The road toll for last year was the second-lowest in the past 60 years, but showed a worrying increase in crashes with multiple deaths and motorcycle fatalities, authorities say.
Transport figures show 306 people died on the roads in 2012, compared to 284 in 2011, 375 in 2010, and 385 in 2009.
The 2011 toll is the lowest since records began in 1952.
"Although the 2012 toll is one of the lowest on record, I'm saddened that it is an increase on the 2011 toll," Associate Minister of Transport Simon Bridges said.
"While the full reasons behind the 2012 toll won't be known for some time, we do know that both the number of crashes with multiple fatalities and the number of motorcyclist fatalities increased."
The number of crashes in 2012 with three or more fatalities was eight (resulting in 30 deaths) compared with one (resulting in three deaths) in 2011.
The number of motorcyclist fatalities increased from 33 in 2011 to 45 in 2012. That equated to 15 per cent of all road deaths in 2012.
"This is a reminder for drivers of their responsibility to their passengers to get them to their destination safely," Bridges said.
"It is also a timely reminder that we need to be vigilant regarding the more vulnerable road users like motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians."
Superintendent Carey Griffiths, the national manager of road policing said overall the road toll was trending downwards, and was a far cry from the 843 deaths of 1973 and 795 of 1987.
"Of particular note is the reduced fatalities in the 15-24 year-old age group last year, which at 65 was significantly lower than 82 in 2011," he said. "This is the lowest since records were kept on age groups," he said.
Griffiths said police and their road safety partners had put a significant focus on young drivers, with an increased driving age and a zero blood alcohol limit.
"While further analysis is needed on the cause, it's encouraging to see a correlating reduction in deaths."
Griffiths urged road-users to take particular care over the next few days.
So far there have been five deaths during the official holiday period, which ends at 6am on 3 January.
"In 2011, 19 people lost their lives over the holiday break," he said. "It's particularly important drivers stick to speed limits, every occupant wears a seatbelt and we make good choices about who is driving us home."
He said the whole community had a role to play. "We still see too many deaths where passengers get into cars with drunk drivers, particularly in our rural communities.
"We have to stop tolerating this as these people are killing not only themselves, but other innocent road users. If you're going out socialising, look after your mates, make transport arrangements early and have a designated driver."
The highest holiday road toll was 35 in 1981/82, and the lowest was 9 in 2006/07.
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