It has been the worst week on New Zealand roads in 16 years, with 26 people killed.

And the Government says that while it is rapidly upgrading the most dangerous roads in the country, it will take some time before its safety changes will have a significant impact on the road toll.

Four people died yesterday in crashes in Christchurch, Te Awamutu and Nelson.

The last time more than 26 people died in a seven-day period was April 2003, a Ministry of Transport spokesman said. The most since records began in the mid-1980s was 31 in a week.

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"The last week has been a tragedy," said Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter.

"One of the most heartbreaking things is how many young people lost their lives."

Three babies were among the victims, and several children and teenagers also died.

It is a year since Genter set a goal of reducing road deaths to zero and outlined plans to spend more on safety infrastructure and lower speed limits.

Asked what had been done so far, she said median barriers, side barriers, and rumble strips had been installed on the most dangerous rural highways.

Another $1.4 billion will be spent on upgrading highway black spots and local roads over the next three years.

"It will take time," Genter said. "We need a sustained commitment across engineering, enforcement and education to see a substantial decrease in deaths and serious injuries."

"This is a multi-year project which New Zealand is embarking on. It will be worth it. We know it can be done. And we can't tolerate this number of deaths on our roads."

Three of this week's fatal crashes involved motorcycles.

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Among the Government's proposed safety changes are minimum standards for vehicles, in particular motorbikes, as new technology becomes available.

Two weeks ago, the Ministry of Transport proposed compulsory anti-locking brakes for all new motorbikes from November. ABS brakes, which reduce stopping distance and wheel lock, could reduce motorbike accidents by 30 per cent.

"People make mistakes," Genter said. "The key thing is to make sure the environment in which they make those mistakes is more forgiving so they walk away from a crash when it happens."

In the most deadly crash this week, near Taupō, some of the five people killed were not wearing seatbelts.

Genter said the Government was targeting areas and groups which were found to be less likely to wear seatbelts. These included young Māori men in rural areas like the East Coast.

So far this year, 110 people have died on New Zealand roads. That is on par with last year's toll, which was the worst in nearly a decade.


DEADLY WEEK ON NZ ROADS
FRIDAY MARCH 29
• Miramar, Wellington - car v pedestrian, one man in his 80s dead.
• Kinleith, South Waikato, truck v truck, one dead. Dwayne Adam John Maker, 37, from Taupō.
• Wairakei, car v motorcycle, one dead. Colin Stephenson, 59, from Katikati.
SATURDAY MARCH 30
South Taranaki - single-car crash, two dead. Tadhg McColl and William Wallace, both 18 years old and from South Taranaki.
Topuni, Kaipara - car v car, two dead. Janiah Fairburn, 20, and daughter Azarliyah, 2.
SUNDAY MARCH 31
Brightwater, Tasman - single motorcycle crash, 1 dead.
MONDAY APRIL 1
Puhinui, Auckland - single-car crash, 1 dead.
Ashburton - car v car, three dead. Chante Alissa Harmer, 30, Te Awanuiarangi Shayelous-Jay Matenga Tapiata-Harmer, 1, Wysdom Amara Francis Tony Jane Tapiata-Harmer, eight months.
Kinleith, Taupō - single-car crash, five dead. Peter Rangikataua, 44, Michelle Morgan-Rangikataua, 15, Aroha Morgan-Rangikataua, 14, Kahukura Morgan-Rangikataua, 12, of Rotorua and Rangi Rangikataua. 26, from Atiamuri.
TUESDAY APRIL 2
Te Puke - car v car, one dead.
WEDNESDAY APRIL 3
Rangiotu, near Palmerston North - single-car crash, one dead.
THURSDAY APRIL 4
Tikokino, Hastings District, single-car crash, one dead.
Mangatainoka, Tararua - car v car, two dead.
FRIDAY APRIL 5
Christchurch - truck v car, two dead (including 12-year-old).
Nelson - car v cyclist. 1 dead
Te Awamutu - car v motorcycle, one dead.