The unholy trinity on our roads: Alcohol, speed and inattention

Scene of the fatal crash in Dargaville (Newshub.)
Scene of the fatal crash in Dargaville (Newshub.)

Police don't know why this Queen's Birthday road toll is the highest in 27 years, but suspect it'll be the usual culprits: alcohol, speed and inattention.

Over the long weekend, 11 people died on New Zealand roads, including:

Supt Steve Greally, national manager of road policing, says it'll be some time before police know exactly what caused each accident.

He told Paul Henry it's frustrating when messages about road safety aren't heeded, but that "we're all human and we all make mistakes".

"It's a broken record, and it's stuck -- we just really need people to take responsibility for what they're doing," says Supt Greally.

Despite this year's high, road deaths are trending downward. The past five years have been the safest on New Zealand roads since the 1940s, and per capita death rates are a quarter what they were in the late 1980s.

Caroline Perry, director of road safety charity Brake NZ, believes it's only a matter of time before we do reach a road toll of zero.

"It is a combination of having the roads having the right safe speed limits in place, vehicle technology which is improving, the right infrastructure for people on foot and bikes, as well as education," she told Paul Henry.

"It's difficult to know exactly what works, and there's no single answer there. It is a combination of those messages, and it's frustrating when the messages don't get through."

Supt Greally says the hardest part for police is having to be the bearer of bad news.

"There's nothing in our role that actually prepares you to do that. It's such a human thing to see the terror and the horror of the whole thing in someone's eyes.

"You don't even know these people, you are ruining their world quite literally, and it's so unnecessary. It's so preventable."

Road Safety Minister Craig Foss says he has asked officials if there are any "commonalities" between the accidents, but also suspects the same old answers will come back.

"Sadly so much of our road toll is a combination of too much drink, drugs, far too excessive speed, fleeing from police, no seatbelts, no helmets. We'll see if there's any common denominators here over the weeks. Quite honestly, I shrug my shoulders."

The worst year on Kiwi roads was 1973, with 843 deaths.

The worst Queen's Birthday toll also came in 1973, with 24. The best was 2013, with zero.

"It's a lot better than it was 20 years ago, but one's too many… we have to do all we can in the education space, road engineering space, enforcement," says Mr Foss.