Waikato highways, byways NZ's worst

Waikato's roads remain the most dangerous in the country, despite millions of dollars being spent improving the busiest thoroughfares.

Latest Transport Agency data shows State Highway 1 from Huntly to Hamilton is the country's "riskiest" stretch of highway - with 30 serious injury crashes and 11 fatal smashes in five years.

Roading bosses say the $2.4 billion Waikato Expressway will significantly reduce the number of fatal and serious crashes, but their solution remains up to a year away.

Waikato roads feature prominently in the list of the country's "high risk" state highways, including SH29 from Kaimai Ranges to Tauranga and SH2 from Pokeno to Mangatarata.

Overall the new data shows the number of fatal and serious injury crashes on Waikato and Bay of Plenty state highways has dropped from 1156 crashes in 2002-06 to 1042 in 2007-11.

Using the KiwiRAP road assessment programme, state highways are given a risk-rating from low to high.

NZTA Waikato and Bay of Plenty regional director Harry Wilson said the extent of state highways in the two regions rated as high or medium-high risk had reduced from 787km to 634km.

SH1 from Huntly to Hamilton carried about 17,000 vehicles a day, with head-on crashes "a particular concern", he said.

The Waikato Expressway would eventually bypass this section of road and would significantly reduce the number of serious or fatal smashes on the 36.8km stretch.

The Ngaruawahia section of the expressway will connect the Huntly and Te Rapa sections and will be finished late next year.

Waikato road policing manager Inspector Leo Tooman said SH1 from Huntly to Hamilton was "bad news at the moment" but safety gains had been made in other parts of the Waikato.

"At the moment the road between Huntly and Hamilton is heavily congested. If a vehicle crosses the centre line, the chances of hitting someone coming the other way is very high. The Waikato Expressway will alleviate this."

Mr Tooman said the crash rate on SH2 from Pokeno to Mangatarata had declined following engineering work along the road and the introduction of variable speed limits.

But he said drivers also had a role in making Waikato roads safer.

"The modern car is a pretty comfortable machine with power steering and automatic gear boxes and that can lead to a little bit of complacency behind the wheel. If we can remove in-car distractions, keep our speed down, leave the booze alone and belt up, we should be right."

Waikato Times