The stretch of road where an elderly woman was killed and six people were taken to hospital has been labelled a “national road of shame”.
Emergency services were called just before 3pm to the intersection of State Highway 2 and Te Puna Quarry Rd after three cars were involved in a head-on collision.
The woman died at the scene. The man travelling next to her in the same car was seriously injured and five others with minor injuries were taken to Tauranga Hospital.
Western Bay District Council councillor Don Thwaites was among the first on the scene and “just knew I had to manage traffic, get them out of the way”.
“I’ve been here 43 years. My brother got killed on this stretch of road 33 years ago. That’s what spurred me on to see some improvements here.”
Thwaites has been a councillor for 10 years and has lobbied hard for safety improvements to the road.
When John Key visited the region as prime minister, Thwaites shared his feelings about the road in no uncertain terms.
“I told him I thought it was not a Road of National Significance but a national road of shame,” Thwaites said.
“I’ve been here at crashes I don’t even know how many times. Mum’s been out here putting blankets on people dying in her lap.”
Thwaites said the spate of crashes would only get worse before it got better.
“The last three or four years, locals don’t turn right anymore. We turn left and onto Snodgrass Rd and created our own defacto roundabout, really. But out-of-towners just don’t realise how dangerous this road is.”
Another resident, who would only be known at Brendon, said he knew the crash was serious when he heard the bang.
He fled the house, grabbing a fire extinguisher from his car, and headed to crash.
“When I got here there was a lady in the passenger side [of the car] and it looked like she had already gone. I took her pulse, but there was nothing there,” he said.
“Her husband, I’m guessing it was her husband, was there too. He seemed to have been knocked out for a bit.
“I looked around and there was a guy on the bank, looked like he was out cold.”
Brendon, who used to be a volunteer firefighter, said there were several off-duty doctors and nurses who arrived and began taking care of the crash victims.
Brendon said he had only lived in the area for two years but in that time there had been three serious crashes in the same spot.
“It’s a crazy intersection,” he said.
“It’s just the traffic flow, it’s gotten more and more since we’ve got here,” Brendon said.
Construction funding for the Tauranga Northern Link was granted in April 2016 as part of the $520 million Waihi to Tauranga Corridor programme to improve road safety, support economic development and regional growth along this busy regional highway.
State Highway 2 among New Zealand’s most dangerous roads
From 2012 to 2016, there were 18 deaths on the stretch of SH2 from Katikati to Tauranga – the highest death toll of the state highways considered to be New Zealand’s most dangerous. There were also 35 serious injuries and 95 minor injuries on that section of highway in that time, according to New Zealand Transport Agency crash data.
Information released by the Automobile Association (AA) showed 10 stretches of two-star state highways with the highest crash rates in the country. Thirty-nine per cent of New Zealand’s state highways are two-star rated, the second-lowest safety standard as assessed by KiwiRAP, but there are no highways in New Zealand at one-star level.
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