Petition launched by mayors fighting reduced speed on deadly Napier-Taupō highway

A move to slash the speed limit on one of New Zealand's deadliest state highways is being opposed by regional leaders across Hawke's Bay and Taupō with the launch of an online petition.

From mid-February 2022, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency will reduce the speed limit on the Napier-Taupō highway from 100km/h to 80km/h along the 90-kilometre stretch from Eskdale to Rangitaiki.

Regular road users say an 80km/h limit could lead to impatient drivers undertaking risky behaviour.

"We accept there will be a small increase in the journey time for people using those roads but the ultimate aim is to keep people safer," says Waka Kotahi director of regional relationships Linda Stewart.

She says the work is part of a bigger piece of work right across the country.

"Maintenance of the roads, the infrastructure, driver education and training, as well as safer speeds, all play a part in making sure drivers are safe."

But road safety advocate and motorsport legend Greg Murphy calls it "an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff" approach to reduce carnage by lowering speeds to 80km/h.

"Maybe they won't die but let's stop the crashes in the first place," he says.

Napier-Taupō is one of more than 80 state highways the agency is reviewing speed on.

Lowering the speed worked on State Highway 6 between Blenheim and Nelson last year, with no deaths.

Over 2000 submissions were made to Waka Kotahi on the Napier-Taupō speed reduction.

Murphy says "they've not listened to anybody so what was the point of it?"

Some cited last year's successful 'Stay Alive on 5' campaign with increased police on the highway, which resulted in no fatalities.

Most taking part in the consultation process opposed a lower speed limit, wanting a long-term commitment to infrastructure and maintenance to be the priority.

Hastings District Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst says she and other regional leaders have now launched an online petition and will hold a public meeting with MPs at the end of January.

"The community are really up in arms, they have lodged a campaign to express their concerns to Waka Kotahi and the Government. We need investment in our roads, we need more road improvements, we need better maintenance."

Twenty percent of the 4000 vehicles a day that use Napier-Taupō's State Highway 5 are truckies.

"We are seeing this around the country. We have sham consultation now and if you look at what their explanation is they're just seeing if they have missed anything well that's not good enough," Transporting NZ CEO Nick Leggett says.

"The only roads that will stay at 100km/h are those with a median barrier and that's something New Zealanders should be aware of because it will significantly impact the flow of traffic and the movement of freight."

Murphy agrees Waka Kotahi's "obsession with speed" is not working. 

"The same strategy they are talking about and have been talking about for decades has not delivered and is not delivering safer roads in this country. They are just talking and talking white noise."

Waka Kotahi stresses shoulder widening, side barriers and wide centrelines are on the cards at the end of this year for State Highway 5.

Central government funding is also being sought to make the road more resilient to bad weather.

It says a decision is pending on speed reviews for 12 other state highways, consultation is still underway on 38 others around New Zealand.

"Under Road to Zero, we're improving the safety of existing roads, using evidence-based tools to identify the best solutions in high-risk areas. Getting more New Zealanders into vehicles with high safety ratings is also a big part of the strategy."