Consultation on these signs closed on 30 June 2023.


A package of 94 bilingual traffic signs in the draft Land Transport Rule: Traffic Control Devices (Bilingual Signs) Amendment 2023 was released for consultation on 22 May 2023 as part of the He Tohu Huarahi Māori bilingual traffic signs programme led by Te Mātāwai and Waka Kotahi. Consultation closed on 30 June 2023.

Waka Kotahi, with support from Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) and Te Manatū Waka Ministry of Transport, has partnered with Te Mātāwai to undertake a programme of work to enable more use of te reo Māori on traffic signs in Aotearoa New Zealand.

He Tohu Huarahi Māori bilingual traffic signs programme

A panel of te reo Māori experts, Te Pae Whakamāori, considered and decided on translations that went through a moderation process, facilitated by Te Mātāwai. The mana of te reo Māori, safety of the hapori (community) and consistency across the country were key considerations. The moderation process ensured translation and the messages for users were consistent across the different traffic signs.

There is evidence that bilingual signs, bilingual traffic signs and similar initiatives have wide ranging benefits not only for people whose language is newly included, but for all people. These are:

  • safety enhancement
  • tourism promotion
  • language protection
  • cultural enhancement
  • enhanced social cohesion.

Waka Kotahi has also researched overseas experience with bilingual traffic signs, which demonstrates that bilingual signs have not led to an increase in the number of people killed or seriously injured where this has been measured.

Bilingual traffic signage research note

This consultation follows rule changes last year that saw the introduction of Kura School traffic signs. While the same design principles have been applied to signs within that same category/group, several other design principles have been developed given the varying nature of the 94 signs covered in the proposals.

The signs are grouped by type:

  • destination signs
  • public and active transport signs
  • walking and cycling wayfinding signs
  • general advisory and permanent warning signs
  • motorway and expressway signs
  • temporary traffic management signs.

The implementation approach for bilingual traffic signs is to enable new signs in the Traffic Control Devices Rule and require them to be used when a sign is replaced or introduced onto the transport network.

The rollout of this package of signs would begin with signs that need to be replaced, particularly in hard-hit regions where signs were damaged during the cyclone and new signs are needed.

This also reflects our low-cost implementation approach for bilingual signs, which will be introduced as existing signs are replaced or new signs are needed on the network.

Why did we consult?

Consultation was carried out to ensure the views of, and impact on, people affected by the proposals we re considered.

This consultation had two parts:

What we sought feedback on

We asked questions in the overview to understand the benefits or impacts of these signs, including what you thought about:

  • the use of colour to differentiate te reo Māori and English
  • whether each family of signs represent a good opportunity to achieve the goal of incorporating more te reo Māori onto Aotearoa New Zealand’s transport network.

Frequently asked questions

  • Why did you choose these signs?

    He Tohu Huarahi Māori Bilingual Traffic Signs programme is a partnership between Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and Te Mātāwai, the independent statutory entity that represents iwi and Māori for the purposes of revitalising te reo Māori. This programme is also supported by Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo (Māori Language Commission) and Te Manatū Waka Ministry of Transport.

    In line with Te Ture mō te Reo Māori (Māori Language Act 2016), Waka Kotahi and Te Mātāwai have designed and led this programme since its inception. This led to the creation of the He Tohu Huarahi Māori Partnership Rōpū, the establishment of an expert panel of translators and moderation process, and the inclusion of members of Te Mātāwai on the steering and project groups to help coordinate the flow of information and actions and to provide expert advice and guidance to support engagement. The partnership also enabled the programme to capture the views of iwi and Māori via the community-based panels of Māori language experts, practitioners and champions – known as Ngā Pae Motuhake o Te Mātāwai. Their feedback helped to inform the design of the signs, translation approach and implementation. We also engaged with Māori partnership staff in local councils and a group from the traffic industry.

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  • Why are different dialects not used across all proposed signs?

    The mana of te reo Māori, safety of our hapori and consistency across the motu were key considerations for Te Pae Whakamāori, the panel of te reo Māori experts that was established for this project. In some cases we have allowed for more than one translation option of a sign to allow for difference in dialect, but overall consistency was key. The members of Te Pae Whakamāori and the moderation panel covered a breadth of Aotearoa in terms of rohe representation.

