North Shore student Nikita required screws and surgery to fix her broken ankle after she slipped on yellow “surface indicator” dots near her home.
Yellow plastic studs common on kerbs and crossings designed to help the visually impaired have caused broken bones, head injuries and soft tissue injuries, statistics show.
The hard, shiny polyurethane studs are designed to alert blind or low-vision pedestrians to an upcoming intersection and are located all over Auckland. The studs are installed and maintained by Auckland Transport (AT).
Capturing the true number of slips and injuries is difficult because it relies on the recording of keywords such as “tactile paver dots” or “yellow studs” when reporting the injury to ACC, which itself admits the number of claims was underestimated.
ACC data shows only 47 claims lodged in the past 10 years where these words were mentioned. The cost of the 47 cases totaled over $71,000, excluding GST.
Some say when wet, the yellow studs are “like walking on ice”, and even those the aid is designed to assist say they are dangerous and need to be replaced with tactile pavers that are “fit for purpose.”
Dianne Rogers from Blind and Low Vision New Zealand said slippery dots were “twice the hazard” for pedestrians who were sight-impaired.
“The tactile surface indicators are invaluable for those without sight, but they need to be fit for purpose and not a hazard.”
“If they are slip hazard when wet, it can be doubly dangerous for the sight-impaired because they can’t see if they are wet,” Rogers said.
She called for urgent action and said if the product wasn’t fit for purpose, it shouldn’t be used.
A North Shore woman had surgery this week to insert two screws into a broken tibia after slipping on the plastic dots on the corner of Rewiti Ave and Lake Road near her home in Takapuna.
The woman, who wants to be referred to by her first name Nikita, was walking to catch the bus to university, where she is doing a Master’s degree in construction.
“I was walking pretty slowly, and the next minute, my right foot just slipped forward and I was in the splits.
“It was a bit wet, but it wasn’t raining. I think if I had been in more of a rush, I would have slipped out on to the road – I was that close to it.”
Nikita said she “heard a crack” and struggled to bring her left foot forward to get up.
“I was really lucky I was helped by two women, and one of them drove me to Shorecare.”
The same style of dots also took out real estate agent Monica Bush.
Bush broke her ankle on her way to the Harcourts auction rooms in Takapuna in December 2021 after slipping on the wet dots near her office.
“It was summer, but there had been a very light shower, and I slipped on the yellow dots and landed really heavily,” she said.
Bush said she knew immediately she had broken her ankle, but with an auction about to start, had to “suck it up and get in there”.
She sat through the auction with her foot propped up on a chair, and as soon as the hammer fell, she was rushed off to nearby emergency rooms at Shorecare.
Another woman slipped and broke her ankle at exactly the same site outside Harcourts a year later.
The Herald is aware of numerous other cases, including a broken hip, torn shoulder tendons, concussions and countless other grazes and soft tissue injuries.
Countless others had slipped and injured themselves but hadn’t sought medical help. This included a woman who slipped by a pedestrian crossing at Smales Farm.
“I slipped on these and hurt myself really badly, but there was no point going to the doctor. These things are all over the place, so there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of people like me who are not counted in ACC figures.”
The injuries reported to ACC included concussions, lacerations and abrasions. Most of the injuries (83 per cent) were soft tissue injuries – bruises, strains and sprains.
ACC said the number of claims was underestimated.
“The data only includes claims that specifically mention “yellow dots” and other relevant keywords,” a spokesperson said.
“Most clients who claim for slips and falls are unlikely to specify the road surface they were walking on at the time, so these figures should not be considered a complete and definitive count of injuries caused by tactile pavers.”
When Bush broke her ankle, it meant eight weeks off work, a lot of pain and loss of income.
Hilary Miller, from Hauraki on Auckland’s North Shore, has been campaigning to have the yellow dots on the corner of Lake and Hart Road replaced since 2018, when an ambulance attended a seriously injured man who had slipped on them.
Miller contacted Auckland Transport again two weeks after another person slipped and was badly injured on the yellow dots. She also reported other additional incidents reported to her.
The Herald also contacted AT about the incidents but was told the response would be made under the Official Information Act.
After five years of emails and calls, the slippery dots were covered with temporary mats the next day and then replaced.
Former walking school bus co-ordinator Claire Reid knew of numerous cases where people had slipped and injured themselves, but often not badly enough to seek medical care.
She had called and emailed AT numerous times to report incidents, but had been met with inaction and told there was no funding available to replace the dots.
“We had children in tears on the walking school bus because as soon as there was a bit of rain or [people’s] shoes were wet, these things were ridiculously slippery.
“We had children slipping on them all of the time, and started going out of our way to avoid stepping near them.”
Reid said part of her role with the walking school bus was to report any hazards to AT. Which she did.
“It’s part of your responsibility to report any hazards, but it was apparent that no one knew what was going on with these.
“I raised it a number of times over two years, and we were told they were not fit for purpose by the council and they would be fixed, but then they never were.”
After the Herald called Auckland Transport about Nikita’s injury, a spokeswoman said it had just approved upgrades for Lake Road in Takapuna, Beach Road in Rothesay Bay, 150 Ponsonby Road in Freemans Bay and Hill Street in Warkworth.
No timeframe was given for the upgrades, but the funding was from this financial year.
The spokeswoman said Auckland Transport was progressively removing polyurethane tactile studs and replacing them with concrete tactile pavers.
The upgrades would cost approximately $15,000 per site, depending on the number of plastic studs to be removed and pre-cast tactile pavers to be laid.
Rewiti Ave in Takapuna was not included in the upgrade, but after Nikita’s accident, it was now being “treated as a priority”.
“We don’t yet have a timeframe, although we hope to have this work done within the next few months.”
Auckland Transport told the Herald it did not know all the locations where the plastic tactile studs or dots had been used.
Kirsty Wynn is an Auckland-based journalist with more than 20 years of experience in New Zealand newsrooms. She has covered everything from crime and social issues to the property market and has a current focus on consumer affairs.