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Serious injuries on the Rimutaka Hill Road are increasing, with a rise in motorcycle crashes to blame for the highway being ranked among the most dangerous in the country.
Between 2007 and 2011 there were two deaths and 32 crashes that caused serious injury along the State Highway 2 route between Featherston and Upper Hutt.
In the five years before that, there were two deaths, but only 18 serious injury crashes.
The Rimutaka Hill Road is now considered the third "riskiest" highway in the country in terms of crashes per kilometre. Where it was previously ranked a medium-risk road, it is now in the high-risk category.
The new data was collected as part of the government-led KiwiRAP road assessment programme, which incorporated Taranaki, Whanganui and Manawatu into the Wellington region.
The region has five sections of highway among the country's 30 most dangerous roads. SH1 between Paraparaumu and Levin ranked sixth.
SH2 between Napier and Hastings had the highest risk rating in Hawke's Bay, with 11 serious crashes and three deaths.
The KiwiRAP study pointed to a rise in motorcycle crashes as the culprit behind Rimutaka Hill's worsening numbers.
There were 18 serious motorcycle crashes on the road over the past five years, compared with just 8 during the five previous years.
Motorcyclist Clywdd Mark "Fox" Tredrea was one of the two deaths on the road since 2007. He died in a crash about 200m from the summit on the Hutt side in December 2010.
Earlier this year, the New Zealand Transport Agency finished $16 million of improvements to the treacherous 1km section known as Muldoon's Corner, straightening the road, installing guard rails and laying a new surface.
NZTA Wellington state highways manager Rod James said there were plans to lay a more skid-resistant surface on the Featherston side over the next few weeks and install $600,000 of guard rails over summer.
He acknowledged that SH1 between Paraparaumu and Levin was also rated as high risk, but said it was encouraging that the number of serious and fatal crashes on that road had fallen from 59 to 40.
The combined length of "high" and "medium high" risk state highways in the lower North Island had reduced by 132km over the past five years, he said.
Centennial Highway from Pukerua Bay to Paekakariki was the region's biggest success story. There were 22 serious crashes and 11 deaths there between 2002 and 2006 - most of which were head-on - but only 11 serious crashes and one death in the following five years.
Safety improvements since 2004 have included a wire median barrier and a speed limit reduction from 100kmh to 80kmh.
Nationally, there was a 15 per cent reduction in fatal and serious crashes on state highways for the 2007-11 period compared with 2002-06.
The most dangerous stretch of road in the country was SH1 from Huntly to Hamilton, where there were 30 serious crashes and 11 deaths during the latest five-year period.
Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the Government's Roads of National Significance programme was also a big contributor to improved highway safety.
"Every one of the RoNS has or will have a 4-star KiwiRAP rating, providing a high degree of safety for road users."
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- The Dominion Post
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