More people have died on Waikato roads than in any other region in the country, with only a very slight decline in the road toll over the past 10 years.

Between 2001 and 2010, 677 people died on the region's local roads and highways. Auckland was the second most dangerous region, with 625 deaths on the road.

While Auckland's urban intersections accounted for most of its serious crashes, Waikato's black spots were its rural roads, where 70 per cent of its fatal incidents occurred.

The total social cost of serious and fatal crashes to the region was estimated to be $545 million last year alone.

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The data on crashes and their contributing factors was published this week by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) to give a snapshot of trends in road safety.

Waikato road policing manager Leo Tooman said yesterday that "it was time motorists took responsibility for the safety of themselves and others on our roads".

His comments followed a fatal two-vehicle crash in Te Awamutu on Sunday night in which Stephanie Michaele Bates, 20, was killed. She was driving a car which was in collision with a ute on a slight bend.

Ms Bates' death took the region's road toll for this year to 39. At this time last year, 34 people had died on Waikato roads.

Safer Journeys, New Zealand's road safety strategy, identified rural roads with a speed limit of 80km/h or more as its areas of greatest concern in the Waikato.

"Many of the issues for these roads are around the provision of a safe road environment," a spokesman said.

"This includes appropriate geometric design, good delineation, adequate surface skid resistance and a roadside free of unforgiving hazards."

The NZTA highlighted the most common driving mistakes which led to serious crashes in the Waikato. On local roads and state highways, poor observation was a factor in nearly 40 per cent of incidents.

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Poor handling was observed in a quarter of cases, and alcohol was a factor in around 15 per cent of injury-causing crashes.

The reports said serious crashes could not simply be pinned on driver behaviour. All factors needed to be considered in improving road safety.

The data spelled out the variety of influences behind fatal crashes - from the experience of the driver, to the conditions of the car, to the quality of a road and its safety signage.

The NZTA cited a crash in January 2007 in which two sisters, aged 15 and 18, were killed when their car slid sideways on an overbridge and into an oncoming truck.

Investigators found a variety of causes, including the mismatched, worn tyres on their car and the fact that the driver may have been texting. This was before a law change made using cellphones while driving illegal.

Records also indicated that there had been five crashes near the bridge. As a result of the investigation, the speed advisory signage was dropped from 85km/h to 75 km/h.

The NZTA report said: "This incident demonstrates the many factors typically involved in a crash. To avoid similar fatalities we need to look beyond driver blame and work on strengthening all parts of the system: the roads and roadsides, the speed, the vehicle and the road use."