The Government "has blood on its hands" over a horror car crash in which eight people died and a young boy was left fighting for his life, an outspoken road safety campaigner says.

The head-on collision between an SUV and a van happened on State Highway 1 near Ohakuri Rd, Atiamuri, yesterday morning. The driver of the SUV, and the driver and six passengers in the van were killed.

A 9-year-old boy was rushed to Waikato Hospital in a critical condition via helicopter from Tokoroa Hospital. He is now stable in a ward, a hospital spokeswoman said.

It's believed one of the vehicles crossed the centre line, in wet conditions on a left-hand bend.

Clive Matthew-Wilson, editor of car review website Dog&Lemon, said the crash would not have happened if a median barrier had been in place.

"Eight people are dead because a simple barrier was missing off the centre of the road," he told the Herald. "That's the simple fact.

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Eight people died in the head-on collision on State Highway 1 near Ohakuri Rd, Atiamuri, Taupo, yesterday. Photo / Ben Fraser
Eight people died in the head-on collision on State Highway 1 near Ohakuri Rd, Atiamuri, Taupo, yesterday. Photo / Ben Fraser

"If the Government is serious about lowering the road toll, the highest priority must be given to improving the safety of our Third World roads.

"How many more of these tragedies do we have to put up with before the Government takes serious action?," he said, adding: "The vast majority of our state highways are an accident waiting to happen."

Many of New Zealand's roads "haven't improved much since the1950s", he said, and the process for installing median barriers haven't changed much since then. too.

"The end result of this slow and expensive bureaucratic process is fewer median barriers and therefore multiple fatalities, such as we saw yesterday," Matthew-Wilson said.

Dylan Thomsen, the AA's road safety spokesman, said he couldn't remember a month as bad as this on our roads.

"Up until April we were in a better state than we were last year, there had been fewer fatal crashes, and then we've had just an unbelievably horrific month," he said. "That means now at this point there's been more deaths than last year.

"That's just hugely sad, everybody involved in road safety would have been hoping through the first three months, that we were going to turn things around after five years since 2013, where we've had more road deaths each year, and then in the space of one month everything has turned back around."

Things were now on track to top last year's road toll of 377, he said. In the year to date, 137 people have died on our roads, with 45 in April alone - the worst April in 10 years.

An SUV and a van were involved in a head-on collision on State Highway 1 near Ohakuri Rd, Atiamuri, Taupo, yesterday, killing eight and injuring a 9-year-old boy. Photo / Ben Fraser
An SUV and a van were involved in a head-on collision on State Highway 1 near Ohakuri Rd, Atiamuri, Taupo, yesterday, killing eight and injuring a 9-year-old boy. Photo / Ben Fraser

After the lower road toll of 253 in 2013, Thomsen said people in the road safety industry were "talking about the idea of fewer than 200 deaths by 2020, and now we're hoping for less than 400".

"That's just an awful, awful situation."

Upgrading the nation's state highways and major roads is something the AA has campaigned on for years.

"We'd like to see all of our two-star highways and major roads being upgraded to at least a three-star safety standard," he said.

"What has been shown from overseas, is if you take a two-star highway and bring it up to three-star standard, it tends to halve the amount of fatal and serious crashes that happen, so upgrading the roads and better engineering is a big thing we can do."

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter offered her condolences to the families of those killed in yesterday's crash.

"Each of these deaths is a tragedy and my heart goes out to families and communities who are grieving," she said in a statement.

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter says median barriers will save lives. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter says median barriers will save lives. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"We know it's going to take a sustained effort to turn the number of road deaths and injuries around. That's why this Government has invested a record $1.4 billion over three years to upgrade over 1500km of our most dangerous roads."

The Government's Safe Networks programme aims to upgrade 870km of state highways by 2021, adding median and side barriers, rumble strips, and widening shoulders.

"On average, one person dies on New Zealand's roads every day and someone else is injured every hour of every day. Everyone makes mistakes, but we need to stop these mistakes turning into tragedies."

A day before the crash, Genter said installing median barriers saves lives, particularly on New Zealand's "unforgiving" road network.

"A median barrier can be the difference between someone being in a fatal head-on collision where multiple people die or a car being written off, bouncing off the median. But people walk away from that," she told TV3's The Nation.

"Where we've put them in place, like Centennial Highway or up over the Brynderwyns more recently, there hasn't been a fatal crash since those have gone in. And we can afford to put them across our most dangerous highways right around the country."