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Welcome to New Zealand. Please don't die.

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As I've mentioned, New Zealand looks a bit like heaven's back lot: every twist around a mountain road reveals another magnificent valley, until the path goes far enough east and runs into Kaikoura and miles of azure coast. The question isn't why they shot The Lord of the Rings here. It's why one doesn't treat every movie, from A River Runs Through It to Leprechaun 6 - Back 2 Tha Hood, as an excuse to shoot New Zealand scenery.

Given the idyllic ambiance, New Zealand's highway safety signs come as a bit of a shock.

IMG 2563

There are quite a few traffic safety signs in this morbid vein. One dramatically proclaims:

DRINK DrIvE

(I imagine that they thought having the red letters drip with blood would be a bit too over the top.) Another shows a cross atop a grave, with the tag line "If it's a race, this is the finish line." [1] The overall effect is to give one the impression that New Zealand's roads are deadly wastelands, strewn with the wrecks of unwary, careless, or inebriated drivers.

A few other examples:

cross_speedometer

Speed is lethal

Note: There are no "Stopping to take photos of roadsigns is hazardous to your health" signs. But there should be.

I suppose it's all relative. New Zealand's roads are, statistically speaking, less hazardous than the U.S. But they may be more dangerous than anything else in New Zealand. The crime rate is criminally low. Unlike its cousin to the west, New Zealand has a dearth of poisonous snakes or wild creatures that might plausibly eat your head or steal your baby. The closest we've felt to danger here was when Pallavi hit a rumble strip on SH 1, and some of the sheep looked at us funny.

Which means that road accidents seem to be the principle source of mortal peril. This makes sense. Driving through the countryside, we've encountered quite a few spots where our emergency cell got no reception at all. The roads are narrow, and if you were to go off the road no one would be likely to notice or to go looking for you until you were missed. Hospitals are a long way from any likely accident site. So I can understand why the best method of improving highway safety might be accident prevention.

And of course, not all the signs are gruesome. A nice placard outside Twizel helpfully reminded, "Feeling tired? Pull over and rest!" And another offered tired drivers a free cuppa at a local cafe. These seem more in keeping with the general mood of New Zealand, though I admit that the "scared straight" signs might well be more effective.

[1] I may not have that exactly correct, but it was some clever play on "race" and "finish line."

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