Hunter Highway Patrol out in force for double demerits over Christmas and New Years

ROAD SAFETY: Highway Patrol Officer Julie Sorensen. Picture: Jonathan CarrollAlmost 50 people have died on Hunter roads this year, and the Hunter Highway Patrol is already out in force trying to prevent another fatality over the busy festive season.

Double demerits are in effect from Friday until January 1, with extra penalties for speeding, mobile phone, seat belt and motorbike helmet offences.

Extra resources will be brought infrom Sydney for the double demerits period andHunterhighway patrolcluster supervisor Senior SergeantTony Grace said a decision was recently made to focus more attention on the back roads, not just major thoroughfares.

“If people think they can speed on the back roads or drink drive and get home, there’s a better chance of them being caught than there used to be,” he said.

But Sergeant Grace stressed that the operation was about saving lives, rather than punishing people.

“It’s simply about stopping people from dying, it’s not about tickets,” he said.

Read more: Maitland motorists receive big tickAll patrol cars to carry drug testsThere have been 48 road deaths in the Hunter so far this year. In the Maitland area alone, there have been 21 fatalities on the roadsin the past two years.

“They’re not from out of area, it’s local people dying on local roads,” he said.

“People wouldn’t accept 21 people losing their lives in the community in any other crime category. But when we try and save 21 lives people say it’s revenue raising.

“I’d love to go out and write no tickets.

“It’s frustrating. It’s been a frustrating year, but we’re not giving up.”

Sergeant Grace said as well as all the other road dangers, drivers needed to remember that more children will be out on the roads in the next few weeks.

“Children often don’t know the road rules,” he said. “People need to drive defensively.”

As well as the major dangers of alcohol and speed, fatigue was also a factor in several recent road deaths.

“The simple mistakes are having the most tragic outcomes,” he said.

In an effort to improve road safety over the entire school holiday period, the highway patrol will keep their foot down all the way through to Day.

Police are halfway throughOperation Safe Arrival, which encourages backseat drivers to speak upto save lives.

Then on January 1, Operation Towards Zero kicks off, with an extra 320 highway patrol hours allocated to the local force in a two-week period –roughly double the resources as normal.

Roads and Maritime Services is also reminding motorists toplan ahead, allow extra travel time and drive to the conditions through the Hunter this holiday season.

A spokesperson said heavier than usual traffic wasexpected at certain pinchpoints, includingbetween Beresfield and the Hexham Bridge.