Last year’s national road toll was the lowest in almost 60 years, and a senior Invercargill police officer says a shift in people’s attitudes is partly responsible.
However, according to Highway Patrol, tourists are causing problems on Southland’s roads.
Highway patrol supervisor Sergeant Geoff Sutherland said there were few incidents because Southlanders were being vigilant and keeping their speed down, but he was concerned by the number of complaints about tourists.
“We have had a lot of complaints about tourists’ traffic and their speed, particularly in the Te Anau and Milford areas.”
Mr Sutherland said an Israeli tourist, who was arrested for dangerous driving, would be appearing in court in Invercargill on Thursday.
“The tourist overtook a bus on a blind corner, which had a campervan driving towards him. The vehicles had to swerve to avoid a serious crash.”
Crossing the centre line, speed and overtaking were some complaints made by bus drivers who reported incidents to police.
“We have had to up the ante on the roads where tourists are concerned,” Mr Sutherland said.
The provisional road toll of 284 for 2011 is the first time the toll has been below 300 since 1952. That year, 272 people were killed on the roads.
The NZ Transport Agency website shows seven of these were in Southland, one of the lowest rates in the country.
Figures from the AA show there was a 42 per cent improvement on the previous year.
Agency figures for 2010 show that from January 1 there were 369 road deaths in New Zealand, with 12 of these in Southland.
Senior Sergeant Dave Raynes, of Invercargill, said the lower road toll last year was very pleasing.
He believed the improvement was the accumulation of several things, including a fundamental shift in people’s attitudes.
“It has become socially unacceptable to drink and drive, and to speed. There has clearly been an attitudinal change,” he said.
Enforcement, education and the redesign of roads had all played a part.
Yesterday afternoon, the holiday road toll had reached 17. NZ Transport Agency statistics show Southland’s toll was zero for the 11th consecutive year.
The 23-year-old woman involved in a head-on collision near Orepuki on New Year’s Eve remained in a critical condition in Dunedin Hospital last night.
The zero toll for the region was very good, and police had been out in force, Mr Raynes said. The public, by and large, had been well behaved.
The holiday period began at 4.30pm on December 23 and runs until 6am on January 4.
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said the record low toll last year was encouraging but road users needed to remain vigilant and keep the toll down.
“The last time New Zealand had a road toll this low the population was half what it is now and there were less than half a million vehicles on the road, compared to the 3.2 million we have now,” Mr Brownlee said.
“But even with this result, too many people are still dying on our roads. Road deaths leave families, friends and communities devastated, and road accidents leave many people living with the effects of serious injuries.”
Mr Brownlee and Police Minister Anne Tolley said the current holiday road toll illustrated why there was no room for complacency.
“The ongoing challenge is to keep the road toll low throughout 2012 and beyond.”
Provisional data for 2011 indicates that alcohol was a factor in 38 per cent of fatal crashes and speed a factor in 26 per cent.
The Transport Ministry will be carrying out research to help improve understanding of the factors that led to last year’s low road toll.