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.

  6. Waka Kotahi needs to listen to the majority (apparently) of road users including those moving goods back and forward from Hawke’s Bay to Taupo and beyond. Slowing traffic from 100kmh to 80kmh on the Napier-Taupo Rd from February will cause immense frustration. It’s a road that has vastly improved over the past decade and as a main access route into and out of Hawke’s Bay and 80km limit will certainly make me think twice about making trips. Its long enough getting across that road as it is without adding another 20 + minutes to the travel time.

  7. I have driven this SH5 for 50 odd yrs,– it goes without saying there has been a lot of changes in that time, but the main complaint with in this time span is the roading techniques
    There is no consequence for the disgraceful standards that our roads are signed of on
    The amount of time it takes to do anything on any of our roads is a joke ( the road cones seem to be doing the majority of the work at these sites,)
    When you have to repair a section of this new road before the complete job is done, something is lacking,
    I have no hesitation in stating that the work done to get the base how it should be to start these roading fiascos is not getting done!!!!
    These standards are probably what they have been getting away with for that long, it’s become the norm!!
    Accountability for the millions of dollars that RUCs (from the transport
    sector) have produced ( for roading),and that are getting squandered on these half hearted road jobs, needs to be addressed
    Band aids, and knee jerk reactions, by beauracrats that don’t have a handle on this problem is only to obvious from their response
    Fix the roads, not penalize those of us that have to put up with the inconvenience of constant travel times being impacted by half hearted roading gangs!!!

  8. I have only just learned of Bay Buzz, but this morning I sent the comments below to the AA which I have been a member of nearly 70 years.
    I have lived in Taupo since retiring in 2010 and one of the first things I did was install 10Kw of pv solar collection and a set of house batteries. I also privately imported an EV in July 2014 and upgraded this in 2017 to a vehicle with longer range.
    Earlier this year when Waka Kotahi reduced the speed limit on 76km of SH5, something just didn’t sit right with me. Various organisations have conducted research over the years and the general consensus is that fossil fuel vehicles are at their most efficient around 55 – 65mph. If we take the mean of 60mph this converts to pretty much 100kmh.
    The speed reduction in my view is counter intuitive for the motorists and extremely bad for the planet. Every vehicle is now on that section of road for 25% longer and consuming not 25% extra fuel but more likely 25 -30% more fuel when the engine inefficiencies at lower speeds are factored in. This obviously translates to 25-30% more carbon loading of the atmosphere. And 25% more vehicles will increase the mathematical chances of a crash.
    I am a follower of the subject of global warming and am heartened to read that this government and the National led government before it, both supported the objectives agreed under the Kyoto protocol, the Paris accord and latterly in Glasgow at COP26. I can but deduce that the actions of Waka Kotahi are in direct opposition to the government’s direction.
    Doubtless Waka Kotahi will argue this move (and the more planned) is in the interests of safety. According to their own website there were no deaths in road smashes last year on the section of SH 5, so it will be difficult to improve that ratio.
    Add to this the madness of spending $13million on a section of the Eastern Taupo Arterial when the road was a little over 10 years old. Imagine what $13million could have achieved on the worst section of SH5.
    Add to this the driver impatience of being stuck behind a heavily laden truck who is now permitted to travel at the same maximum speed as light vehicles. No chance to overtake on nice flat sections as the trucks will be going 80kmh and no chance to overtake when the truck is down to second gear and struggling at 40 – 50kmh. There will be instances where frustration boils over into risk taking.

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