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Holidaymaker calls for police patrols to combat driving offences on Northland beaches

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Police say they bump up patrols on beaches during peak periods amid concerns about vehicles on Northland beaches. Photo / Michael Cunningham

A holidaymaker is calling for greater police presence on Northland beaches to help curb the dangerous driving they have witnessed on their travels.

Sheryl Watson felt compelled to share her fears about lives being lost if more isn’t done after a person died on Sunday when the ute they were travelling in flipped on Muriwai Beach.

However, police say they regularly patrol local beaches and prevention involves the wider community.

Watson and her husband John had been camped out overlooking Tokerau Beach in the Far North on January 14 when they spotted a vehicle driving on the sand with a child standing on the running board.

She said she saw the child and two other youngsters crawl out of the vehicle’s windows while it was moving, stand on the narrow step underneath the side doors and hold on to the window frame.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes, I truly couldn’t … it was absolutely insane behaviour.”

Watson said while the vehicle hadn’t been travelling fast, she had still been concerned about the children’s safety.

“It doesn’t take much for things to go wrong.”

Beaches where the sand appeared firm could change with the tide, Watson said.

“Then it’s a different road altogether.”

Watson believed drivers thought of the beach as “fun times”, but said they needed to remember to treat it the same as a road, especially as beaches were becoming more busy with traffic.

Standard New Zealand road rules apply to vehicles driving on beaches. Councils may have their own rules also, outlined in their bylaws. For example, a 30km/h speed limit in places or vehicle bans on certain beaches.

Watson said an increased police presence on beaches would help motorists “think twice”. In the 12 years the couple have spent touring in their motorhome, they have never seen a single police patrol vehicle at a beach.

Both she and police acknowledged officers cannot man every beach all the time, but Watson said an occasional police officer could make a difference.

“It’s tragic to think of young lives taken unnecessarily like that.”

Northland road policing manager Inspector Anne-Marie Fitchett said police regularly patrolled local beaches and patrols in popular destinations increased over public weekends and the summer holidays.

However, the police’s predominant focus was roads, where the majority of Northland’s driving-related deaths and serious injuries occur, she said.

Last year, 38 people died on the region’s roads – the same as 2022, which was labelled the highest total in 22 years. In 2023, there were 1653 hospitalisations following road crashes, slightly down from 1742 the year before.

Fitchett said any death on Northland’s roads or beaches due to poor driving decisions was a tragedy, but community ownership combined with councils and stakeholders was vital to improving behaviour on beaches – not just regarding driving.

“Education and prevention play major parts in reducing undesirable behaviour and ensuring responsible use of our beaches, which can also include concerns for local wildlife, fires and rubbish disposal, as well as driving and general behaviour.”

She used Ripiro Beach in Kaipara as a good example of a place where a community approach was utilised to get visitors to respect the beach and its rules. Flyers, education days, community patrols, enforcement, social media and so on were all used.

A Far North District Council (FNDC) spokesperson said driving offences on beaches, such as dangerous driving, were referred to police. However, the council could control vehicle access to beaches via the road use bylaw.

“We know that many community members are concerned about the use of vehicles on beaches. This is due to the dangers posed to drivers and passengers, as well as other beach users.”

Protecting the environment was also another key worry.

The spokesperson said FNDC was currently consulting with impacted communities, hapū, the Department of Conservation and Northland Regional Council about vehicles on Far North beaches.

Fitchett said people could report concerning driving behaviour via *555 or, if the behaviour was life-threatening or there was a risk of injury, by calling 111. People were encouraged to note down registration details and a description of the driver.

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