The beach is not a racetrack or a playground and it's just as dangerous as driving on the motorway.
That's the message from off-road experts in light of the fatal 4WD crash on Muriwai Beach that killed four people on Sunday, bringing the beach driving death toll up to seven so far this year.
Police are investigating how the latest crash happened, but have confirmed the 4WD was driving "at speed" along the water's edge when it either struck an object or hit sand before it flipped and rolled several times.
Aucklanders Imad Dib, Dilpreet Singh, Syed Haris Jafri and recent arrival from India Pulkit Malhotra died in the incident.
Data released by the Ministry of Transport shows 22 people have died on New Zealand beaches in the last 15 years, while more than 100 received serious injuries.
Four Wheel Drive Association president Tony Burgess said it came down to treating the beach with respect.
"There's a lot of people who think it's a racetrack out there, or a playground, but driving on the beach is just as difficult as driving on a busy motorway. You need to concentrate just as much.
"There's a lot less killed on beaches than on the road. It's unfortunate we've had a little bit of a spike at Muriwai but a massive number of people drive on Muriwai Beach," Mr Burgess said.
Muriwai was probably the most popular beach for people to drive on, ahead of the famous Ninety Mile Beach in Northland, he said.
A lot of drivers were not aware beaches had speed limits and there were a number of hazards to be aware of, Mr Burgess said.
"They're different hazards to what's on the motorway but there's just as many of them. You can go four or five metres up the beach and it looks exactly the same but the sand can be a lot different, a lot softer."
Ninety Mile Beach tour operator Cheryl Harrison said cars should not be allowed on the beach.
She owns Harrisons Cape Runner with her husband Murray Harrison, which runs tours in purpose-built coaches along Ninety Mile Beach and operates towing facilities to pull troubled cars - about one a day - from the sand.
Mrs Harrison said hazards on the beach changed daily.
"It's when they're travelling at speed or with no concern for others, like doing wheelies. They think because it's an open space and that they can do circles and figures eights and yahoo, sit on the bonnet.
"There's heaps [of dangers] and ... the beach changes daily. You can be driving along and it's like State Highway 1 then all of sudden there's a soft spot and you can get into difficulty," she said.
More restrictions should be in place but the trouble was policing it, Mrs Harrison said.
Many beaches in New Zealand, including Muriwai Beach and Ninety Mile Beach, meet the broad definition of "road" in New Zealand - meaning police can issue tickets for any illegal activity.
New Zealand Transport Agency spokesman Andrew Knackstedt said any driving behaviour which was illegal on a public road was also prohibited on a beach.
"Police cannot be everywhere all the time, and every driver is responsible for obeying the law, driving safely and avoiding behaviour which puts themselves or others at risk," Mr Knackstedt said.
Road policing national operations manager Inspector Peter McKennie said any beach with public access to vehicles was considered a road, and policed accordingly.
Police carry out road safety enforcement on beaches "proportionate to risk", he said.
"This is typically in the summer months in popular locations where there are large numbers of people using and accessing the beach," Mr McKennie said.
Beach drivers need to be licensed, be mindful of the surface they are driving on, drive to the conditions, and wear seat belts, he said.
He said police did not have infringement statistics broken down by "beach" because they were technically classed as a public road.
A permit is needed to drive on Muriwai Beach and can be obtained through the Auckland Council website.
An Auckland Council spokeswoman said, while not strictly prohibited, the council does not expect people to drive in the water as it is unsafe.
The speed limit around the Coast Rd entrance to Muriwai Beach is 30km/h but increases to 60km/h north of Okiritoto Stream.
This year, New Zealand has seen the highest annual number of people die in beach crashes since 2000.
Earlier this year, 9-year-old Rowan Willis from Auckland was killed when his go-kart hit soft sand and rolled on Ninety Mile Beach.
The second highest was 2004, when five people died as a result of beach crashes, including three who were killed in a 4WD crash on Muriwai Beach.
The dangers - what to keep an eye on:
• Speed: Every beach has a speed limit, so stick to it. Slow down if conditions deteriorate.
• Road rules: Wear a seatbelt at all times. Do not drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The same rules apply on beaches as on roads.
• Tides: Vehicle access to most beaches is restricted to three hours on either side of low tide only.
• Light: Always drive with headlights on. Keep an eye on light conditions.
• Sand: Drive on the hard part of the beach, below the low-tide line. Watch out for soft patches of sand. Do not drive or park on sand dunes.
• Natural hazards: Watch out for logs, partially submerged objects and uneven sand.
• People and animals: Always slow down and be considerate around other beach-users.
• Turns: Avoid making sharp turns at speed, front wheels can dig into the sand and cause your vehicle to flip.
• Safety: Always drive to the conditions. Take safety equipment, including a rope and spade, to get out of sticky situations.
Beach driving crashes by the numbers:
• 2015: 7 dead; 5 serious injuries; 3 minor injuries
• 2014: 0 dead; 9 serious injuries; 7 minor injuries
• 2013: 0 dead; 6 serious injuries; 11 minor injuries
• 2012: 1 dead; 7 serious injuries; 5 minor injuries
• 2011: 0 dead; 7 serious injuries; 7 minor injuries
(Next highest - 2004: 5 dead; 9 serious injuries; 12 minor injuries)
(Source: Ministry of Transport)