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Will we achieve the lowest road toll in 60 years?

At 4pm tomorrow afternoon the official Christmas Holiday period starts and if everyone can drive well then we will end up with the lowest annual road toll since 1950. As of this morning the toll was sitting at 247 however as a comparison, at the same time last year the toll was at 300. 

Back in 1950 the annual road toll was 232 and the lowest year after was in 1952 when it was 272 and since then the only time it has been less than 300 was in 2011 when it was 284. Of course back in 1950 New Zealand had less than half of the population it does today and there were much fewer cars on the roads so when comparing the results it’s also useful to do so on a per capita basis. Doing that reveals that the only time the road toll has been lower was back in the early 1920’s, a time when there weren’t that many cars on the roads.

The graph below shows the total road toll and the toll per 100,000 population. Both measures peaked in 1973 when the road toll reached 843 and the toll per 100,000 people was 27.9 (it’s on track to be less than 6). The 2013 figure is based on the result as it stands today.

NZ Road Deaths

The numbers can also be broken down by different types of road user, the graph below shows this since 1951 and is based on the number of deaths per 100,000 population.

NZ Road Deaths by mode

Of course we still have the Christmas holiday period to come and that can often dramatically increase the number of crashes. Last year saw the lowest road toll over the Christmas period since records began being kept in the late 1950’s although it’s worth noting that the length of the official holiday period changes depending on which days Christmas and New Year fall on. The graph below shows the road toll over the Christmas/New Year period along with the 5 year average.

NZ Road Deaths Xmas Period

I really hope the low result of last year can be matched or even bettered. One of the things that may help in achieving that is the lower speed tolerance of 4km/h which is in place over all of December and January. Of this the police have said:

“Our road policing managers around the country (say) staff are struggling to find people at the high-end speeds, which is fantastic.

“People who have been stopped at the lower-level speeds say they’re aware of (the lower speed threshold) and are apologetic … Of course there are still those amongst us who travel too quickly, but they will stand out more clearly.”

My wife and I left Auckland yesterday and it was definitely noticeable that those on the roads seemed to be driving much better than usual. We saw less than a handful of drivers that were being idiots and even then the idiocy was of a much lesser severity than is often experienced.

Lastly let’s not forget that while 247 deaths is low in comparison to what our road toll has been in the past. It’s still a hell of a lot of people that are losing their lives unnecessarily which has huge social and economic impacts. If a plane carrying that many people were to crash or building collapse killing that number of people we would be having huge inquiries and putting in lots of measures to prevent it from happening again.

If you are travelling this holiday period please stay safe.

16 comments to Will we achieve the lowest road toll in 60 years?

  • Dave B

    Great news that road fatalities are down yet again. But this is only a (small) part of the total story. How are the figures tracking for non-fatal road injuries, particularly serious and life-altering injuries? These figures are more difficult to get hold of. It would be hollow comfort if fatalities were down solely through better care of injured victims, rather than through genuinely safer roads.

    As Matt points out, when accidents with multiple casualties occur in other areas of society, we “put in lots of measures to prevent it from happening again.”
    Now some might point out that lots of measures also go into trying to achieve a lower road toll. However there is a significant difference in our approach to road safety and that of say, aircraft and buildings, and that is our much lesser tolerance of risk than with roads. A major plane crash that raises concerns about systemmatic defects in equipment or procedure is likely to see entire fleets grounded until mitigation is in place. Concerns that buildings are an earthquake risk now sees them shut down even if the likelihood of catastrophy is small. Recent concerns about passenger-safety in the Otira Tunnel resulted in a several-month ban on passengers being carried through it, until fire-safety measures were beefed up.

    However on the roads, no such “draconian” pre-emptive action is taken. We carry on from one year to the next with minor incremental change only, in full knowledge that between 200 and 300 will die, (and maybe 10 times that number will be significantly injured). We tolerate and accept road-danger with a very different safety-measure than that applied to other transport modes or even industry in general. Otherwise we would cease to cushion road-transport from the consequences of its out-of-proportion safety-deficiency.
    There is no room for complacency or self-congratulation in these lower road-toll figures.

