It will be "many decades" before New Zealand sees a substantial change in the road toll, says Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter.

Her comments come after New Zealand experienced its highest road toll since 2009, with almost 400 deaths last year.

There were nine deaths on the road over the Christmas holiday period; three fewer than over the same period last year.

Genter said the Government was in the process of implementing its road safety strategy – a strategy she said would save lives.


But this would take time, she said.

"The reality is these things take time and [there's] a huge amount of road upgrades that need to be completed."

In December last year, the Government committed $1.4 billion to making roads safer.

The policy, called the Safe Network Programme, aims to make 870km of high volume, high-risk State Highways safer by 2021 with improvements like median and side barriers, rumble strips, and shoulder widening.

That policy strategy will be in place in 2020, but Genter said it would be a process of "many decades to substantially bring down deaths and serious injuries on our roads".

"We're talking about road deaths and serious injury having increased over a five year period. It took time for that to start happening, it's going to take time for it to turn around as well."

In 2007, the road toll climbed to 421 people – that figure fell to 253 in 2013 before going back up to 382 last year.

In terms of how long it would take to bring the road toll back down, Genter said the Government would be working on setting those targets.


"The targets haven't been set exactly, but we're making the improvements to the roads and we're building up safer speeds. I want to see this happen as soon as possible but we live in a democracy so there are certain approaches we have to take.

"But the quicker we can roll out safer speeds, the sooner we will see a reduction in deaths and serious injuries."

Genter said the Government was moving as fast as it could, but she said it was important it got people on board with its strategy.

"It would be great if we didn't have to have a debate about whether speed is the appropriate way to save lives because we know it is. It reduces deaths and serious injuries having more appropriate speeds."

She said the Government has authority over the State Highway network and that was what it was moving forward on but local government had responsibility over local roads.

She said some local bodies are already taking action and moving forward but "we need this to happen right across the country".

National MP Nikki Kaye said her thoughts are with those that have lost loved ones on the roads.


"The holiday road toll is down which is positive, but we are concerned that the overall road toll for 2018 is higher than the previous year.

"Every person who loses their life on our roads has loved ones who will be grieving. We hope that the investment made by the Government will lead to fewer people dying on our roads."