New Zealand's annual road toll is hovering below 400 deaths for the third year running, but the Automobile Association says that is nothing to crow about.

It notes that the toll remains far above a target set by Labour a decade ago for the annual number of road deaths to be no higher than 300 by the end of the year just gone.

Although Transport Minister Steven Joyce has yet to announce the provisional year-end toll for 2010, there had been 373 deaths on the country's roads by 5pm yesterday.

That was 12 under the previous year's figure of 385 deaths, but above the 2008 road toll of 366 - the lowest since 1960.

Despite being pleased that the figure has been under 400 deaths for three years running, Mr Joyce acknowledges far too many people are still being killed on New Zealand roads annually "compared to many of the countries we like to compare ourselves with".

"In 2010, far too many Kiwis have lost a loved one or had their lives torn apart by the effects of a road crash and my thoughts are with those families as we head into the new year.

"The reality is there is no room for complacency on our roads, especially as people start to think about heading home from their Christmas holiday break.

"I urge all road users to take extra caution and realise that driving needs all your focus all the time."

AA motoring affairs manager Mike Noon noted the country's failure to meet the target of no more than 300 annual road deaths by the end of 2010.

"We've basically stalled," he said.

"We said we would kill no more than 300, so you've got to say we failed. We had a very good year, then a worse year, and we've come back and are slightly better.

"But there isn't a lot of improvement in there."

Mr Noon said the AA had high hopes for the replacement strategy called Safer Journeys which the Government adopted in 2009, even though it set no numerical road toll target.

"Quite a lot of actions are being taken, but there are a few things we think still need to happen," he said.

Mr Noon said that was what Australian expert Eric Howard told a New Zealand traffic conference could be achieved if $150 million was allocated for safety infrastructure for each of the next 10 years.

Although the Government believes toughening the restricted licence test will encourage youngsters to undertake at least 120 hours of supervised driving before graduating, Mr Noon said that target could not be achieved in six months on a learner licence, unless they had a 45-minute lesson every day.

ROAD FATALITIES
* 373 in 2010.

* 385 in 2009.

* 366 in 2008, the lowest since 1960.