Road safety campaigners are calling for compulsory seatbelts in buses following a horrific bus crash near Rotorua in which five people were killed.

Emergency services responded to the serious crash on State Highway 5, Ngātira, after a bus rolled about 11.20am.

A total of 23 Chinese tourists were on board the bus at the time of the crash.

St John said two people had been transported to Waikato Hospital by air, one in a serious condition and one moderate.

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Another patient in a serious condition was taken to Tauranga Hospital by air, and three people with moderate injuries were taken to Rotorua Hospital by road.

A further 15 patients were transported to a secondary triage area for further assessment.

Passengers at the scene of a bus crash on State Highway 5 near Ngatira. Photo / Bishal Jung Basnet
Passengers at the scene of a bus crash on State Highway 5 near Ngatira. Photo / Bishal Jung Basnet

Police said they can't comment on whether the passengers were wearing seatbelts or not, as this would be part of the investigation. However, the incident has renewed calls from road safety campaigners for compulsory seatbelts in buses.

Dog and Lemon website editor Clive Matthew-Wilson said "the government has blood on its hands over the latest fatal bus accident".

"The simple truth is, if the occupants of that bus had been wearing seatbelts, they'd probably be alive right now," he said.

"There's no excuse: the police and government have been saying for years that people need to wear seatbelts, yet the bus industry is allowed to operate without them."

Matthew-Wilson believes that all passenger buses that drive at more than 50km/h should be required to have seatbelts, and the occupants should be required to wear them.

Dog and Lemon website editor Clive Matthew-Wilson. Photo / Michael Craig
Dog and Lemon website editor Clive Matthew-Wilson. Photo / Michael Craig

"Compared to cars, buses are actually a very safe way of travelling. At low speeds, such as around town, it's not practical to require occupants to wear seatbelts. However, buses that travel our highways need to protect their occupants in the event of a collision."

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Matthew-Wilson said what is lacking is the political will to make this happen.

"If the government had acted after the last fatal bus crashes, those tourists would probably have been wearing seatbelts today and would very likely have survived the crash. The government should be deeply ashamed.

"New Zealand's roads are particularly dangerous for buses, because they're often narrow and winding; a perfect setup for a rollover accident."

Brake NZ director Caroline Perry said this morning's crash was a tragedy and she supported making seatbelts in buses a standard safety feature.

Aerial view of the bus crash scene on State Highway 5 near Ngatira. Photo / Westpac Rescue Helicopter
Aerial view of the bus crash scene on State Highway 5 near Ngatira. Photo / Westpac Rescue Helicopter

"Seatbelts are proven to significantly reduce the risk of death or injury if you're involved in a crash. We support making seatbelts on buses a standard safety feature, particularly for buses travelling outside urban areas on higher-speed roads and motorways," Perry said.

"Many newer coaches already have these fitted as standard, but there are still many that don't have this safety system in place.

"We also want to see other safety features introduced as standard on imported buses, and a move to bring standard safety features in line with those seen in other parts of the world, such as the EU."

Information provided by the Ministry of Transport shows that under the Land Transport Rule: Seatbelts and Seatbelt Anchorages 2002, all vehicles must have seatbelts in all positions, except heavy buses.

Manager of mobility and safety Brent Johnston said while seatbelts are not mandatory for buses, increasingly new buses used for tour and long-distance services are equipped with seatbelts.

"Bus travel is generally the safest mode of road travel in New Zealand. There is less than one passenger death or injury per million hours spent travelling," he said.

"This compares to 196 deaths/injuries for motorcyclists, 31 deaths/injuries for cyclists, eight deaths/injuries for drivers of cars and five deaths/injuries for car passengers.

"Less than 2 per cent of all fatal and injury crashes involve buses."