Four people were hospitalised - one with serious injuries - after a three-car crash this afternoon on a deadly stretch of State Highway 2 that locals say should not be 100km/h.

The collision happened near the intersection with Apata Station Road at Whakamaramara just before 3.30pm, police said.

Nearby resident Lawrence Cain heard the crash: "It was a metallic sound, like metal hitting the road. I heard the impact. Then silence. And then the sirens."

One woman, a passenger in one of the vehicles, was trapped and had to be cut free from the wreckage by volunteer firefighters, Fire and Emergency northern communications shift manager Daniel Nicholson said.

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This evening a Bay of Plenty District Health Board spokeswoman confirmed four people injured in the crash were in Tauranga Hospital:

- 20-year-old woman in a serious condition
- 35-year-old Whakatane woman in a stable condition
- 75-year-old Tairua woman with moderate injuries
- 75-year-old Tairua man in a stable condition.

The police Serious Crash Unit was investigating the crash.

Three cars were involved in the crash yesterday afternoon. PHOTO/ANDREW WARNER
Three cars were involved in the crash yesterday afternoon. PHOTO/ANDREW WARNER

A portion of the State Highway from Esdaile Rd to Apata Station Rd was closed at 7.30pm, with traffic being diverted along back roads while the scene was cleared and examined.

Cain, along with neighbours Graeme Fowler and Andrew Ridley, were manning the intersection of Apata Station Rd and Turntable Hill Rd.

They have learned from previous crashes in the area that diverted traffic often turns up Turntable Hill Rd - a dead end particularly problematic for big trucks - so they headed down to set them right.

"We hear sirens all the time on this road," Cain said. "When they go past its a relief, but when they stop I get a bit worried."

Lawrence Cain, Graeme Fowler and Andrew Ridley direct diverted traffic on Apata Station Road after the crash. PHOTO/ANDREW WARNER
Lawrence Cain, Graeme Fowler and Andrew Ridley direct diverted traffic on Apata Station Road after the crash. PHOTO/ANDREW WARNER

Three people have died in separate collisions on State Highway 2 since December 3 last year - one at the intersection with Quarry Rd and two at Apata.

From 2012 to 2016 there were 18 fatal, 35 serious-injury and 95 minor-injury crashes on SH2 between Tauranga and Katikati - the highest death toll of state highways listed by the NZ Transport Agency.

"It feels like there's a crash every other day on this road," Ridley said. "How many people need to die before it becomes a priority?"

Both he and Cain favoured reducing the highway speed to 80km/h from Turner Rd as an interim measure, saying the 100km/h speed limit made it difficult and dangerous for traffic to turn on to the highway from the many side roads. It was also a notorious spot for sun blindness.

"They have just got to slow us down," Cain said.