By Eva Corlett of RNZ

The rate of people dying on our roads is increasing, after a record low during lockdown.

Drivers are being urged to slow down, check their cars and take extra care as more traffic and pedestrians hit the streets.

For more than seven weeks the streets and highways were nearly silent amid strict rules about non-essential travel.

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Within the lockdown period, fatal crashes slipped to a record low of 9 in April.

But as the country opened up, drivers got back behind the wheel, and 13 people have now died on our roads since the start of May.

The latest deaths include a young couple in their 20s in Hawke's Bay, a woman in her 30s from Tokoroa, and a man in his 70s from Taradale.

The increasing road toll was both disappointing and no surprise, national road policing manager Acting Superintendent Gini Welch said.

"As volumes increase on our road, so does what we call the collective risk."

"Think about each other and take your time, be patient, be kind. That applies to your driving as well as every other part of your life," she said.

Motorists have returned to Auckland's Southern Motorway as 400,000 New Zealanders return to work after a month of level 4 restrictions. Video / Will Trafford

Automobile Association road safety spokesperson Dylan Thomsen warns that drivers might be a bit rusty after weeks off the road and it's not just drunk or speeding drivers taking risks.

"We've certainly heard anecdotal reports that since people have been back on the roads they've noticed others haven't been driving as well as normal.

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"Give yourself more of a buffer, leave more following distance, give yourself more time, because you and thousands of others out there may not be at 100 per cent with driving at the moment," he said.

Thomsen said it was also time to fix up a lot of the country's shoddy roads.

"Things like adding median barriers, improving intersections, widening shoulders. We have a lot of highways that carry a lot of traffic and they are narrow, with just a strip of paint down the middle.

"The potential of tragedy is just way too huge."

Transport Agency spokesperson Mark Owen offered some important safety reminders.

"Drive to the appropriate speed, particularly keep an eye out for roadworks, fatigue is another big one so be mindful of that, watch for the distraction factor and check your vehicles - they've obviously been stored at home for a while so check your tyres, tread and wipers."

As bars reopened this week, the risk of drunk driving would go up.

Superintendent Welch said officers would keep a close eye out for those flouting the rules, and there would be extra police presence around bars.

The Ministry of Transport said there had been 106 road fatalities year to date, 50 fewer than at the same time last year.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website