Monday, January 11, 2010

Common Sense Driving

Speeding is a part of everyday life on the roads, there's just no getting around it or any other way to say it, one mile or a hundred miles over the posted limit, it's speeding. And I'm guilty like the rest of us, only this time I got caught while on vacation.

A driving tour in a foreign country is the main ingredient in a stew of common sense driving seasoned with strange roads, infused with weird rules and laced with all kinds of cameras, traps and livestock to slow you down, stop you cold or capture the moment for both posterity and payment. As an island nation of four million there is only so much room in New Zealand to dedicate to roads so most are two-lane affairs outside of the larger cities with alternating passing zones to get past long-haul truckers and Sunday drivers.

The fastest allowable speed is 100 kilometers per hour or about 60 MPH but that's not where I was caught. Very unique to most Commonwealth countries is the absolute right of way to all drivers making a right hand turn, even from the opposite direction and your line of travel is straight ahead. Should both of you arrive at the intersection at the same time, the car turning right goes first but that's not where I got caught either. Common sense and years of driving has given me a sense of where traditional speed traps might be set, like blind turns, right at or just below the crest of a hill, lengthy straight-aways and highway merges so I wasn't caught at any of those either.

State Highway #1 runs from the northern cape through the heart of the island to Wellington at the southern end, some 620 miles of rolling farmland, mountain switchbacks, lake districts, volcanoes and urban centers. It's a multi-lane motorway through Auckland and leading in to Wellington but is a two-lane road everywhere else, traffic signals and roundabouts included.

Somewhere in the charming hamlet of Wellsford, population 1700 and halfway from Whangarei on the way south to Auckland on my last day in the country I met up with my driving destiny.

While there are plenty of wide open spaces in New Zealand there really is only so much room for shoulders and other safe, convenient places for the police to set up a trap. There's also only so many police to go around so in come the speed cameras, sometimes with fair warning by way of signage announcing a camera area, sometimes not. In my case, not. The infraction: 64kph in a 50-zone or 40 MPH in a 30-zone. The location: somewhere along #1 as it rolled through the center of town where I admit I should have used a little more common sense. The fine? An astronomical NZ$80 or US$60 all told.

I made my flight to Australia with plenty of time to spare and enjoyed the rest of my vacation. At the end of the trip, back home and reconciling my expenses I felt pretty good about the trip, and still do. At this holiday time of year when I get a letter from overseas I immediately think it is from friends so imagine my joy when I received my seasons greeting from New Zealand's Finest!

At least - I hope - it was only the one.

Gotta go!

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