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Published: 2008-12-01 00:00:00

Waikato motorists are being urged to be especially vigilant driving over the holiday period despite new figures showing a dip in road fatalities so far this year.

The Waikato had 90 road deaths last year, the highest regional toll in the country.

But figures presented to today’s Regional Transport Committee meeting showed the regional toll is in line to be significantly down on that figure in 2008, with 57 deaths recorded so far this calendar year. That is the lowest level it has been at during the past decade.

The regional improvement is reflective of a downward trend in deaths nationally, with the Waikato’s share of the national toll running at about the same on a percentage basis.

It was too early to say what were the factors underpinning the decline in road deaths regionally this year, said committee chairman Norm Barker of Environment Waikato.

"It’s great to see that the Waikato’s toll has dipped substantially this year. Higher petrol prices may have played a part in keeping down the amount of time people spent driving," said Cr Barker.

But there was also evidence that injury claims to ACC as a result of Waikato crashes were up this year, as were motorcycle accidents in the region. And the number of fatalities this year in Matamata-Piako, Waipa and South Waikato looked set to end the year with tolls above their five-year average, Cr Barker said.

"Also, the holiday season is traditionally a high risk time for road deaths in the Waikato, with speed and alcohol contributing significantly to crashes.

"So we’re urging Waikato motorists to be especially vigilant over the coming month to help maintain the lid on our regional road toll. It would be tragic if people relaxed their vigilance due to the comparatively low toll so far this year and then we saw a major spike upwards in deaths during the holiday season.

"I’m hopeful that we can maintain the gains heading into the Christmas-New Year period, and thereby avoid having more death and injury blight Waikato people’s lives at a time when they should be enjoying themselves with family and friends."