Lower speed is saving lives on State Highway 5 - Experts

1:23 pm on 25 July 2022

Authorities are adamant that despite another fatal crash on the Napier-Taupō highway, the national strategy to cut road deaths actually works.

A cross stands on State Highway 5, marking the spot of a fatal crash on the road

State Highway 5 has been the site of many crashes. Photo: RNZ/ Tom Kitchin

The speed limit on the road was cut to 80km/h five months ago - and the fatal crash a week ago today is the first on this notorious part of State Highway 5 in nearly two years.

The three-car crash among the winding Tarawera hills killed 73-year-old Kevin Michael Jagusch from Tauranga.

Inspector Matt Broderick, the road policing manager for Eastern Police, said the crash happened near the Hawke's Bay and Bay of Plenty border.

"There was one vehicle heading southbound towards Hawke's Bay and the other two vehicles that were involved were heading northbound towards Taupō. Initial investigations indicate that one of the vehicles was on the wrong side of the centreline," he said.

There had not been a fatal crash on the road since October 2020 - in 21 months.

After that crash, police and Waka Kotahi launched a campaign called 'Stay Alive on 5'.

The speed limit on 76km of State Highway 5 between Napier and Taupō has been lowered to 80km/h.

The 80km/h speed limit was put on SH5 after multiple crashes. Photo: RNZ / Screenshot

A year and a half later, an 80km/h limit was put in place, which many locals despised.

Broderick said driver compliance had been good since the speed limit came in.

"That's not surprising, because generally speaking, most people travelled that road on-or-around 80km/h, so we knew that and that's why we knew that the speed limit on the road was probably higher than most people felt comfortable at."

Before the campaign and speed limit change, there were nine deaths on the Napier-Taupō Rd in less than two years.

Dave Cliff is the CEO of the Global Road Safety Partnership, based in Geneva.

He was a police officer in New Zealand for over 30 years, ending his time in the force as a high-ranking assistant commissioner, and grew up in Hawke's Bay.

"It's a road I know very well between Napier and Taupō, having travelled it repeatedly," he said.

"It's a road that is absolutely not designed for 100km/h, it never was. A safe and appropriate speed on that road is definitely no more than 80 kilometres an hour and clearly lower in some places."

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

The scene of a fatal crash on SH5 in 2020. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Cliff said the evidence was clear - cutting speeds saved lives. He cited an example from France when they cut speeds on rural roads in 2018.

"Speed limits across the country were reduced from 90 on that sort of part of the network, down to 80 in France, and over 300 lives were saved in the 18 months after that initiative."

He said Aotearoa also had its own examples - of when it went right and horribly wrong.

The 1973 oil crisis forced the government to cut open road speeds from 55 miles per hour (88km/h) to 50 miles per hour (80km/h) and road deaths fell.

But in 1985, speed limits rose to 100km/h and Cliff said that had the opposite effect.

"Major increase in the number of people killed and seriously injured on New Zealand roads. So New Zealand provided a very graphic example of what can be achieved through speed limit reduction and equally, all the negative consequences by increasing speed limits."

Since starting its Road to Zero strategy, Waka Kotahi has reviewed the speed on 38 different highways across the country.

It points to its success, citing an example of an 8-kilometre stretch along the Appleby Highway, just out of Richmond near Nelson.

From 2015 to 2017, eight people were killed in 12 crashes.

Since speed limits were lowered in December 2018, no one has died.

Back in Hawke's Bay, chairman of the regional transport committee Martin Williams said it was the state of the Napier Taupō highway that was the major problem, not the speed.

He said Waka Kotahi had not invested enough in the highways.

"We really are not getting the attention from Waka Kotahi to the regional road network and to the state highway network as a whole that it deserves, and it is probably in the worst shape I have ever seen it in my lifetime."

Hawke's Bay regional leaders have been considering if they will take Waka Kotahi to court over the speed limit drop.

Williams said they would make a final decision in the coming fortnight.

  • One dead, two seriously injured after SH5 crash
  • Hawke's Bay leaders may take Waka Kotahi to court
  • Government accused of ignoring dangerous Napier to Taupō highway
  • Road safety strategy not moving fast enough to slow road toll