The notorious stretch of road from Katikati to Tauranga saw 18 deaths in five years - the highest death toll of the state highways listed as New Zealand's most dangerous.

There were also 35 serious injuries and 95 minor injuries on that section of State Highway 2 from 2012 to 2016, according to New Zealand Transport Agency crash data. The information was released by the Automobile Association (AA) as part of its election calls - 10 actions the AA believed would make transport safer and better.

The data showed the 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.


Tauranga MP and Minister of Transport Simon Bridges said he was confident the number of deaths and serious injuries could be cut dramatically with the plans to improve the safety of State Highway 2.

"There's no doubt it is a treacherous stretch of road through State Highway 2 into Tauranga and that's why the Government decided last year to make one of the biggest nationwide investments we're making in this route," he told the Bay of Plenty Times.

The transport agency said several of the stretches of highway listed are, or would be, undergoing safety improvements as part of the Government's Safer Roads Programme, which included State Highway 2 from Waihi to Tauranga.

It said the programme averaged about $100 million a year for a six-year period and would improve safety on about 100km of state highways per year.

The agency's director of safety and environment Harry Wilson said the goal was to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on State Highway 2 from Waihi to Tauranga by 50 per cent, and to improve the road's star rating.

"Flexible safety barriers were installed in July 2016 near Apata and more safety improvements are planned," Mr Wilson said.

He said the preferred options to improve safety and capacity on State Highway 2 between Waihi and Te Puna would be released later this year.

"This programme covers the next 10 to 15 years. Some more immediate solutions are also being considered and we will speak with the community about these once they are finalised."

Terry Molloy, chairman of the AA's Bay of Plenty/Coromandel board, described the Katikati to Tauranga route as an "extremely dangerous" bit of highway.

"Largely because of the rapid build-up of traffic, and yes it is a problem but there is a lot of work being done," he said.

"All of these things are often a little too late but unfortunately that's a fact of life, so we've just got to try and keep the pressure on to keep them moving otherwise they will sit, they will drag," Mr Molloy said.

Mr Bridges said he shared the frustration of others.

"I made decisions about this last year and I'd love to have spades in the ground and construction happening yesterday.

"But I've tested that very hard with the [New Zealand] Transport Agency and they are doing their best to get to construction and get to a better corridor for locals and freight and I'm confident we will be building that road next year."

He said there was a "massive amount of work and money" going into making the road much more efficient and resilient.

"We're doing it to gold standard from Waihi through to Tauranga and it's over $520m worth of investment actually and, in fact, when you include the Katikati Bypass, it's close to $600m worth of investment."

Head of Western Bay road policing Senior Sergeant Ian Campion said while there could be a variety of contributing factors in any crash, "one thing that remains constant is that any death or injury on our roads is one too many".

"Drivers need to remember not all roads are created equal," Mr Campion said.

"Many of New Zealand's roads are narrower and winding and the speed limit is the maximum speed you can safely travel at in ideal conditions. It is not a target.

"The decisions drivers make are an important part of the road safety picture. Being a responsible driver includes following the road rules, considering the condition of the road and adjusting your speed accordingly."

The lasting effects

Tina Jennen was driving from Katikati to Tauranga along State Highway 2 on January 10 this year when she collided head-on with a vehicle whose driver had fallen asleep and crossed the centre line.

Car crash victim Tina Jennen recovering after her crash on State Highway 2. Photo/File
Car crash victim Tina Jennen recovering after her crash on State Highway 2. Photo/File

"If the road standard was different and barriers were up and all the other things that are common when it's a commuting road, that accident wouldn't even have been possible," Ms Jennen said.

The 44-year-old broke all four of her limbs and is still dealing with the effects of the crash.

"I actually just drove the highway by myself for the first time on Monday.

"I was ready, I had to wait until I was ready. The first time that I drove the highway riding in the car, I had a full, cellular memory reaction to the accident... my body had specific acute pain in areas that it hasn't since I was in hospital in January."

Ms Jennen said there has been a lot of progress on the highway since the crash.

"Everyone's acknowledging that something needs to be done, it's just the what and the how," she said.

"I think it's just managing and getting the balance between the road standard as it relates to the density of use. It is a winding, narrow road in relationship to how much density is used on that road."

But another crash survivor, 46-year-old Chris Welch, said drivers needed to start taking responsibility for their actions.

On September 24 last year, 70-year-old Omokoroa man John Mackay fell asleep at the wheel of his car on State Highway 2 at Apata, crossed the centre line, and smashed head-on into Ms Welch's van.

"It wasn't the road that made John go over the centre line and take me out causing me to lose my right leg," Ms Welch said.

"The AA needs to stop blaming the road until we start to see the real reason for accidents, like driving while talking on mobile phones, alcohol, fatigue, speed.

"Our attitudes need to change. Do we all think a straight road with four lanes will stop all of the above human errors? Then you're kidding yourself."

Chairman of the Automobile Association's Bay of Plenty/Coromandel board, Terry Molloy, also highlighted driver responsibility.

"We all have a responsibility when we get on these roads to drive to the conditions and I think driver education and driver responsibility - I think we need more emphasis on that, I believe.

"Because that is the most dangerous section of highway...the little bit of highway between the two ears - the human mind, the brain. That's a personal view."


The AA released the NZTA list of New Zealand's most dangerous regional State Highways

- SH22 from Drury to Pukekohe: three deaths, 19 serious injuries, 44 minor injuries
- SH58 from Pauatahanui to Upper Hutt: two deaths, 13 serious, 47 minor
- SH2 from Paeroa to Waihi: one death, 16 serious, 49 minor injuries
- SH3 from Palmerston North to Ashurst: two deaths, 9 serious, 42 minor
- SH3 from Ohaupo to Te Awamutu: two deaths, 4 serious, 25 minor
- SH2 from Katikati to Tauranga: 18 deaths, 35 serious, 95 minor
- SH3 from New Plymouth to Inglewood: one death, 11 serious, 40 minor
- SH2 from Featherston to Maoribank: three deaths, 13 serious, 60 minor
- SH6 from Frankton to Arrow Junction: one death, 10 serious, 37 minor
- SH1N from Kawakawa to Springs Flat: 14 deaths, 41 serious, 133 minor
- Based on NZTA crash data from 2012-2016