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Tunnel safety

Tunnels make travel more convenient, however they also present particular challenges and risks because of the confined space and more restricted access and escape routes. That’s why motorists need to pay particular attention to safety when driving through a tunnel.

Tips for driving through tunnels

  • Stay alert.
  • Stay in your lane and avoid lane changing.
  • Keep your speed to within the posted limit.
  • Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front.

If you are involved in an incident in the tunnel:

  • Turn on your radio.
  • Listen and follow instructions given on the radio or over the public address systems or messages displayed on signs.
  • If the tunnel needs to be evacuated, leave your vehicle immediately and go quickly to the exits and places of safety as instructed and wait.

What are the main points to remember when travelling in a tunnel in New Zealand?

Good driver behaviour is one of the key contributors to reducing the risk of incidents inside tunnels so the NZ Transport Agency asks all motorists to take particular care when driving through any of the tunnels throughout New Zealand.

When travelling in a tunnel:

  • pay extra attention
  • always follow the speed limit and always obey the Transport Agency Rules - speed limits in tunnels are enforced
  • keep a safe distance from the car in front - keep at least a 2 second gap
  • in tunnels with multiple lanes, avoid changing lanes - this improves safety for everybody in the tunnel
  • follow the directions displayed on any signage and watch out for any changes in the speed limits
  • try not to brake suddenly, especially in peak hour when traffic is heavier. Spread the jam
  • take extra care when merging at a tunnel entry or on exit, move into your exit lane with plenty of time to spare
  • drive appropriately to the weather conditions and take particular care when exiting tunnels when there are high winds or heavy rain.

You are prohibited from travelling in a tunnel if:

  • you are running low on fuel
  • you suspect your vehicle might break down
  • you are carrying a load that is not secure - check you have secured your load before you start your journey - penalties can apply for unsecured loads
  • the tunnel has been closed due to an incident or emergency
  • if the transit of dangerous goods is prohibited or restricted. Further information on dangerous goods is included in the section below
  • your vehicle or load height is above the tunnel height clearance limit - you should check the local height restrictions that apply on your route
  • you are a pedestrian, cyclist or on an e scooter (except in the Mount Victoria Tunnel where a walkway is provided).

What should I do when entering a tunnel?

When entering a tunnel:

  • listen for updates or important traffic information on your radio or other traffic information sites
  • turn on your headlights
  • take your sunglasses off (unless prescription glasses are required)
  • obey all traffic signs, traffic signals and pavement markings
  • avoid changing lanes in tunnels with multiple lanes
  • keep to the speed limit or to the traffic flow, and keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you, even if traffic is slow moving. Maintain at least a 2 second gap.

What should I do if my vehicle breaks down or I crash in a tunnel?

If you break down or crash in a tunnel and are unable to safely exit the tunnel with your vehicle, you should:

  • pull over to a safe place to stop on the shoulder area and as far out of the way of traffic as possible
  • switch on your hazard lights, stay calm and wait for an incident response unit or the police to arrive. The operators will be watching you on cameras. Listen out for messages over the public address system from the operators
  • remain in your vehicle or safely wait in front of your vehicle or at a cross passage doorway if they are provided, unless there is a fire or you are told to evacuate the tunnel
  • if you are concerned or feel the operators have not seen you - call for help by using the nearest emergency phone to contact the tunnel's control room, but take care and pay attention to the live traffic. Some tunnels also display the control number to call from a mobile phone (Waterview call 0800 tunnel).

In the event of an emergency requiring evacuation, look for the running man symbols and flashing lights to locate a safe exit point, follow the signs, and follow instructions being given over any public address and radio being broadcast. Your safe exit may be directly out of the tunnel entrance or exit.

What should I do if I am caught in traffic while travelling in a tunnel?

Follow these tips if you get caught in traffic while traveling in a tunnel:

  • look for instructions displayed on overhead signs
  • listen for updates or important traffic information on your radio - specific messages may be broadcast over the radio in the tunnel by operators or over the PA
  • close your windows and switch your air-conditioning on to re-circulate air. If you are held waiting for a longer time, turn off your engine and wait for traffic to move again. This reduces the amount of fumes in the tunnel.
  • if you need urgent assistance, pull over to the shoulder and use the nearest emergency phone to contact the tunnel's control room (watch carefully for traffic while you get out of your vehicle), or call the control room helpline if a local contact number is provided.

What should I do if there is a fire in the tunnel I am travelling in?

Fires in tunnels are very dangerous because of the potential smoke effects on other traffic occupants.

In the event of a fire you may be required to leave your vehicle immediately and exit on foot following instructions via the egress routes. The immediate risk to you is smoke from the fire.

The Transport Agency monitors the tunnels and will manage any fire or other events. If you are in a tunnel and see smoke or fire ahead, the tunnel will be closed and evacuated by the operators, using systems such as the fire alarm, and emergency evacuation messages over the public address systems, radio rebroadcast system and the electronic message boards.

If the tunnel is being evacuated then:

  • if your route is clear, immediately drive out of the tunnel away from the incident, do not stop to assist
  • if your route is not clear pull over, turn off your engine but leave your keys in the car
  • leave the tunnel by the nearest and signed route, which may be the tunnel entrance or exit
  • listen for other instructions over the public address system. Wait in a place of safety and await for further instruction from the emergency services.

If your vehicle catches fire:

  • pull over to the left side of the road and stop the car
  • turn off the engine, get out of your car and be careful of passing traffic
  • call for assistance immediately. Call 111 immediately or go to the nearest emergency telephone and call the operators. Do not put yourself at risk
  • the operators will now be aware of the incident on camera and may communicate with you over the public address system. They may evacuate the tunnel and may use the deluge system to put out the fire
  • follow any instructions given, move away from the car and get to a place of safety.

Why are speed cameras used in some tunnels?

Speed cameras are operated by the NZ Police.

Speed cameras are installed or used on roads that have a crash history or a potential risk of speed related crashes. The nature of tunnels makes speeding through them higher risk. Speed cameras in tunnels encourage you to drive within the speed limit, which reduces your risk of crashing.

The most common hazard in a tunnel is a vehicle breakdown or crash that may result in serious injury and may also then cause a fire. Speeding reduces your reaction time if one of these hazards appears unexpectedly.

Crashes in tunnels can prove extremely costly in terms of human life, congestion and delays, pollution and repair costs. The enclosed environment of tunnels also complicates the rescue efforts of emergency services.

Offences for dangerous goods and over dimension vehicles in tunnels

At Waterview and all Wellington tunnels the transit of dangerous goods is prohibited.

At Lytletton Tunnel and Homer Tunnel the transit of hazardous goods is controlled through permit and only at certain times.

If you are carrying quantities of dangerous goods through Victoria Park or Johnstones Hill Tunnels, generally this requires you to display placards in accordance with the Road Transport Rules as for the open road. It is an offence to carry a placarded load of dangerous goods in a tunnel where there is a placard load prohibited sign.

Further information for placarding can be found in the Land Transport Rule Dangerous Goods 4500/1(external link)

(external link)Find out more about dangerous and hazardous goods

Your vehicle or load height is limited to the local rules and restrictions, which are also sign posted on the routes. Find out more about vehicle sizes and weights

Offences for unauthorized transit of dangerous/hazardous goods and over dimensioned vehicles are subject to significant fines. Further information can be found in the Land Transport (Offences and Penalties) Regulations 1999(external link)

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