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

Any fatal crash is a tragedy, but the loss of a loved one is compounded at this time of the year given that it is a period usually associated with celebration and spending time with family and friends.

Christmas and New Year tragedies are not only painful for the families and friends of victims, but they also take a huge toll on those whose job it is to try and save them.

The Herald has spoken to firefighters, ambulance officers, police and rescue helicopter paramedics about the chaos, terror and hopelessness of serious crash scenes.

The policeman: Steve Greally

National Manager Road Policing Steve Greally has a message for Kiwi's.

"Turning up to the scene of a crash where there is serious injury or death ... [is] horrific. Unfortunately, our officers are going every day and every night to these scenes and that does have a huge toll on you over time.


"It's compounded by the fact that they are hopeless scenes at times. There is nothing you can do for people.

"You wouldn't wish it on anybody. It's not just something physical either, it's psychological. The things you see that you can't get out of your mind. The things you smell, the things you hear. It's humanity at its lowest ebb.

"By far the worst thing you have to do as a police officer is turn up at somebody's house ... and have to tell someone who you don't know that their loved one isn't coming home.

"And for what? They may not even have been the person who made the mistake in the first place: they were just an innocent person doing all the right things but because someone else made that mistake we are on your doorstep telling you that your husband, your wife, your mum, your dad or your kids are not coming home. Maybe all of them - that happens.

"It is just the most tragic thing.

"When you knock on that door you are so nervous. I remember the first time I did it was when I was a young constable in Otahuhu, in South Auckland.

"It's really, really hard. The more you think about it, the harder it is. For police officers around the country, it's got to be the hardest job they will ever do, bar none.

"It doesn't get harder than this. It's so unnecessary and so preventable if people just made better decisions.


"The one I did in Otahuhu, the lady just dropped to the floor. What do you say to her to make it better? You can't. You can't put it into perspective. It's not going to be okay. For her, I saw her whole world implode before my eyes.

"It will never ever escape me. I'll never forget it. It's so human. It's just so bloody preventable and unnecessary.

"So we want people to do the right thing on the roads this summer to avoid getting into these situations. We don't want to be at your place telling your wife or your parents that you're not coming home.

"Trust me, it's just not worth it."

The firefighter: Graeme Stephens

Richard Chambers is a 26 year old male who passed away in a horrific car accident near Otaki.

"The fire service is quite often there first, so our role is to provide first aid and extricate the persons from the vehicle with hydraulic cutting equipment.

"Normally the scenes are quite chaotic and very fluid, forever changing. They are quite confronting. There is a lot of screaming and yelling for the person who is obviously in pain or hurt.


"If someone has died in the accident there is the grief from the other people that might be trapped in the car with them.

"There's the smell, the touch, the thought, the feelings. I can remember a few years ago going to a car accident where a young 20-year-old girl was t-boned.

"She pulled out onto the main road and got t-boned and was quite heavily trapped. I had to quite literally crawl through the car to get to her.

"I had to come up virtually face to face with her to see if she was deceased or not.

"She was.

"Then I couldn't get out [because the car was so crushed] and had to stay in there with her until the other firefighters could cut us both out. It was about 20 minutes.


"That was quite a horrifying experience. The other thing is where they come across an accident and the other people are yelling out a name.

"We don't know if there was another person who was in the car who has been ejected from it or they are just yelling out because that is the person they want.

"Something what is very uncomfortable is coming across a scene and there is an empty car seat. You're thinking 'Where is the child? What has happened to it?'."

The paramedic: Andrew Everiss

"It's never nice. They are not pleasant incidents to turn up to. You're turning up to the worst moment in someone's life.

"It's chaos.

"They are always very emotionally charged events and there's a lot going on, lots of other agencies there, and family members. We walk into chaos.


"There's a lot of very serious traumatic injuries. A lot of head injuries and chest and abdominal injuries, a lot of broken bones.

"There's lots of noise. People screaming, crying.

"The more challenging ones for the majority of staff would be anything involving children.

"There is always more emotion when you work with children. Particularly when they are extremely unwell and then a lot of attention gets drawn to them and more emotion from our guys. Particularly staff that have children themselves. They can really relate. You become a parent on scene and you can really relate to what the parents are going through.

"It's pretty traumatic."

The series

Day 1



Day 2



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