Eight deaths a national disgrace

5 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineAugust 5, 2020

In the past 12 months, eight people have died on State Highway 5, or the Napier-Taupo Road. That‘s a stark statistic and frankly, a national disgrace. This is a national issue, as that road connects the central North Island with the east coast and importantly, Napier Port. And it‘s deadly dangerous.

Last week, I took a look for myself and I was disturbed by what I saw. With Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, deputy mayor Tania Kerr, and truck driver Antony Alexander, we drove some of the parts of the road where there have been fatal accidents. We stopped and observed how vehicles handled potholes and the uneven surface.

The Hastings District Council has been beating the drum locally to try and get the NZ Transport Agency to do something about this incredibly dangerous road. Kerr lives just off the road and had some horror stories to tell. Alexander drives it 12 times a week and he believes the government could take the cost of those eight lives and spend it on the Napier-Taupo Road to help prevent crashes. According to the Social Cost of Road Crashes and Injuries report, a fatal crash costs $5,071,600. Eight times that could surely reseal the road completely.

The RTF has also tried to take the unsafe state of the road surface up with NZTA, because truck drivers are constantly telling us how uncomfortable the road makes them. NZTA‘s response was so unsatisfactory, we wrote to the transport minister – a detailed letter that was very specific about our concerns. Unfortunately, that letter is dancing its way around politicians and officials like a hot potato.

To not put too fine a point on it, the surface is rubbish, both in summer and in winter. It lacks traction, making it like an ice rink for cars and trucks. This is down to the engineering and design of the road surface. It has been so patched up it looks like a patchwork quilt, and this makes the surface even more dangerous as vehicles bounce around and drivers lose control.

The type of seal used is subject to the temperature variations the area experiences and this has been drawn to the local NZTA representatives‘ attention on many occasions. Using the inappropriate bitumen mix leaves the road sensitive to temperature variations, which is a primary contributor to flushing and the chip seal not sticking to the base.

When a truck comes into the path of an accident situation, by taking evasive action, the lack of adequate run-off areas on the road, poor shoulder designs, and steep shoulder gradients often mean the truck cannot avoid spinning out of control.

We don‘t believe our concerns can fall on deaf ears any longer. People are dying.

This government has spoken at length about how much it cares about road safety and reducing the road toll. This is not a road where wire rope barriers and median separations are going to improve safety.

We are calling for NZTA, as a priority, to concentrate on resealing SH5 – and where required, redesigning dangerous parts of the road. We believe they must provide a quality road surface that can tolerate the temperature variability in this region, as well as rehabilitating the road shoulders and shoulder gradients, and attending to the vegetation affecting the safety of this important section of the state highway network.

Hearing from road transport operators and drivers across the country, we know this isn‘t an isolated incident. The RTF is collecting information on other dangerous routes so we can highlight the risks posed and the costs borne by our industry. We hope officials and politicians will be listening before there are more deaths and injuries.

A RNZ journalist came with us last week and you can listen to that piece here: https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/checkpoint/audio/2018757957/locals-truckies-at-breaking-point-over-napier-taup-rd-repairs.

By Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum