Police have called the holiday road toll a "needless waste of human life".
Eighteen people died from 4pm on December 23 to 6am today - up 50 per cent on the same period last year, when 12 people died.
National road policing manager Superintendent Paula Rose said disappointment did not come close to describing how she felt about the holiday road toll.
"This is just so much more significant than that - it's standing by and seeing needless waste of human life time and time again," she told APNZ.
Ms Rose said two thirds of the fatal crashes had involved alcohol, speed or a combination of both.
At least four people would have been highly likely to have survived if they had been wearing seat belts.
"They're things that we can do something about right now, each and everyone of us. Then we'd have less families grieving."
Ms Rose said the holiday fatalities followed a remarkably low national road toll, with 284 deaths last year - the lowest annual toll since 1952.
"The 18 dead over the holiday period is not, I think, a sign of things to come. I think it's just a bad two weeks on our roads, and we can change that tomorrow."
Ms Rose said four of the crashes had been double fatalities, which was unusual.
Most people had been driving well and had taken safety messages on board.
A focus on lowering speeds meant the overall number of crashes was down, and people were walking away from crashes with fewer serious injuries.
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said the national holiday road toll was a "disappointing result".
"Every fatality and serious injury is a tragedy for the families and loved ones of those involved," he said.
"Many people will still be returning from holidays and I urge drivers to take extra care to focus on the job at hand."
Ministry of Transport official would be analysing the causes of the fatal crashes over the holiday period, Mr Brownlee said.
Police today named two people killed in one of the four double fatality crashes during the holiday period.
Dunedin man David Morris, 82, and German woman Kerstin Fromert, 51, died after a car and campervan collided head-on on the Haast Highway on December 28.
Detective Malcolm Haughey of Westport police said a crash analysis had shown the driver of the campervan, who was also a German tourist, had been driving on the wrong side of the road.
"At the time he began braking he was completely within the northbound lane heading south, completely within the right-hand side of the road," he told APNZ.
It was not known whether the driver had forgotten which side of the road he was meant to stick to.
Mr Haughey said no other factors were thought to have contributed to the crash.
Police have not yet named two women who died in crashes this year.
A 22-year-old woman was struck and killed on New Year's Day on a motorway near the Auckland Airport, while a German tourist died after the van she was in collided with a ute north of Hunterville.
Canterbury road policing manager Inspector Al Stewart today said it was disappointing that the three holiday fatalities in the region were all young men in their 20s.
"They had all been drinking alcohol, they were all speeding and none of them were wearing seatbelts. If you want common themes, that's what we call the trifecta - all three of the big contributors to road fatalities," he told APNZ.
Mr Stewart said most young male drivers were responsible and took road safety messages on board, but there would always be some who did not.
"There's just some we're still not getting to, and that's something we're going to have to have a good, hard look at and see how we're going to do that."
The road toll in Canterbury dropped to 32 last year, down from 47 the previous year, but that was still "totally unacceptable".
"Any death on our road is unacceptable when you consider the impact it has on the family, the community and society as a whole."
Meanwhile, the Northland region achieved its lowest annual road toll on record, with a total of seven deaths last year.
It is the first time since records began in 1970 that the number of deaths has dipped below 20.
Relieving road policing manager Senior Sergeant Steve Dickson said the region had averaged 34 road deaths each year.
THE HOLIDAY DEAD
1 - Daniel James Mercer, 20, died after his car ran into the Avon River in Christchurch
2 - Gareth Toby Waller, 29, died when his vehicle rolled into the Waihi River near Geraldine in South Canterbury
3 - Doris Bevins Strong, 78, died after a truck collided with her car as she was turning on State Highway 3, south of Waitara, in Taranaki
4 and 5 - Sisters Merepeka Morehu Clark, 14, and Brooklyn Morehu Clark, 13, died when the speeding car they were in passed another vehicle on Welcome Bay Rd, Tauranga. and collided head-on with a red Mitsubishi ute
6 - Jasmine Gray, 52, died after sustaining life-threatening injuries when she was hit by a courier van while walking at State Highway 1 in Horotiu, north of Hamilton
7 - Anne Marchant, 85, was hit by a car as she used a walking stick to help her cross State Highway 1 in Wellsford, north of Auckland
8 - Carol Dawn Gibson, 70, from Lower Hutt died in a collision on the Desert Road north of Waiouru.
9 and 10 - David Morris, 82, and German tourist Kerstin Fromert, 51, died after a car and campervan collided on the Haast Highway
11 - Hayden Murray Bailey, 21, died in Woolston, Christchurch, when his car collided with a lamppost
12 and 13 - Stephanie Anne Fox, 18, and Lance Kevin Reilly, 39, from Titahi Bay died and several people, including three children, were injured in a crash at an intersection on State Highway 1 just north of Paraparaumu
New Year's Eve
14 and 15 - Gary Alexander Benseman, 22, and Brian James Cooper, 23, of Blenheim, were killed when the car they were travelling in crashed into a power pole and burst into flames
New Year's Day
16 - A 22-year-old female pedestrian died when she was hit by a truck on a motorway near Auckland Airport
17 - Viv White, 59, of Tiraumea, died as she drove from Masterton to Alfredton,
18 - A German tourist died after the van she was in collided with a ute north of Hunterville