As families hit the roads this weekend for the last day of the school holidays, road safety experts are frustrated improvements over the years haven't lowered the country's horrific road toll.

Fifteen people died during the school holidays, bringing this year's road death toll to 297 - 43 more people dead from crashes than this time last year. A mother of four, a teenager fleeing from police and a child were among the dead.

Police have called it a shameful toll, blaming the crashes on a mixture of alcohol, speed and passengers not wearing their seatbelts.

Experts spoken to by the Herald on Sunday agree there is no magic solution for driving down the number of people dying on the country's roads and a multi-pronged approach is necessary.


They recommended a number of changes, including improving youth driving training, public transport and our roads.

University of Auckland's director of transportation laboratories Doug Wilson said the country's previous astonishing road toll - 795 in 1985 - has been reduced thanks to developing New Zealand's roads, implementing different speed zones, improving driving education, and enforcing better safety in cars.

But complex factors contribute to road deaths and it has become trickier to target one thing in order to drive that figure down further, he said.

"We're getting to much harder factors to change - like human behaviour," he said.

He highlighted the fact people are still failing to buckle up. Last year 100 people who died in a crash weren't wearing seatbelts. But although people continue to make mistakes, it was key to ensure roads were safer, he said.

"As humans, we all make mistakes, but ideally we should not be killed for these mistakes, therefore we need to make our roads more forgiving.

"Research shows that even if we had everybody doing everything exactly the way we would like them to behave, we would still get about 50 per cent of the crashes that we have now."

One of New Zealand's biggest issues is its economics, he said. Despite having a land mass similar to the size of Japan, the country has far fewer people and less taxable dollars, and our rail system isn't enough to get people out of their cars.


Race car driver Greg Murphy, who has long been outspoken on the issue of driver training, says police have done everything they can and it's up to drivers to take responsibility.

"Everything gets put on the police too much. At the end of the day they're under-resourced and trying to do a multitude of jobs," he said.

"Believing you have everything sorted, and have learned everything there is to know, that could be one of your issues- thinking you're better than you are."

He was frustrated the number of deaths isn't getting any lower. "We have been in this position before, we've had this conversation so many times, and we're still in the same place."

The NZTA is reminding drivers to plan ahead to avoid delays and stay safe on the roads as school holidays draw to a close.

Traditional pinch points across the upper North Island included the state highway 1 and 2 interchange between Auckland and Coromandel, and between Puhoi and Warkworth, north of Auckland.

In the south, the alternate highway between Picton and Christchurch could be congested.

Traffic today was likely to be heavy from the middle of the day, a spokesman said.

Former Supercar racer and NZ motorsport legend Greg Murphy. Photo / Peter Meecham
Former Supercar racer and NZ motorsport legend Greg Murphy. Photo / Peter Meecham