Top cop urges care as road toll mounts

A top road cop is urging drivers to take care as they head home from holiday today following four fatal crashes in as many days.

Three people have died in crashes this weekend, bringing this year's road toll to four.

Police said one person was killed when a car crashed into a tree and burst into flames in Bay of Plenty this morning. The fatality came after two people died in separate crashes yesterday, and a motorcyclist was killed on Thursday.

Assistant Commissioner of Road Policing, Dave Cliff, said any death was too many and this year's road toll was already "a terrible waste of human life".

He urged drivers returning from holiday destinations to take care on the roads today.

Traffic was likely to be congested on the roads into Auckland from Coromandel and Northland today, so drivers needed to be patient and accept it would take longer to get home.

"You're better to arrive safe and uninjured than try and rush and never get home at all," he said.

"The weather is terrible, so the simple reminders about turning headlights on - you still see people with no lights or driving with park lights, which are completely useless."

Mr Cliff said drivers needed to keep speeds down and increase following distances so they had more time to stop on wet roads.

Drivers should also make sure the road ahead was clear before overtaking other traffic.

"Probably the most dangerous thing people will be doing is overtaking. Overtaking typically involves driving on the wrong side of the road at speed."

This morning's fatality was the second this weekend involving a car crashing into a tree. Police said the driver, who was the only person in the car, was dead when emergency services arrived at the scene on Thornton Rd, just north of Whakatane, about 6am.

Firefighters extinguished the flames, which had engulfed the car, and were helping police with their investigation.

Yesterday morning, 38-year-old Georgina Rawinia Rikiti died in hospital after the car she was driving crashed into a tree on Astley Ave in New Lynn, Auckland.

Police said a serious crash unit investigation was expected to take several weeks.

Last night, a man was killed when his motorcycle collided with a car on State Highway 1 in Waikato.

Police said the car's occupants were treated for non-life threatening injuries after the crash near Taupiri about 10pm. The police serious crash unit was investigating.

Another motorcyclist was "very lucky" to have survived a collision with a bus on a railway overbridge in Horowhenua yesterday, police said.

The man suffered moderate injuries to his lower back and cuts to his body after the crash on SH1 near Whakahoro Rd about 4.20pm. Nobody in the bus was reported injured.

KILLER HOLIDAYS

A total of 18 people died in January last year - the lowest toll for the month on record, and 16 fewer than the average January toll for the past five years.

Figures comparing this year's road toll with the same time last year are not yet available.

The first fatality this year, on Thursday, added to the official holiday road toll. Seven people, including two children, died between 4pm on Christmas Eve and 6am on Friday.

Last year's annual road toll of 254 was the lowest in the past 60 years.

ROAD FATALITIES THIS YEAR

* One person was killed after a car crashed into a tree and burst into flames north of Whakatane this morning

* A man was killed after his motorcycle collided with a car on SH1 near Taupiri, between Huntly and Ngaruawahia in Waikato, last night

* Georgina Rawinia Rikiti, 38, died in hospital after her car crashed into a tree in New Lynn, west Auckland, yesterday morning

* Havelock North man Norman John Lessells, 52, died in hospital after his motorcycle collided with a light truck east of Taihape on Thursday.

- Matthew Backhouse of APNZ

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