A "heartbreaking" 26 people have died on Bay of Plenty roads this year, giving the region the highest road toll in the country.

The 26 deaths mean the Bay of Plenty police district's road toll so far this year has increased 63 per cent compared with the same period last year of 16 deaths.

As of April 11, three people have died in the Western Bay, seven in the Eastern Bay, five in Rotorua and 11 in Taupō, the latter including five members of one family in a crash last month.

On Thursday evening one man, who is yet to be named, died when his truck crashed on Galaxy Rd in Tokoroa about 3.55pm, resulting in the closure of State Highway 1 for the night.


Inspector Brent Crowe, the Bay of Plenty road policing manager, said police were committed to reducing the road toll but could not do it alone.

"Distraction features prominently in recent crashes in the Bay of Plenty and we need every road user to remain solely focused on driving their vehicle, thus giving themselves a much greater chance of getting to their destination safely."

Crowe said the number of drivers using cellphones was a major concern.

"This, along with driving at a safe speed, driving refreshed, not impaired by alcohol, drugs or fatigued and always, always wearing a seat belt, remains the focus for all Bay of Plenty police."

Of those who had died 10 were drivers, five were passengers, six were motorcyclists, three were pedestrians and two were cyclists.

Rotorua senior station officer Paul Glanville said changing the "it won't happen to me" attitude was not easy to do.

"People taking risks, such as talking on their cellphone, or not wearing seat belts, are obviously not paying attention to road safety messages but why is hard to answer."

Rotorua road policing co-ordinator Sergeant Joseph Cairns told the Rotorua Daily Post on Thursday police urged drivers to take responsibility for their driving and the safety of their passengers and other road users.


"We all need to look after each other.

"The actions you take as a driver don't only impact on you but on all the road users around you, and potentially those road users' families and friends."

He said police were committed to reducing death and injury on our roads but they could not do it alone.

"Our message to all road users is clear. Don't drive distracted, stay within your own lane, buckle up, watch your speed, and never drive under the influence of alcohol, drugs or fatigue."

Joint Road Safety Committee chairwoman Margaret Murray-Benge, a Western Bay District councillor, said the road toll was "heartbreaking".

She said it defied belief given well-publicised road safety messages.

"People should expect decent roads to ride and drive on, but at the same time, people do need to drive to the conditions and modify their unsafe driving behaviours," she said.

Maketū chief fire officer Shane Gourlay said the number of deaths was an "absolute tragedy".

He attended the crash near Te Puke on April 2 in which 21-year-old Manepo Tapsell- Wafer died, and was saddened at the loss of one of the district's potential future leaders.

Gourlay said the stark reality was the majority of fatal crashes were avoidable, and every death took a huge toll not only on victims' families but on emergency services who had to deal with "horrific" crash scenes.

Katikati fire chief Joe Manukau agreed. He said the district's grim road toll had a "tragic" ripple effect.

Some people were quick to blame the state of the roads but driver behaviour was a contributing factor in most serious injury and fatal crashes, he said.

Road safety charity Brake New Zealand director Caroline Perry said, "We need to keep raising awareness of road safety issues and what road users can do to protect themselves and others.

"We also need safe speed limits that match the conditions of our road, and we need to invest in measures such as median barriers that are proven to help prevent crashes."

- Additional reporting by Leah Tebbutt

Road toll as of April 11

Bay of Plenty: 26
Canterbury: 17
Central: 16
Northland: 10
Waikato: 9
Southern: 7
Counties Manukau: 7
Wellington: 5
Tasman: 4
Eastern: 4
Auckland: 4
Waitemata: 3
Unknown: 2
Total: 114

Source: Ministry of Transport