It's not the way police wanted to start the year.
The New South Wales Police Force has issued a public plea for caution on the state's roads after the weekend's seven fatal crashes.
In the short period from New Year's Day up to January 19, NSW Police have reported 21 fatalities on the road. The majority have been due to car crashes, with 11 of the drivers killed, as well as two passengers and seven motorcyclists. A pedestrian has also been identified as one of the casualties so far.
Seven of these fatal collisions occurred since last Friday. The weekend's crashes have also left four seriously injured in hospital, including a 90-year-old woman whose mobility scooter crossed paths with an SUV in South West Rocks and a 16-year-old girl who reportedly fell out of a moving vehicle being driven by a 17-year-old driver.
While police are continuing to investigate the factors involved in these fatal crashes, it is known that each of these most recent seven collisions took place in daylight, with reportedly good driving conditions.
Motorcyclists over represented in 2015 crashes
Motorcyclists feature prominently in the recent road toll, as noted by Stuart Smith, Acting Assistant Commissioner of the NSW Police Force.
Of the fatal motorcycle crashes this past weekend, two took place on Sunday involving pillion riders, both of whom were injured. One incident involved a 4WD on Mt Panorama in Bathurst, while the other occurred off a dirt track.
Seven of the year's 21 fatalities on NSW roads have been motorcyclists. "This is the height of the riding season," says Assistant Commissioner Smith in a recent media release. "Motorcyclists need ride to live and other road users need to be looking out for bikes."
Australia Day and Operation Safe Return
The tragic weekend comes ahead of heightened measures to be put in place for Australia Day weekend, beginning Friday January 23.
Road safety initiative, Operation Safe Return continues from last year, and will run from this Friday January 23 until midnight on Australia Day, January 26. Any motorists caught for speeding, seatbelt or motor bike helmet offences over these four days will receive double demerit points.
Assistant Commissioner Smith says the police will be targeting what they call the "fatal five" which includes drink/drug driving, speeding, distracted driving, seatbelt and tired driving offences. Australia Day weekend last year resulted in three fatal crashes with a reported 2,500 drivers caught speeding. Police also charged more than 170 people with drink driving.
Number of infringements up over holiday season
Operation Safe Return follows the NSW Police Force's Operation Safe Arrival, a high-visibility campaign which covered the Christmas/New Year holidays. Operation Safe Arrival was active from December 19 until January 4, during which time officers conducted 830,670 random breath tests, a significant 250,000 more tests than in the previous holiday season.
John Hartley, Traffic and Highway Patrol Command Assistant Commissioner said that the visual deterrent of the highly visible force and their cars was more important to police than detecting actual offences.
During the 2014/2015 Operation Safe Arrival, 1273 people were charged with drink driving, up from 1209 the year before. Police also detected an increase in the 14,422 speed infringements compared to the previous holiday season.
Additionally, NSW police found a total 1881 people not wearing seatbelts properly, with 29 in fatal crashes who weren't wearing their seatbelt.
"It has been proven time and again, that proper use of seatbelts and occupant restraints saves people from being seriously injured or killed in crashes," said Command Assistant Commissioner Hartley in a media release.
"It's unfortunate we have had more than 1800 people who did not want to give themselves that same protection during Christmas and New Year."