Police and Waka Kotahi step up efforts on lethal State Highway 5

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Officials are launching a campaign to reduce the fatalities on one of the country’s most lethal highways.

The truck involved in a fatal crash by the Tarawera café on 19 October, 2020.

The truck involved in a fatal crash by the Tarawera Café on 19 October, 2020. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Eight people have died on the Napier-Taupō Rd (State Highway 5) since December last year, including 37-year-old Tino Tagiilima just three days ago.

RNZ went out on the road with police to learn about the issues on the dangerous road.

Hawke’s Bay road policing officer Constable Steven Knox was driving towards Napier on a sunny day, when he spotted a dangerous manoeuvre.

A driver attempted to pass another vehicle, despite double yellow lines – about 150m out from a passing lane.

“Quite ironically, he’s saying he’s been up since 5am, and he’s driven from Auckland and was starting to feel a little bit tired as well,” Knox said after talking to the driver.

Hawke's Bay road policing officer Constable Steven Knox.

Hawke’s Bay road policing officer Constable Steven Knox. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

“So I’ve enforced a little bit of a break for him, where he’s got out and had a bit of a stretch, and he’s been issued a ticket for the unsafe passing manoeuvre which unfortunately for him, comes with 35 demerit points.”

Knox said the driver should have been more patient.

“There was no need to do that passing manoeuvre, if a vehicle was coming around the corner coming the other way, it could’ve been a little bit different.”

Knox is also a member of the serious crash unit, and he attends some of the worst crashes in the region.

“Fatalities, which are a very tough thing for us and everyone else to be involved in, and it’s something that we don’t like attending and we feel we need to do more to stop those fatalities from happening.”

The van where a Samoan seasonal worker died near the Tarawera café on 19 October, 2020.

The van where a Samoan seasonal worker died near the Tarawera café on 19 October, 2020. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

He said the road often got all the blame, but that was not the full story and the crashes he analysed were mostly down to driver behaviour.

There are some problems with this part of the state highway – potholes and tight corners for example – but Knox said it could not be an overnight fix.

Police, along with Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, are launching a campaign they are calling ‘Stay Alive on 5’.

Drivers can expect to see new billboards up in the coming months.

“The road environment is what it is for the short term,” Knox said.

“So we’re just looking at ways that we can educate people through either billboards or static digital signage or stuff like that to change their driving habits.”

Waka Kotahi Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne systems manager Oliver Postings leads the highway maintenance team in those regions.

He said this week’s fatal crash was a tragedy.

Waka Kotahi Hawke's Bay and Gisborne systems manager Oliver Postings.

Waka Kotahi Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne systems manager Oliver Postings. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

“We do know that people make mistakes, but no-one deserves to pay with their life. This is a tragic event that none of us want to see.”

While there are no major capital works planned for the road, Postings said there was plenty of improvement work coming up.

“Putting new surfaces back on over the next five or six years, we’re looking at a technical assessment of the speed environment and we’ll also be looking at what interventions we can do along that corridor that can make it more forgiving.

“Is there some widening we need to do, recently we’ve done some guard railing around Te Pōhue, some electronic signage to alert drivers to corners they might take at higher speeds than they should in certain conditions.”

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Police don’t want drivers to forget they have a presence on the Napier-Taupō Rd. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Some have criticised Waka Kotahi for slow action and say it had not listened to truck drivers about the road.

But Postings said his staff had to look closely at the outcome of police crash investigations and get their advice from those.

“We have to use all the evidence and statistics to actually get the right outcome and these things do take time,” Postings said.

“We don’t want to rush out and put in place something that actually doesn’t address the key factors in some of these accidents so we do wait for the conclusion of the police investigations.”

There is an extra long weekend in Hawke’s Bay coming up – with Labour Weekend and its anniversary day on Friday – so residents have a four-day break.

There will a fatigue stop at spots along the highway on some days, to make sure people are feeling awake while they travel.

Road Safe Hawke's Bay manager Linda Anderson.

Road Safe Hawke’s Bay manager Linda Anderson. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Road Safe Hawke’s Bay manager Linda Anderson said drivers could get free food if they pull over.

“We set it up with tables and chairs, ’cause we actually want people to physically stop, so they come into the stop and take a break and then they’ll have refreshments and we give them water and fruit and it’s an opportunity for us to have that quick conversation with them about putting some breaks into their travel.”

Road Safe is a business unit of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.

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