Prem Lohar’s car burst into flames after he hit a bull on State Highway 14 between Dargaville and Whangārei. His car was shunted on to the right side of the road and hit by an oncoming car.
Increasing numbers of livestock wandering on to Northland’s state highways has authorities warning farmers to keep their animals contained following “considerable reports” due to storm damage.
Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency data shows a rise in reported incidents of animals straying on to state highways in Northland over the last three years, with most in the Far North district.
In 2020, there were 457 reports of wandering stock, which includes horses, cows, goats, sheep and alpacas.
This increased to 541 in 2021 and 688 in 2022.
In the first six months of this year, there have already been 389 incidents.
Waka Kotahi operations and maintenance regional manager Jacqui Hori-Hoult said wandering stock on state highways is “one of our highest reported incidents”.
Most are reported in the Far North district, she said.
“We also notice a considerable increase in call-outs during storm events, with unsecured fencing the main reason.”
Whangārei resident Prem Lohar is still counting his lucky stars he’s alive after he crashed into a large bull on SH14 near Tangiteroria last year.
Lohar was driving home from Dargaville on a dark rainy night when he hit the animal.
“I was driving and it was a little bit foggy and raining, and a black bull was right in the middle of the road.
“I was not even driving that fast.
“All of a sudden, boom.”
Lohar’s car ended up on the right-hand side of the road. In shock, it took him a few seconds to realise he was in danger.
“The airbag popped out and I couldn’t see anything. Suddenly I realised I was on the wrong side.
“I came out [of the car] and 30 seconds later, another vehicle came along and hit my car and it started burning.
“I was gutted. I couldn’t think of anything apart from, ‘I’m alive’.
“The car can be bought, but I’m alive, and that’s all that matters.”
Lohar’s Nissan X-trail was “completely burned” during the incident.
An off-duty police officer who was travelling behind him stopped to help move the bull off the road and phoned for fire crews and the ambulance, he said.
Though both cars were extensively damaged, nobody was hurt.
Over the past decade, there have been almost 3000 crashes involving wandering farm animals across the country, according to Waka Kotahi.
Ten people have been killed and another 538 injured in those crashes.
The police could not provide figures for Northland.
Hori-Hoult said rural property owners are required to ensure their land is securely fenced to prevent animals from straying on to the highway.
“Owners of livestock are liable for any damage caused if their stock are wandering, and they can be prosecuted if animals cause a crash and negligence is proven.”
Far North District Council compliance manager Rochelle Deane said there has been a reduction in the number of reports of wandering stock on district roads.
In 2020 there were 206 reports, which dropped to 200 in 2021, 170 in 2022, and 53 this year to June.
The council’s animal management team aims to identify the owner of the stock and will work with them to contain the animals, Deane said.
“Wandering stock poses serious safety risks to all road users, not only on the state highway network, but on local roads too.
“Stock owners need to remain vigilant with managing fences and stock.”
Residents have taken to social media to warn each other of cattle on the region’s roads.
A large bull was recently spotted wandering around on Smeath Rd near SH1 in Kawakawa.
A resident chased another loose cow on Larmer Rd in Kaitāia down a nearby driveway to keep it off the highway and young cattle were loose on nearby Okahu Rd.
Lohar said fences should be 20 metres away from main roads and state highways, not hard up against them, as they are in many cases.
“That might stop a lot of accidents.”
Waka Kotahi urges motorists to report any wandering stock by phoning 0800 4 HIGHWAYS.
Jenny Ling is a news reporter and features writer for the Northern Advocate. She has a special interest in covering roading, health, business and animal welfare issues.