Holiday driving - facts, figures and tips


Holidays are a time to relax, celebrate and enjoy life, but the Christmas-New Year period can also be a particularly dangerous time on New Zealand roads.

On average, 14 people have been killed and another 450 injured during each of the past five holiday periods. Crashes occur over the Christmas-New Year period for several reasons:

  • traffic volume is heavier – more vehicles on the road means more risk of crashes
  • many people are driving on unfamiliar roads
  • fatigue sets in with people driving long hours – often early morning or late evening
  • driving can be stressful and frustrating due to heat, traffic jams, noisy children, family tensions and general end-of-year tiredness
  • people on holiday can let down their guard when it comes to road safety -  ie speeding, driving when tired, not buckling up
  • there is an increased incidence of drink-driving during holiday periods.

But driving during the holidays doesn’t have to be stressful or dangerous if you take a little time to make sure that you and your vehicle are safe before hitting the road. Plan ahead, schedule rest stops and allow plenty of time – make the journey part of the holiday. If you plan ahead, it's easy to avoid the worst peak traffic periods when many highways become congested. To help reduce congestion, passing lanes are closed to prevent further delays where the traffic merges at the end of lanes and alternative routes are suggested.

Follow the tips and advice compiled here by NZTA – they’ll help keep you and your family safe on the roads these holidays.


Holiday driving often means spending many hours behind the wheel. Long trips are tiring, and fatigue can be deadly behind the wheel - driver fatigue was a factor in 54 road deaths and nearly 1,000 injuries last year.

There are some simple ways to avoid fatigue and improve your alertness:

  • Get plenty of sleep before your journey, and try to drive at times of the day when you are normally awake.
  • If possible, share the driving.
  • Take your time and plan for rest breaks every couple of hours. Get out of your vehicle and take a short walk or do some other exercise to get your blood flowing and improve alertness. If you feel tired, take a short nap (less than 40 minutes).
  • Don’t drink and drive, and don’t speed. Many fatigue crashes also involve these two factors.
  • Use air conditioning if your vehicle has it. While it will increase fuel consumption, cool air will also keep you more alert and help avoid frustration and stress - major causes of fatigue.

Vehicle preparation and packing

Have your vehicle checked before traveling. Most garages offer safety checks for tyre tread and pressure, lights, brakes, cooling systems and other components. A well-tuned vehicle is also more efficient, so you’ll save money by cutting down on fuel consumption. Make sure everything is securely stowed when you pack your vehicle. Even small objects can become dangerous missiles in the event of a sudden stop or a crash. 

Trailers and caravans

Check all towing attachments and make sure the couplings are compatible. Also remember to check the safety chain, trailer lights, tyres and brakes. Remember that if you are towing a trailer your maximum speed limit on the open road is 90 km/h. Keep left and pull over when it is safe to let other vehicles pass.  Load heavy objects evenly over all of the axles.

Keep your cool

Driving can be a frustrating experience at the best of times. Add in the busy roads and stifling heat of the holidays and your patience can evaporate very quickly. For safety’s sake don’t let that happen. There are simple and easy ways to keep your cool and stay in control:

  • Be courteous - let others merge into traffic and indicate before turning or changing lanes.
  • Keep left unless passing. If you’re a slower driver, pull over when you can to let others pass.
  • Be patient and don’t be provoked by other drivers' aggressive behaviour.
  • Remember that trucks and towing vehicles have lower speed limits. Wait for a passing lane or until you can see clear road ahead of you and enough space to overtake safely.

Buckle up

Too many family holidays are marred by tragedy when a crash occurs and people aren’t properly restrained. Drivers are legally responsibility for making sure that passengers under the age of 15 are securely restrained with either a safety belt or child restraint. The law requires children under five to be properly restrained by an approved child restraint suitable to their size and weight. There is a $150 fine for each person not buckled up.

Share the road

Traffic volumes increase significantly during the holidays. You will be sharing the road with other cars, as well as cyclists, heavy trucks, buses, campervans and vehicles towing boats or caravans. Always keep a safe following distance between yourself and the vehicle in front. This gives you a safe stopping distance should the vehicle in front of you stop suddenly.

Keep an eye out for kids

Watch out for children on the road. Young cyclists and pedestrians can be unpredictable, as they are poor judges of vehicle speed. Kids may also be learning to ride new bikes over the holidays. 

Historical Christmas-New Year Road Trauma Statistics

The official Christmas-New Year holiday period for 2008/09 begins at 4pm on Wednesday 24 December and runs through to 6am on Monday 5 January. During the 2007/08 holiday period there were 16 fatal crashes and 252 reported injury crashes, resulting in 18 deaths, 65 serious injuries and 349 minor injuries. The most common factors contributing to crashes over the holiday period last year were drink-driving, travelling too fast for the conditions, loss of control, failure to give way and fatigue.

Year Deaths Injuries
1980/81 32 481
1981/82 35 602
1982/83 18 473
1983/84 17 523
1984/85 13 439
1985/86 25 532
1986/87 31 554
1987/88 22 544
1988/89 16 594
1989/90 19 596
1990/91 18 487
1991/92 17 537
1992/93 29 528
1993/94 17 372
1994/95 19 542
1995/96 26 598
1996/97 14 432
1997/98 26 387
1998/99 24 391
1999/00 17 398
2000/01 20 409
2001/02 21 417
2002/03 17 323
2003/04 13 408
2004/05 11 513
2005/06 22 487
2006/07 9 442
2007/08 16 414