at all, but winter can be the most dangerous time of the year," Mr Town says. "People should choose safety over convenience, particularly at night, when deciding which route to take since driving conditions can change rapidly," Mr Town says.
Regular maintenance of vehicles is also a key factor contributing to safety.
"Check your tyres - good ones are essential at all times especially if you have to stop quickly. Many garages offer winter safety checks, which will ensure that your tyres, brakes, windscreen wipers, lights and steering system are all up to scratch."
Mr Town says that the NZTA will work with the Police to manage traffic to help people avoid hold ups wherever possible. Roadside electronic messages will be used to advise motorists of traffic conditions ahead and direct people to alternative routes if necessary. One of the busiest routes will be the rural section of SH1 north of Auckland. Mr Town says there are choices for drivers to minimise the risk of a hold-up:
The NZTA's call centre will be opened on Queen's Birthday Monday (4 June) from 11am to 8pm for people who do want to pay their tolls by phone. The call centre will be closed as normal on Saturday and Sunday. People can pay on-line or at the manual kiosks near the toll road at any time.
Work on highway improvements will stop for the weekend unless there is an emergency. However, drivers should be aware that there will be speed restrictions at several locations on SH1 in Northland where there has been work upgrading highway surfaces:
In Auckland, a section of the old and disused northbound Newmarket Viaduct on the Southern Motorway (SH1) will be removed during the weekend. The removal will not have any impact on either north or southbound traffic using the new viaduct.
"Our priority is to ensure that the highways and roads remain safe for everyone during the holiday weekend," Mr Town says.
People planning holiday trips can get highway information from the NZ Transport Agency at www.highwayinfo.govt.nz(external link).