The police have had a much higher profile in the Far North this week, although they haven't always been immediately identifiable.

They've been using unmarked vehicles, combined with checkpoints and officers stationed outside dairies and bakeries, as part of an operation aimed at driving home road safety messages, particularly focusing on using seat belts and not using phones while behind the wheel.

The four-day operation ends today, and compliant drivers stopped at checkpoints are given Easter eggs, lollipops and pens. The major aim is to achieve a crash-free Easter in Northland.

Superintendent Wayne Ewers, heading the operation, said tickets were a deterrent, but ideally people should just buckle up every time they got into a vehicle, which would reduce the region's road toll considerably.


According to police statistics, 2294 tickets have been issued to phone-using drivers in Northland in the decade since it became illegal, while over the same period 29,518 tickets, generating $4.3 million in fines, were issued to drivers and passengers who were not using seat belts.

"We just want people to put their seat belts on and stay off their damn phones," Superintendent Ewers said.

"Don't be surprised if you head to your local bakery or dairy and don't put your seat belt on and you are spoken to by an officer."

Twelve of those who died on Northland roads last year, and 15 of the 40 who died in 2017, had not been wearing seat belts.

"I know a lot of drivers and passengers do put seat belts on, but there is still a group that don't, and if they are in a crash situation they are more likely to end up a fatality or seriously injured," he added.

This week's operation had the active support of a number of other agencies, including Northland Road Safety, the Far North District and Northland Regional councils, Far North REAP, the Northland DHB and ACC.

Meanwhile the NZ Transport Agency Road Safety Outcomes report paints a grim picture of Northland's crash rates over the last five years, with 143 deaths and 739 serious injuries. In terms of population the region had more fatal or serious crashes than any other in the December 2018 quarter, and topped the statistics in alcohol, drugs and speed as crash factors.

It also had the worst record in the country in deaths and serious injuries where seat belts were not used.



Acting Sergeant Mike Greenwood said yesterday, while setting up a checkpoint in North Rd Kaitaia, that compliance rates had been not too bad. Seat belts were more of an issue than cell phone use, although he had heard all the usual excuses.

"I just pulled out," "I'm just going around the corner."

"People are dying because they're not wearing seat belts," he said. "It doesn't matter how short your trip is, you must put your belt on every time. Even a crash at low speed can cause serious injury."

Drivers in rural areas tended to be less enthusiastic about seat belt use, he added.