A "heartbreaking" 25 people have died on Bay of Plenty roads this year, giving the region the highest road toll in the country.

The 25 deaths mean the Bay of Plenty police district's road toll so far this year has increased 56 per cent compared to the same period last year, when there had been 16 deaths.

As of April 10, three people have died in the Western Bay, seven in the Eastern Bay, five in Rotorua and 10 in Taupō, the latter including five members of one family who died in a crash last month.

The three people who died in the Western Bay were Dennis Malcolm Hills of Pāpāmoa, a cyclist who died in a crash near Te Puke on Tuesday, Manepo Tapsell-Wafer, 21, who died on the Te Puke Highway last week, and 21-year-old Jessy James Ford who died in a motorcycle crash near Tauriko in February.

Advertisement
Manepo Tapsell-Wafer died instantly in a crash on Te Puke Highway on April 2. Photo /file
Manepo Tapsell-Wafer died instantly in a crash on Te Puke Highway on April 2. Photo /file

Inspector Brent Crowe, the Bay of Plenty road policing manager, said police were committed to reducing the road toll but could not do it alone.

"Distraction features prominently in recent crashes in the Bay of Plenty and we need every road user to remain solely focused on driving their vehicle, thus giving themselves a much greater chance of getting to their destination safely," he said.

Crowe said the number of drivers using cell phones was a major concern.

"This, along with driving at a safe speed, driving refreshed, not impaired by alcohol, drugs or fatigued and always, always wearing a seat belt, remains the focus for all Bay of Plenty police," he said.

Joint Road Safety Committee chairwoman Margaret Murray-Benge, a Western Bay District councillor, said the road toll was "heartbreaking".

She said it defied belief given well-publicised road safety messages.

"People should expect decent roads to ride and drive on, but at the same time, people do need to drive to the conditions and modify their unsafe driving behaviours," she said.

Maketū chief fire officer Shane Gourlay said the number of deaths was an "absolute tragedy".

Advertisement

He attended the crash near Te Puke on April 2 in which 21-year-old Manepo Tapsell- Wafer died, and was saddened at the loss of one of the district's potential future leaders.

Gourlay said the stark reality was the majority of fatal crashes were avoidable, and every death took a huge toll not only on victims' families, but on emergency services who had to deal with "horrific" crash scenes.

Katikati fire chief Joe Manukau agreed. He said the district's grim road toll had a "tragic" ripple effect.

Some people were quick to blame the state of the roads but driver behaviour was a contributing factor in most serious injury and fatal crashes, he said.

Colin Stephenson, 59, from Katikati was killed on March 29 after his motorcycle collided with a car. Photo/file
Colin Stephenson, 59, from Katikati was killed on March 29 after his motorcycle collided with a car. Photo/file

Rotorua senior station officer Paul Glanville said changing the "it won't happen to me" attitude was not easy to do.

"People taking risks, such as talking on their cellphone, or not wearing seat belts, are obviously not paying attention to road safety messages but why is hard to answer."

Caroline Perry, Brake New Zealand director, said: "We need to keep raising awareness of road safety issues and what road users can do to protect themselves and others.

"We also need safe speed limits, that match the conditions of our road, and we need to invest in measures such as median barriers that are proven to help prevent crashes."

Road toll as of April 10

Bay of Plenty: 25
Canterbury: 17
Central: 16
Northland: 10
Waikato: 9
Southern: 7
Counties Manukau: 7
Wellington: 5
Tasman: 4
Eastern: 4
Auckland: 4
Waitemata: 3
Unknown: 2
Total: 113

Source: Ministry of Transport