A Herald investigation reveals the most dangerous roads during the Christmas holiday period.

It's straight and sealed, with fresh road markings. There are traffic lights, multiple lanes and plenty of signage.

Te Rapa Rd in Hamilton looks like the main drag in any New Zealand city but it's not: it's the most deadly road in the country during the Christmas and New Year period.

The finding comes from a Herald investigation into the past five Christmas road toll periods, which usually start on Christmas Eve and continue through to the first non-public holiday day of the New Year.

The investigation geospatially mapped the 1990 crashes reported during these periods, from December 2011 to January 2016.

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Of those crashes, 66 were fatal, 389 were serious and the remaining 1535 were minor.

Not surprisingly, Auckland stands out as the region with the most crashes of all categories. It has had six fatal crashes and 48 serious ones.

However, the maps show a pattern of serious and fatal crashes in clusters on certain roads around New Zealand.

None of those are in Auckland, where crashes are dispersed evenly throughout the region.

The clusters instead reveal that Te Rapa Rd, and the roads surrounding Tauranga and Christchurch are the most deadly places to travel during Christmas and New Year.

There have been four fatal crashes on Te Rapa Rd in Hamilton since 2011 - as well as one on nearby Whatawhata Rd.

Fatal crashes were also clustered near Tauranga on State Highway 2, Welcome Bay Rd and Papamoa Beach Rd.

In the South Island, the outskirts of Christchurch stood out as another serious and fatal high-crash area.

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Four fatal crashes clustered from Oxford, Castle Hill, Dunsandel and into the city, where three more fatal crashes have occurred on inner-city streets.

Ministry of Transport data shows that the main causes of those fatal crashes were losing control, speed, alcohol, drugs and inattention.

These factors will be explored in more depth in tomorrow's investigation.

It is no secret that New Zealand has an abhorrent road toll. We had the eighth highest number of deaths per capita on our roads for OECD countries in 2015.

With 69.4 deaths per 1 million people, we were behind the United States (109.5), but much worse than Australia (50.7) and the UK (27.7).

A downward trend in road deaths from 2000 began to spike again in 2014.

The annual toll had dropped dramatically from 462 deaths in 2000 to 253 in 2013. But then there were 293 road deaths in 2014, 310 in 2015, and at December 22 - before this year's Christmas road toll had even begun - there had already been 309.

Land Transport Safety Manager Brent Johnston said the recent upturn in the road toll was extremely concerning and extensive research was underway to understand why.

"We are concerned by the recent increase in deaths on our roads and we have commissioned research to look into the factors that are driving it, based on 2014 and 2015 data."

Nearly 20 percent of the police's 2016/2017 budget, $323 million, is allocated to road safety. Photo / Stephen Jaquiery
Nearly 20 percent of the police's 2016/2017 budget, $323 million, is allocated to road safety. Photo / Stephen Jaquiery

Results are expected by mid 2017.

"The recent increase in the road toll reinforces that we need to continue our focus on improving the safety of our roads, and educating road users about the need to stick to the law."

"It's frustrating to see people continuing to die in crashes where speed and alcohol have caused the crash, as these deaths are so avoidable.

"People pay a high price for mistakes made on the road, particularly those that are not at fault in crashes and lose their lives due to the actions of others."

Although the long term psychological damage caused by road crashes is incalculable, the annual social cost of crashes is estimated to be $3.8 billion, according to the latest NZTA data.

If that were a business, it would have been the country's sixth highest earning firm in 2012, according to a government report.

Ministry of Transport data from June 2015, put the average social cost per crash on New Zealand roads as $4.7 million, per fatal crash, $900,000 per serious crash and $95,000 per reported minor crash.

Those costs are based on loss of life and life quality, loss of output due to temporary incapacitation, medical costs, legal costs and property damage costs - the cost of picking up the pieces.

Nearly 20 per cent of the police's 2016/2017 budget, $323 million, is allocated to road safety.

The NZTA's road safety programme, for improving national and regional roads, cost more than $20 million in the 2015/2016 financial year.

So why, with all these resources, do we still have such a horrible road toll - and why is it so bad during the Christmas holiday period?

National Road Policing Manager Superintendent Steve Greally said the holiday period provided all the ingredients for crashes to occur.

University of Waikato Traffic Psychologist Dr Robert Isler said the Christmas and New Year holiday period amplified the issues that plague our roads year-round.
"Every year over Christmas and New Year there are so many cars around and people get impatient and want to get everywhere fast and frustration just builds."

