The number of deaths on the road this summer shows road safety in New Zealand going backwards, the Automobile Association says.

Transport groups are urging drivers to take extra care still as the holidays draw to a close.

Nineteen people have died on the roads over the Christmas New Year period, with the official toll coming to an end Wednesday morning.

AA road safety spokesperson Dylan Thomsen said five years ago the number of road deaths over the holiday period could be counted on both hands, but that had changed.

“This holiday period and the last one have been up back around that sort of 20 number. So it’s really sad and frustrating to see things not going the way we want in terms of New Zealand,” he said.

“We want to see road safety improving, we want to see fewer people dying on the roads, and unfortunately, in the last few years, we seem to have gone backwards.”

Last year, there were 21 deaths over the holiday period.

Thomsen said AA’s research into fatal crashes found half of them involved ordinary, safe drivers, who had made a mistake.

He warned drivers to not get complacent, particularly when the roads were the busiest and there was less room for error over holidays.

“I think a lot of people still really think of fatal crashes as only involving people who are driving drunk, or drugged, or don’t have a licence, or are driving ridiculously fast and dangerously – and there is some of that absolutely. But fatal crashes can happen to good drivers as well,” he said.

Duty minister Shane Jones said much of the “carnage” on the roads was due to “people driving whilst they’re under the influence, and not enough Kiwis using safety belts”.

There needed to be consequences for driver behaviour before it turned fatal, he said.

Road policing director, Superintendent Steve Greally, told Morning Report police had doubled their enforcement efforts in the past year, including breath screening.

Road-related deaths in 2023 reached 343, a slight drop from 372 the year before.

Greally said deaths had trended down since the 1980s, helped by better roads and safer vehicles, but that the toll was still too high.

Northland and Waikato saw a number of crashes this holiday season.

Northland Road Safety Trust manager Ashley Johnston said the region had a high road toll that was heading in the wrong direction.

She said poor driving decisions were having devastating consequences.

“In Northland we have a really, really high rate of people not wearing their seatbelts in our fatalities and serious crashes,” she said.

“Our people are actually dying as a result of their behaviour on the roads. It’s a heartbreaking story and there’s a lot of families that won’t be having loved ones with them through the summer period.”

Johnston wanted to see greater enforcement of laws around drink-driving, drug use and not wearing seatbelts.

In Waikato, police issued a warning about traffic congestion in the region, and said they were getting a high number of calls about speeding drivers.

Waikato District Mayor Jacqui Church said traffic levels in the district were already well above long term projections, and that could cause problems.

“For the state highway, people who drive through our district are actually at the volumes of 2032. So we’re well over ten years ahead in terms of the percentage of people driving through Waikato District Council’s express way to go to their destinations north or south,” she said.

Church said roadworks often took place during summer because they required warmer weather, and urged drivers to be patient.

She said any death on the road was a terrible tragedy.

By Anna Sargent of rnz.co.nz

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