29 Apr 2019

April road toll equals 10-year high after Taupō tragedy

9:36 am on 29 April 2019

April has been the deadliest month on the roads in 10 years.

Stock photo.

Stock photo. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The Ministry of Transport has confirmed 45 people have been killed so far this month.

April began with a horrific week on the roads, including a crash that killed five people from the same family near the Kinleith Forest. An 11-year-old-boy was the sole survivor.

The crash was about 10km from the site of yesterday morning's carnage where eight people were killed north of Taupō after an SUV and a van collided head on.

The driver of the van and six of its passengers were killed, as well as the driver of the other vehicle. A nine-year-old boy is the sole survivor, and is in a stable condition at Waikato Hospital.

Police Inspector Brent Crowe said initial observations suggested that the northbound van crossed the double yellow lines on the road, which was single lane each way.

"It is early days and a thorough investigation will plot all of the cause factors and give us some answers that we'll be able to provide to the coroner."

Mr Crowe said he could not confirm any details about the deceased as of yet or whether the occupants were wearing seat belts.

"We're still working on a process of identification and reconciliation process, in relation to the deceased so it'll probably be a few more hours, if not days, before we confirm the identities and where they were living.

"The vehicles have sustained a significant impact and it's going to take quite a detailed forensic analysis of the vehicles to determine if seat belts had been worn."

He said drivers needed to be wary of seasonal changes, driving to conditions, and make sure to stick to safety while driving.

"Something else which is an emerging issue for us is distraction ... one of the key ones we'll be focusing on is cellphones. I'm not in anyway indicating that cellphones or any of those were involved in yesterday's crash those are just generic messages we need to keep in mind for all New Zealanders."

Taupō District Mayor David Trewavas said these types of tragedies were always difficult for the community.

"We just can't take too much more of this I can tell you because it's not only devastating for the families involved. It's all the emergency services, farmers up the road, the neighbours, people that are coming across the scene ... they never get over this," he said.

"Dare I say it, we've had enough of talking about these things. It just seems to be I'm having to front up quite regularly on this particular subject and it's just not on and I believe so avoidable."

Mr Trewavas said even though it was a busy high-speed zone, the crash site was on a reasonably easy corner of a well-maintained stretch of State Highway One.

"Had a bit of moisture overnight, so I would say there's been a bit of a slip on the road somewhere and the events unfolded. So it's certainly not a bad part of the road that's for sure, in my humble opinion, and I travel that road consistently."

He told Morning Report there was a monthly meeting with NZTA on road safety and improvements.

"There is a programme in place for more passing lanes and continuing improvement but, you know, people have got to take some responsibility too ... drivers have got to be so aware of the changing conditions."

The last time the death toll reached 45 in a single month was in April 2009, making this April the deadliest month since then.

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter said on average, one person died on New Zealand's roads every day and someone else was injured every hour of every day.

She said the government was working to make the roads safer and improve the safety of vehicles, but drivers also needed to be responsible.

The road toll so far this year is 137.

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