A downward trend in road deaths from 2000 began to spike up again in 2014. Photo / Supplied
A downward trend in road deaths from 2000 began to spike up again in 2014. Photo / Supplied

He said ultimately, each crash came down to the decisions of the person behind the wheel.

"For me there are no dangerous roads; it's the people who are driving them that are making them dangerous.

"I have done a lot of research on wellbeing and life satisfaction and how people drive, and sometimes I say that people drive they way they live.

"If people drive way too fast I would think they are having a psychological issue which is why they put themselves at risk."

Greally agreed.

"It all relates to the decisions people are making when they are driving vehicles on our roads," he said.

"Whether or not you decide to have another drink before you drive, decide to put on your seat belt, to put on the seat belts of your kids.

"It's not always your mistake that makes these things happen, it could be another person's mistakes because we are human and we make mistakes."

He said summer time means longer daylight hours, socialising and more time on the roads, the perfect storm for accidents.

"Over the summer period it really is about speed and alcohol consumption. It comes down to people underestimating the risk.

"You think how many times you have driven on our roads and how safe you feel. The fact that you haven't had a crash before [means you think that] of course it can't happen to you - but it can and it does."

'I couldn't reach her as she died'

Watch Graham Clothier tell his story on how he survived a fatal accident.

Graham Clothier's arms were broken in too many places for him to reach out and comfort his girlfriend as she lay dying in the car behind him.

Their boat was hooked up to the Daihatsu Sirion that Lynelle Bray, known as Lil, was driving the couple in down Te Rapa Rd in Hamilton on December 30, 2013.

They were on the way to Whitianga for their annual summer trip with family and friends.

"We'd gone over to the other side of town in the girlfriend's car to get some clothes and the dog, and we never got back to my place," said Clothier.

"As we came to an intersection, a bus crashed a red light and picked us up from the driver's side and carried us through the intersection.

"The result was that Lil lost her life in the accident and I was left pretty busted up in the car afterwards."

Lynelle Bray was killed in a motor vehicle accident. Photo / Supplied
Lynelle Bray was killed in a motor vehicle accident. Photo / Supplied

The bus slammed into the driver's side with such force Lil ended up behind her boyfriend, the front seat passenger.

"One of the hardest things was not being able to hold Lil's hand when she went because of the way the car was crashed.

"She was behind me and my arm was broken so I couldn't reach behind me."

He also felt bad for passersby who rushed to help them.

"I asked them to go and check on Lil first and knowing what I know now I want to say sorry I asked that person to see what they would have seen, it would not have been very nice for them."

Lil, 46, at the time of her death, had just gained an accounting degree and was a mother of two.

"She was a hard working, fun loving mum. She had just graduated and had two jobs to choose from but didn't get to get there.

Graham Clothier shares his story. Photo / Michael Craig
Graham Clothier shares his story. Photo / Michael Craig

"It was probably six, seven, eight months before I slept through the night. I would wake most nights in some sort of cold sweat or torment-type dream.

"They dissipate over time, the anger hung around for a long time. I had a reasonable amount of counselling to try and dissipate that and work through all that.

"On the other side of it there is family and other people around you who are directly and indirectly involved as well, and then there was Lil's family, too.

"Those were some big times."

He said anger was one of the hardest emotions to shake.

"I was angry that it happened. I was angry that someone made a wrong decision to run through a light that was obviously red.

"So many parts of that legal process were frustrating and time consuming and when you just got to a happy place within yourself there was another court date or another inquiry, and it just kept bringing it back up."

He will never be the same, he said.

"It's the new Graham, I will never get back to the old normal, the old normal is gone. I deal with things quite a lot differently now.

"There is a lot of acceptance that there is some things in life you just can't change even though they are preventable.

"Broken bones, broken head, broken heart - there was just a lot of mending process."

He wanted to send a message to other road users this summer to make the rights calls: "If you're not sure, don't do it. Don't take the risks. The choice to save two minutes by making a bad decision could save someone a lifetime of pain or a life. Nothing is that important. Just don't do it."

The series

Day 1:

Our holiday blackspots: A

Herald

investigation reveals the most dangerous places during the Christmas Holiday road toll

Day 2:

What's behind the horror on our roads? A look into the factors that are causing crashes.

Day 3:

Picking up the pieces: Meet the people on the front line who face grisly scenes every day to save crash victims.

Day 4:The case for a lower road toll: Experts pitch ideas they think would save lives