  • John Polkinghorne

    You can also look at the figures on a per-passenger-kilometre basis, in which case the picture will probably be of a gradual decline over the last coupla decades. I think this info is on the NZTA website somewhere.

  • Starnius

    Are there over-time stats for walking & cycling deaths (needs to be per kilometre travelled or time travelled to be representative, tough). Does anyone have that?

    • There is no reliable baseline data on how many kms or hours people walk or cycle. Vehicle kms are known from registration data, and PT kms are known from contractual figures, but walking and cycling comes down to a handful of surveys every now and again and a liberal dose of guesswork.

  • Bryce P

    While policing is part of the solution, I think the modern safety standards of vehicles has played a very significant role in the reduction in fatalities and injuries.

  • Richard Horner

    It’s an apples and bananas type comparison to compare statistics from the 1950’s with today the roads and vehicles are totally different for a start.

    It is a known fact that as vehicle density goes up the accident rate goes down (excluding minor bumps) not the other way round as people imagine. The decline in casualties started in the early 1970’s following a gradual annual increase. It comes to mind three things occurred at this time….seat belts became mandatory and lap belts were being replaced with lap and diagonal. Breath testing was introduced and there was an oil shock resulting in the speed limit being reduced to 50 mph (80kph) along with carless days.

    • Dave B

      You can clearly see from the graphs for both rood-deaths and non-fatal road-injuries that a significant surge occurred in 1986. This was the year that the open road speed limit was raised from 80Km/h to 100Km/h. Cause and effect? I believe so (although some “petrolheads” argue otherwise). I believe relaxation of the limit and the hype leading up to it sent out the unhelpful message that speed-discipline was somehow no longer so important. I believe this then led to a general deterioration of discipline on all roads. I can’t prove this, but the stats paint a stark picture that is hard to explain otherwise.
      Speed kills!
      And so do governments which raise speed limits!
      And so do roading authorities which prevaricate over reducing speed limits when necessary!

      • Pete

        You must read graph differently from the rest of us? The crash rate decent start immediately after 1986, it doesn’t go up? These stats are similar to other countries too. Good cars, good roads, good drivers, and allowed higher speed in appropriate areas equals lower road crash rates

  • D Weisz

    Maybe its nothing to do with the 4k tolerance and more to do with the recessionary effects. Higher fuel prices and more people unemployed. More a economics issue. You could relate the graphs to economic cycles and you’d probably find a coherent pattern.

  • Tony M

    Who writes this stuff? Honestly New Zealanders, wake the f$@k up! 300 odd deaths on the roads per year? What the heck are the government doing? Did you know that it is totally not normal to have so many deaths? Did you also know that in Victoria, Australia our road toll is 0.75/100,000 where yours is 9.2/100,000? I am an ex-pat living in Melbourne, I tell you what, cracking down with hefty fines & extreme policing pays off big time! There are some 5,700,000 people in Victoria, & a road toll of 40 per year is considered revoltingly high. Cut out the bull & start considering what a human life is worth.

    • Steve D

      Lovely if true, but not quite – In 2013 (a record low year), Victoria had 244 road deaths and a population of 5,713,000, which is a rate of 4.3/100,000

      Still, as you say, considerably better than here, and New Zealand could get that figure down a lot with the stricter road policing that Victoria does.

      But there’s limits to this approach – the ultimate solution is a transport policy that doesn’t revolve primarily around each trip being made in an individual 1.5-tonne metal box, driven by a poorly trained, distracted, sleep-deprived amateur travelling at high speed in close proximity to both people and other vehicles.

  • Tony M

    Apologies, further research by me opened up a serious flaw in my research. Any deaths on roads anywhere bites big time. Better training, absolutely!
    Funding is a pretty big player too, we have freeways all over the place, makes it a whole lot safer to separate traffic. Big ask for NZ, but it’s also a big ask to swallow so many deaths too. Stay safe peeps! :-)

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