A young woman is dead and a best friend and former schoolmate critically ill after their car was involved in a crash just south of Napier.

The crash happened on the coastal stretch of State Highway 2 between the intersections of Ellison St and Awatoto Rd, just after 11pm on Monday night.

The truck was understood to be southbound, returning to the Ravensdown Awatoto fertiliser works from Napier Port, but police had not confirmed publicly by late yesterday the direction in which the car was travelling.

The 3km stretch of highway was closed to traffic for more than six hours during the night but was reopened about 6am yesterday, police said.

The crash happened in wet conditions and is being investigated by the police serious crash unit. Conditions on roads in parts of Hawke's Bay remained treacherous after overnight rain, and police say care will be needed with further rain forecast for most of the rest of the week.

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The two women, who had been schoolmates at Napier girls' school Sacred Heart College, had not been named by police early last night.

Rushed by St John Ambulance to Hawke's Bay Hospital after the crash, the injured woman was transferred by air to Wellington Hospital yesterday and was in the intensive care unit last night.

The road toll for the year in the police Eastern District to September 3 was provisionally put at 15, compared with 20 for the same eight-month period of last year, while the national toll was 255, the same as at the same stage of 2017.

But the fatality is part of a sharp escalation of the toll across the central North Island, where according to Ministry of Transport online statistics up to Monday night there had been 59 deaths on roads in Hawke's Bay, Gisborne, Manawatu-Wanganui (which includes Dannevirke and the wider Tararua district), and Taranaki this year.

It almost doubles the toll across the central North Island in two years. There were 46 fatalities in the area to September 3 last year, and 31 in the same eight-month period of 2016.