Northland's road toll rose to 31 yesterday after a prison van with a number of people inside collided with another vehicle on State Highway 1 south of Kawakawa.

The driver of the other vehicle died at the scene and one of the prison officers was airlifted to Whangārei Hospital. The five prisoners and other prison guard were shaken and had minor cuts and scratches.

The crash brings the number of people who have died this month on Northland's roads to four and this has prompted a stern message from emergency services for drivers to be alert or the looming "silly season" would claim more lives.

Northland police road policing manager, Inspector Wayne Ewers said there had been seven fatal crashes, eight deaths, in the last six or seven weeks.


"It's some what frustrating. We've got a whole lot of agencies outside of the police and you've got the police staff out there on the highway and these things still happen. People do make mistakes and people take chances when they shouldn't."

On Tuesday a 28-year-old woman, believed to be from Whangārei, died in a two-vehicle crash in pouring rain on State Highway 1, about 7km north of Te Hana.

The road was closed for about five hours as emergency services dealt with the crash that also left two men fighting for their lives in Auckland City Hospital.

Ewers, said preliminary investigations revealed a car heading north crossed the centre line and smashed head-on into a south bound ute.

A male passenger in the car and the male driver of the ute suffered serious injuries and were flown to hospital by two Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopters.

Northbound traffic was diverted via Mangawhai Rd, Tomarata Rd, Insley St, Moir St, Kaiwaka-Mangawhai Rd then back onto SH1, and reverse for southbound travellers.
SH1 reopened about 10.30pm.

The accident is being investigated by the police Serious Crash Unit.

Ewers said the same message wasn't getting through to some drivers.


"We can't say enough— don't drink and drive, don't speed, put your seatbelt on as speed and not putting seatbelt on contributes to most of the serious accidents or fatalities.

"If we aren't wearing our seatbelts on or travelling at 5 to 10km/h over the speed limit, the consequences can be fatal and it's frustrating that every time there's a fatality or a serious crash, those factors are involved."

Fatigue was another contributing factor and police classified it as a form of impairment because drivers could not think properly if they were tired, he said.

Ewers urged drivers to be alert, even if they were doing everything right.

"The sad thing is you may be doing everything right but may have to take evasive action because of the action of another driver."

Kaiwaka fire chief John Bowmar, whose firefighters attended to Tuesday's crash with those from Wellsford, said there had been quite a few fatalities on that stretch of road over the years.

Safety messages, he said, were not getting through to some drivers irrespective of where they were driving or what the road conditions were.

"The silly season hasn't even started as yet. If you don't take heed of safety messages, you'll become part of the stats. People often talk about road conditions but speed and alcohol are the contributing factors in the vast majority of road crashes."

Bowmar said the spate of serious road crashes in Kaiwaka and surrounding areas took its toll on firefighters.

Tuesday's fatality followed the death of Phillip Edward Pratt on Sunday in a two-vehicle crash south of Kawakawa.

Pratt, who was 87 and lived near Maromaku, was returning home from a Little Tennessee Country Music Club get-together near Pakaraka when the Toyota RAV4 he was in and a northbound Honda Odyssey collided head-on.

All four passengers — three in one car and one in the other— were trapped and needed to be freed by emergency crews before they were airlifted to Whangārei Hospital.

Prior to that crash, a teenager died in a crash at Kokopu Rd on November 2.

Last month, 42-year-old British woman Kerry Sargent and a 65-year-old Aucklander Mary Peneamena died in a crash on SH1, Oakleigh, south of Whangārei.

Both were front seat passengers in separate vehicles.

Last year 40 people died on Northland roads.