July road toll near record low
Last month's road toll nearly equalled the record for the lowest July toll since recording began in 1965. The 34 people killed on the roads last month was one more than the all-time low, recorded in July 1979.
But while the news was encouraging for July, the overall road toll for 1999 remains slightly higher than at the same time last year - 296 people have been killed so far this year, compared to 290 in 1998.
"We're pleased at last month's low figures, but one month of good results isn't enough. We've already had six deaths in August, and the month has just begun. We want to see a consistent, long term and continuing decline in the number of people killed on our roads," said Reg Barrett, Director of Land Transport Safety.
But while there has been a slight increase in the number of road deaths over last year, there have actually been fewer fatal crashes so far this year - 247 compared to 255 in 1998. Mr Barrett said there were two main reasons why these lower crash figures weren't reflected in the road toll - an increase in fatalities on the open road and too many crashes resulting in multiple deaths.
"Over 80 percent of deaths this year have been on open roads, and we've had 12 crashes where three or more people have been killed. We lost six lives in a single crash in Taupo earlier in the year, and four teenagers died from a terrible crash in the Wairarapa to start this month," he said.
An open road is defined as one where the speed limit is 70 km/h or more. Open roads historically account for 69 percent of the road toll.
Mr Barrett said another concerning trend was the increasing road toll for older drivers - 73 people over the age of 60 have been killed on the roads so far this year, an increase of 20 road deaths from the same time last year for this age group.
Head-on crashes also continue to be a major contributor to the road toll, accounting for nearly 40 percent of deaths so far this year.
Mr Barrett said people had to use common sense and follow the basic road rules. "Drive to the conditions and slow down on the open road. Don't drink then drive. Wear your safety belt. And keep to your own side of the road. These are simple rules, but they save lives."