Napier-Taupō Rd speed limit drop: Father of SH5 crash victim hits out at ‘band-aid’ proposal

The father of a young woman who died on the road between Napier and Taupō believes a proposal to lower speed limits on the road is “a band aid fix for a major problem”.

Truck driver Bruce Sanders’ daughter Maja Sanders, 20, and her partner Josh van Hooijdonk, 19, died in a two-vehicle crash on State Highway 5 near Te Pohue a year ago.

Now Sanders has hit out at Waka Kotahi’s New Zealand Transport Agency’s proposal to reduce the speed limit to 80km/h on the 83km section of the road between Eskdale and Rangitaiki, saying it does not fix the road which has taken so many lives.

“It’s a band-aid solution to open heart surgery.”

A coroner is still investigating the cause of the two-car crash that claimed the lives of Maja and Josh, and badly injured a woman in the other car.

But Sanders said speed was not a factor in the young couple’s crash.

It was raining on the day of the crash and Sanders said he understood a lump in the road caused the back wheel of the car with Maja and Josh in it to chatter before control was lost and it collided with the other car.

He said in the Te Pohue area of the crash, the road camber was off, and the road forces cars to the outside of the road as they come around corners.

“No speed limit, 80km an hour, the outcome would’ve still been the same,” Sanders said.

“Those corners will catch you out. It doesn’t matter how experienced or inexperienced you are.”

More than 2500 people have so far submitted on the proposed speed limit drops, which include the lowering SH51 between Napier and Clive to 80km/h.

Sanders believes SH5 needs to be realigned rather than a speed limit change that would just lead to more driver frustration.

“It’s all well and good that they [Waka Kotahi] want to change the speed, but it just suggests to me that they’re not dealing with the problem. They are digging their head in the sand.

“For years people have been saying fix State Highway 5, realign it, realign it, and all of a sudden it comes down to dollars and cents.”

Sanders said his family, Maja’s close friends, and Josh’s family and friends are still suffering from the death of the young couple.

“There’s an ongoing effect on mental health.”

The cost of injuries, serious crashes and the ongoing effects of deaths on the family and loved ones “would far exceed the cost of fixing up a section of that road a year”, he said.

“Then you don’t put that burden on the health system of trying to fix broken people.”

Waka Kotahi NZTA director of regional relationships Emma Speight said the loss of Maja and Josh was “tragic”.

She said Waka Kotahi was committed to Vision Zero – a vision where no one is killed or seriously injured on roads.

As part of this they are identifying roads across the country “where safer speed limits will save lives” which is why a lower speed limited has been proposed for the section of SH5.

“Even when speed isn’t the direct cause of a crash, it is a factor in the severity of every crash.

“It is most often what determines whether a person is killed, seriously injured, or walks away from a crash.”

Speight said the section of road pertaining to the proposed speed drop, is hilly and narrow, with sweeping bends and no physical separation of opposite travelling traffic.

“It’s simply not safe for this stretch of road to have the same speed limit as Auckland’s Southern Motorway or the Hawke’s Bay Expressway, and a lower posted speed limit would clearly signal to motorists that this section of road is more challenging to drive.

“Lowering speeds doesn’t mean we can’t make other changes, but it is one of the most effective things we can do now to keep people alive and safe on these roads.”

Funding of $2.5 million will be used for safety improvements including side barriers, road markings and rumble lines over the next four months.

Waka Kotahi has also included a request for funding for a business case that will start to determine a long-term strategy for addressing safety and the resilience of SH5.

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