Rotorua's Sue and Don Gunn know the horrible feeling of that late-night knock at the door from a police office delivering heartbreaking news.

On Christmas Eve 2017, the Gunns were told an international student they had learned to love like one of their own daughters had been killed instantly in a three-car smash north of Rotorua.

As Rotorua reflects on a horror year on the city's roads with 11 people being killed in road smashes, the Gunns are urging all motorists to "just be careful" these holidays.

Rotorua's road toll has shot up from just four deaths in 2017 to the highest it's been in years.

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It's been a bad year for the entire Bay of Plenty with 51 people dying, compared with 47 in 2017 and 46 in 2016.

Jie Hu, known as Sunny, 23, was killed in a crash outside Rotorua on Christmas Eve in 2017. Photo / Supplied
Jie Hu, known as Sunny, 23, was killed in a crash outside Rotorua on Christmas Eve in 2017. Photo / Supplied

Sue Gunn said her family burned a candle on Christmas Eve this year in memory of Jie Hu, known as Sunny, who was killed while travelling back to Rotorua to spend Christmas with her host family.

The 23-year-old struck the back of a vehicle at the intersection of State Highway 5 and Maraeroa Rd about 9pm and died at the scene.

The Gunns got a knock at the door from a policeman at 11.30pm that night.

Sue Gunn said her family used a translator at Toi Oho Mai to send Sunny's family an email in Beijing to let them know they were thinking of them on December 24.

"We just wanted them to know she was in our thoughts ... It was just so tragic, she was so young."

She said the roads were a scary place at this time of year and she urged parents to keep tabs on their children and ensure they messaged when they got to their destinations.

"Take rests, drive to the conditions and don't be in such a rush. Trying to gain five minutes is not going to matter at the end of the day."

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Flowers and bandannas left at the corner of Clayton Rd and Edmund Rd where motorcyclist Hona Robinson died. Photo / File
Flowers and bandannas left at the corner of Clayton Rd and Edmund Rd where motorcyclist Hona Robinson died. Photo / File

Rotorua police road policing commander Senior Sergeant Denis Murphy said any death was one too many.

"There have been 51 fatalities on Bay of Plenty roads so far in 2018. In reality that is 51 of our friends, neighbours and family who have not sat down to Christmas dinner with their loved ones this year.

"Police are committed to reducing death and injury on our roads and we work alongside our road safety partners to do this. But we cannot do it alone, we need everyone's help to keep our roads safe. Road safety is everybody's responsibility."

The damage following a fatal crash on Malfroy Rd in November where a man in his 20s died following a police chase. Photo / File
The damage following a fatal crash on Malfroy Rd in November where a man in his 20s died following a police chase. Photo / File

He said police's role was prevention and enforcement and they would target known hot spots and risky behaviour.

"We know there are four main behaviours which contribute to death and injury on our roads, and these are what we address when we interact with people and share road safety messages."

He said those risky types of behaviour were people driving too fast for the conditions, driving while impaired by alcohol, drugs, or fatigue, driving while distracted – including using a cellphone - and not being properly restrained by a seatbelt or appropriate child restraint.

The scene of the fatal motorcycle crash on Devon St that resulted in Thomas Hunuhunu dying. Photo / File
The scene of the fatal motorcycle crash on Devon St that resulted in Thomas Hunuhunu dying. Photo / File

"Police can't control the actions of every driver 24/7. We can't be beside you in the car telling you to slow down, or to put your seatbelt on. Road safety is something we all have to take responsibility for.

"We urge you to drive to the conditions, wear your seatbelt, don't drive tired or after drinking, and put your cellphone away. No one wants themselves or their loved ones sharing the road with people who aren't paying attention or who are taking unnecessary risks."

Police say too many people have died on Rotorua roads this year. Photo / File
Police say too many people have died on Rotorua roads this year. Photo / File

The 2018 victims

January 22, Remegio Sumoor, age 32, Ashpit Rd

March 12, Hori Kaiwai, age 67, Maraeroa Rd

March 18, Chase Manuel, age 21, State Highway 5 Golden Springs

March 31, Hona Robinson, age 19, Edmund Rd/Clayton Rd

May 23, Ngaire Woods, age 80, State Highway 33 and 30

July 30, Rudolf Hoogenboom, age 84, Ngongotaha Rd

September 15, Nikora Apirana, age 50, Settlers Rd

September 26, Francesca Hawkes-Buchanan, age 87, Arawa St

October 11, Thomas Hunuhunu, age 47, Devon St

November 2, interim name suppression, age 20s, Malfroy Rd

November 28, State Highway 30A, (No record of first name) Porter, State Highway 30A

The 2017 victims
February 26: Pauline Te Kaawa, Ruatahuna Rd
April 24: Nelson Hei Hei, State Highway 36
October 19: Aleshia McGrath, State Highway 5, Waipa
December 24: Sunny (Jie) Hu, State Highway 5, State Highway 5 and Maraeroa Rd

Rotorua road deaths
2012 - 4
2013 - 8
2014 - 4
2015 - 5
2016 - 8
2017 - 4
2018 - 11

Around the region 2018 - 2017 - 2016
Rotorua 11- 4 - 8
Taupo 15 - 22 - 13
Western Bay 18 - 14 - 19
Eastern Bay 7 - 7 - 6
Bay of Plenty total: 51 - 47 - 46