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Published: 2009-02-02 00:00:00

Waikato’s road toll was again the highest in the country last year, despite the number of deaths dropping from 89 the previous year to 74, says Regional Transport Committee chairman Norm Barker.

Cr Barker, of Environment Waikato, said it was disappointing to see that the Waikato regional council area again had the highest road toll despite intensive efforts to improve roads and educate drivers about risk factors.

"These grim statistics underline the importance of a new road safety campaign getting underway, and in other campaigns planned this year."

A report to today’s Regional Transport Committee meeting in Hamilton noted the national toll last year of 366 was the lowest in about 50 years, a drop thought to be partly influenced by high petrol prices keeping people off the roads.

In the Waikato, the 74 deaths last year was four under the annual average for 2004-2007.

"But the fact remains we are still recording the highest number of fatalities on a regional basis, at around 20 percent of the national total, and the committee will do all it can to help cut this toll further," said Cr Barker.

It was of particular concern that fatal numbers in the Matamata-Piako, South Waikato, Taupo and Waikato districts remained high.

Common factors in serious injury and fatal crashes throughout the Waikato were excessive speed and alcohol.

Regional road safety partners had got together a summer regional campaign targeting speed that was currently being rolled out. Education in autumn would focus on getting people to drive to the conditions, and the winter message will again encourage visibility through switching lights on while driving. In Taupo and South Waikato there will again be an emphasis on encouraging people not to cross the centreline.

"All of us – road safety agencies and drivers – need to keep our attention focused on safer driving. The body count in the Waikato is simply too high and we must make a concerted effort to improve our regional performance this year. Each of these deaths involves a human tragedy and we all need to do more to cut the toll."

Cr Barker noted another cause for concern nationally and in the Waikato was the rise in serious injury and fatal crashes involving motorcycles.

The committee heard that last year motorcyclists were estimated to make up two per cent of road users nationally but represented 13 per cent of fatalities and more than 20 per cent of ACC motor vehicle crash injury claims. Also, motorcycle crash deaths were on an upward trend.

The Hauraki and Thames-Coromandel districts in particular had very high levels of ACC claims from motorcyclists between 2005 and 2008, with claims amounting to more than $1 million worth from each area, the committee was told. Hauraki mayor John Tregidga noted the popularity of motorcycling on the Coromandel.

Cr Barker said further detailed investigation of motorcycle accident trends was warranted.

"We want to identify what is the best way of tackling motorcycling issues in our region."