2022 deadliest year on New Zealand's roads in four years - provisional data

New Zealand's road toll has shot up back to pre-pandemic levels after the deadliest year on our roads since 2018.

Provisional figures show 377 people were killed in crashes in 2022, the Automobile Association (AA) said. The Ministry of Transport, which holds the official crash death statistics, is yet to confirm the exact number, but their provisional information also shows there were 377 road deaths last year.

New Zealand's road fatalities over the last five years, according to the AA, are:

  • 2018: 378
  • 2019: 352
  • 2020: 318
  • 2021: 319
  • 2022: 377.

This number includes the Christmas/New Year holiday road toll, which currently sits at 14.

AA road safety spokesperson Dylan Thomsen said more needs to be done to reduce road deaths.

"We had a couple of years where we saw fewer deaths because of lockdowns and restrictions on movement through the COVID-19 response, but it seems we're back to where we left off," he said.

Police are urging motorists to take care given the "sobering" holiday road toll.

Assistant Commissioner Bruce O'Brien said 14 deaths so far during the Christmas/New Year period is "completely unacceptable" and is a "tragic reminder" of the realities of road crashes.

"That's 14 people who leave grieving loved ones behind at what is supposed to be a happy and relaxing time of year," he said.

"Our thoughts go out to those people who are dealing with the very worst of circumstances."

Asst Cmmr O'Brien added that, in order to stay safe, all passengers should buckle up, drivers shouldn't be impaired or fatigued, the speed limit must be obeyed, and distractions like phones need to be put away.

"But we also need people to be patient," he said.

"There will be high volumes of traffic on the roads and delays will be inevitable at peak times.

"Please, stay calm - treat the people in the cars around you like they're your own family.

"You could also consider delaying your departure or taking a few extra stops along the way – make the most of summer and get home safely."

The Government's Road to Zero strategy set out a pathway to reduce fatalities by 40 percent between 2020 and 2030. But Thomsen said interventions and initiatives are not being introduced quickly enough.

"The Government has started lowering speed limits to reduce speed-related harm in some areas, but road maintenance started falling behind years ago - it's all started coming to a head with the spotlight being put on potholes this year," he said.

"Improvements to our roads have also been too slow with the installation of protective upgrades like safety barriers well behind schedule."

Thomsen said Road to Zero's target is to install 1000km of safety barriers between 2020 and 2030, but only 50km was added to New Zealand's roads in the 2019/20 and 2020/21 financial years. 

Dr Fergus Tate, who researched the impacts of reduced speed limits on three stretches of highway in the North Island, told Newshub that reducing the road toll will involve a "multitude of measures", with speed being one of them.

The findings of Tate's research were published in an August report prepared for NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi.

"Typically, we found for the three case studies that we looked at - and they varied. The reduction in the rate of deaths and serious injuries was about 30 percent," said Dr Tate, who is also the technical director at consulting company WSP.

But he said speed isn't the only issue on New Zealand's roads because "not just one thing is the answer".

"We need to look at the behaviours around drinking and driving, distraction - those types of things."

Waka Kotahi said in 2023, New Zealanders will see the installation of more side and median barriers, more police enforcement targeting high-risk driving, speed limit changes, and more walking and cycling infrastructure.

They added that Kiwis going on road trips should plan ahead and use Waka Kotahi's holiday journeys traffic prediction tool to get to their destination safely.

People should also check their car is safe before heading off, keep speeds down, drive sober, watch for signs of fatigue, and share the driving, if possible, Waka Kotahi said.