The Eastern Region has recorded its highest annual road toll in more than five years, almost double last year's total which was one of the smallest in more than half a century of official records.
By late yesterday there had been 31 deaths in the area from the Takapau Plains to the East Cape, compared with 17 in 2011.
The increase is mainly due to five multiple-death crashes north of Napier - one in the Hastings District, one in the Wairoa District and one in the Gisborne District - which accounted for 17 of the provisional 2012 total.
Crashes which each killed four people, on SH2 north of Raupunga on January 25, on Waikare Rd east of Putorino at Queen's Birthday weekend, and on Matawai Rd, northwest of Gisborne, on October 20 were the worst in New Zealand for more than four years until five were killed in a single vehicle crash northwest of Taupo on December 18.
A crash in Gisborne on July 14 claimed three lives, and another north of Te Karaka on April 20 killed two women.
By comparison, of 13 other deaths in the Wairoa, Hastings, Napier and Central Hawke's Bay districts, eight people were sole occupants of vehicles, two were passengers, two were motor cyclists, and one was a pedestrian.
By late yesterday there had been four deaths on New Zealand roads in the Christmas-New Year holiday period, but none in the Eastern Region where the most recent was that of a 48-year-old Dannevirke man in a late-morning crash on SH2 near Takapau a few hours before the period started on Christmas Eve.
The national toll for the year late yesterday stood at 305, up 19 on 2011's 50-year low of 284.
Eastern Police District road policing manager Inspector Chris Wallace, out on the roads in Hawke's Bay overnight before heading back to the Wairoa area and the heavy southern traffic expected after the Rhythm n Vines festival near Gisborne, said a major concern remained with the lax use of seatbelts evident in the region's statistics.
About 40 per cent of those in the fatal crashes in the region were not wearing seatbelts, well up on the national average of 25 per cent.
Meanwhile, Australia's national holiday toll yesterday stood at 31, with the toll for the year expected to be about 1300.
Increases were being recorded in most states in Australia. The New South Wales toll yesterday stood at 369 (up six on last year), Queensland's was 279 (up 10), and Victoria's toll was 279 (down seven).