Motorists urged to take care after holiday road toll almost triple last year's

Holidaymakers are being urged to take extra care heading home this week after New Zealand's holiday road toll almost tripled last year's.

Eleven people have died on New Zealand roads during the 2020/2021 holiday period, which ended at 6am on Monday morning.

One of those was 6-year-old Myka Tuala, of Wellington, who was killed in a two-car collision near Whangarei on New Year's Day.

Family representative and Myka's uncle Gary told Magic Talk the family has been left devastated by the death.

"We got a call about the tragedy on the afternoon after New Year's Day," he said on Tuesday. "Very, very scary stuff because we thought 2020 was finally over, what a year that has been, and we can finally set that aside and get started on a fresh new year and then this news hit us. [It's] very, very fresh, very raw."

He said it was heartbreaking to lose Myka ahead of his seventh birthday, for which they had planned a onesie party, and the family is taking each day hour by hour.

"Everyone is in quite a state of shock and confusion and anger at why. He was just a young, sweet boy.

"You read these news articles about the road toll and you just kind of skim through them - and you think, 'what would I do in that situation?' 

"It's pretty gut-wrenching to find out it's someone you know."

The death toll is significantly more than last year's where only four people were killed on New Zealand roads.

"This is a tragedy that plays out every holiday period," AA spokesperson Barney Irvine told Newshub.

"What we are seeing is a return to a normal number of fatalities after a very good year last year but other factors could be at play. 

"It is a needless loss of life and it just represents too many families just being devastated and it's just very sad."

He's concerned that COVID-19 restrictions may have played a role in the increase.

"It is possible that what we are seeing is more driving being done on the roads as a result of fewer Kiwis taking their holidays overseas and therefore taking their holidays in New Zealand. That adds up to more people on the road and more scope for accidents to happen, unfortunately."

Police Insp Peter McKennie said that every death is "no short of tragic".

"There's whānau, friends, work, education, colleagues who are going to be affected by this. For loved ones, Christmas and the New Year and future will always be an anniversary of that death."

He agreed there appeared to be an increase in domestic travel around New Zealand with the borders closed due to COVID-19, adding to the risk.

"There are more vehicles on the road so when someone makes a mistake and then there is more likely to be a second vehicle involved and it increases the chances that something is going to go seriously wrong and lead to serious injuries," McKennie said. 

"Some people take serious risks, or what they think are calculated risks, but they are risks nonetheless, and other people make mistakes which is just human nature."

He said motorists need to be cautious on the roads, particularly during the holiday period.

"People just need to travel at the best speed, and in a matter, that gives you the best chance of responding to the unexpected happening."