It’s not often that local government will publicly disagree with a state agency, but Waka Kotahi’s proposed speed limit changes to State Highway 5 has managed to achieve that.   

Put simply, Waka Kotahi’s proposal to implement a blanket speed limit of 80 km/hour from 100 km/hour across two-thirds of the Napier–Taupo Road lacks an overarching strategy of investment – now or in the future.

Road safety is our top priority and I have long advocated for the need to invest in SH5 with other Hawke’s Bay leaders. 

A recent Te Pōhue community meeting voted unanimously against the proposal. That community is rightly concerned that if these proposals are introduced it will only increase frustration and create more dangerous driving. The community said the issue was not just speed but poor driver behaviour.

I understand dropping the speed limit reduces the risk of motor vehicle accidents and lowers the severity of injuries when accidents do occur, but what’s clear about this proposal is that it’s the result of significant underinvestment in other safety areas, such as roadworthiness and design. 

I could accept a reduction if there was confidence that Waka Kotahi had a clear plan of investment that would see the safety issues addressed and it allowed traffic to resume flowing at open road speeds up to 100km/hour while offering improved safety. 

SH5 is a vital route for goods and services between our region and the rest of the North Island. This is going to have significant economic consequences for our region’s businesses. Locals who live along SH5 are already telling me that this is going to have a huge impact on them.

The Te Pōhue community meeting disagreed with Waka Kotahi’s assertion that the lower speed limit would only add 41 seconds more to their journey. They estimate it will add 15 minutes each way.

One truck driver, who addressed the community meeting, said that he stood to lose a quarter of his income if the lower speed limit is introduced because it meant one less trip to deliver wood to Whirinaki each day. 

Others spoke of going into town once a fortnight instead of every week and considering withdrawing their children from early childcare education because each journey would be much longer. 

Yes, speed limits need to be lower around the villages of Te Pōhue and Te Haroto, with a pull-off area introduced at Tarawera for north-bound traffic – but without a clear plan to improve the road, a blanket ban is not going to reduce lives being lost on SH5.

Sixteen people were killed in accidents on this highway between 2010 and 2019. Every time a fatal accident is reported, the community has issued urgent calls for the road to be improved – they have not called for a blanket speed limit change. They are making it quite clear that this isn’t a satisfactory response.

Apathy is the biggest risk the region faces when it comes to this proposal. The sense of fait accompli that the decision has already been made. I would encourage anyone who has a view about this proposal to make a submission to  

It’s imperative we act decisively against this proposed speed limit, to ensure that Waka Kotahi makes its decision with our community’s best interests at heart, so that Hawke’s Bay will not be worse off economically and socially.

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  1. The road has been neglected for years -the camber on some corners is terrible making vehicles tend towards the wrong side of the road and potholes and what turns out to be temporary fixes of such just makes the road surface more dangerous. The whole road needs realigning and the installation of more passing bays. You can’t stop idiots regardless of speed limits – but you can make the actual road safer to drive on.

  2. I agree with what this article says. Lowering the speed limit to 80kph is only going to increase frustration & more dangerous driving. We travel this road often & for the most part drivers are driving more safely than previously.
    The road needs a plan for improving the surface & installing more passing lanes.

  3. Tom, it would be great if BayBuzz could do some investigation on the causes of serious crashes on SH5 over, say, the last 20 years. This would surely reveal or point to what is really needed to reduce the death and injury toll? In their continuous bleating about statistics around accidents, Waka Kotahi never states the determined causes of serious crashes, but always seems to harp on about speed, and that speed kills. Speed in itself does not kill – the people behind the wheel do, by making bad decisions, and ignoring the rights of other road users. In my humble opinion, a far more liberal use of double yellow lines, a far greater police presence, greater penalties for reckless behaviour, and a stricter licencing regime will go a long way in reducing the toll in the long term. And yes, there is room for a selective reduction of the speed limit in certain locations – through Te Pohue, Te Haroto, and Tarawera in particular.

  4. I work for a HB transport company and we have filed our submission in opposition to the proposal. During the course of preparing it, I could not get access to the road toll figures for the road. It seems that even the SCU don’t keep their records up to date either. I imagine their conclusions for each crash would state the likely cause, which would make interesting reading. Those 16 deaths that Waka Kotahi quote is the total for 9 years so the average is around 2 per annum and its not increasing. Each death is a tragedy, of course, but this is not a dangerous road and the proposed reduction is not justified.

  5. It blows me away that an elected official doesn’t want to stop people dying any way possible. Speed does kill and it costs us incredible amounts of money too. Each time someone dies the social costs are move than $4b. Let’s wake up and look at the bigger picture for a change.

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