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  • Why are you introducing bilingual signs?

    Bilingual signs provide an opportunity for te reo Māori to be seen in our communities and support language learning and revitalisation.

    Learning te reo Māori has many benefits including strengthening a sense of identity and ability to participate in te ao Māori.

    Making te reo Māori a part of our everyday lives promotes cultural understanding and social cohesion across Aotearoa.

    Increased visibility enhances the mana of te reo Māori as an official language of New Zealand.

    Increasing awareness and access to te reo Māori in our communities will help launch new iwi language initiatives for new generations.

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  • Are bilingual traffic signs safe?

    While there have been concerns that bilingual signs could affect road safety, there is no evidence that they lead to an increase in the number of people dying or being seriously injured (according to research by Transport Scotland and consultation with Llywodraeth Cymru (the Welsh Government).

    Instead there is evidence that drivers initially adjust their behaviour by paying closer attention to new signs, then quickly become familiar with them.

    We have followed best design practice to ensure safety, including using different font sizes, colours and positioning to clearly distinguish between the two languages.

    Several methods of differentiating the two languages have been adopted, as there is not a one-size-fits-all approach for every sign family. Each differentiation method was chosen based on safety and cultural appropriateness for each family of signs. The differentiation methods were all endorsed by the He Tohu Huarahi Māori Partnership Rōpū.

    We have carefully considered international experience and outcomes in the development of the proposed signs.

    Bilingual traffic signage research note(external link)

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  • Why is te reo Māori placed above English on the signs?

    One of the design principles for bilingual traffic signs is for te reo Māori to be presented in a culturally appropriate way to reflect the mana of the language.

    Te Puni Kōkiri recommends that where te reo Māori and English text cannot be displayed as equal then te reo Māori should be more prominent. During the consultation for Kura School signs, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori the Māori Language Commission stated that ‘….by affording the word 'KURA' prominence within the sign this recognises the value of Reo Māori...’

    Given that te reo Māori is used less than English throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, Waka Kotahi is of the view that it needs to be promoted if it is to achieve equality with English in New Zealand.

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  • Will placing English below te reo Māori on the signs affect road safety?

    Waka Kotahi research has found it would not take road users long to recognise a new sign and comprehend the translation they were most proficient in, as long as there is some sort of differentiation between the languages.

    Long term road observations revealed there were no negative effects on road user experience in terms of deaths and serious injuries for bilingual traffic signs, even if the less spoken language was placed in a position of primacy.

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  • How will the new signs be implemented?

    The life of a traffic sign can vary significantly, with some in place for over 30 years. 

    We are proposing that bilingual traffic signs are introduced either when new signs are needed (eg when a new road is built) or when existing signs need to be replaced (eg due to vandalism, damage, poor reflective sheeting).

    The rollout of this package will begin with signs that need to be replaced, particularly in hard-hit regions where signs were damaged during the cyclone and new signs are needed. 

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  • Where is the money coming from to pay for the signs?

    The implementation approach for bilingual traffic signs is to require them to be used when a sign is replaced or introduced onto the transport network. The cost of traffic signs for Road Controlling Authorities is subsidised through the National Land Transport Fund. Road Controlling Authorities will be responsible for implementing these new signs as they are required across State highway and local road networks. Costs are minimised under this approach as these signs are going to be replaced or introduced to the transport network over time.

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  • Why are you changing the rules to enable these signs?

    Waka Kotahi, as the regulator of the land transport system, is responsible for regularly reviewing the rules and standards, alongside the Ministry of Transport. This includes regularly reviewing the rule and guidelines relating to traffic signs. The Traffic Control Devices Rule came into effect in 2005, and has been amended every year since then (with the exception of 2009 and 2018).

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  • Will more signs be made bilingual?

    This package of signs is part of Phase 1 of He Tohu Huarahi Māori. Further signs may be considered as part of Phase 2.

    • Phase 1: identify, consider, and enable a prioritised selection of bilingual signs by the end of 2023.
    • Phase 2: undertake a process to consider and, where appropriate, implement the rest of the signs from 2024. This phase is subject to funding.

    The first phase of the programme began in 2021 and led to changes to the land transport rule which enable bilingual Kura School traffic signs.

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