With another year over the road toll is once again in focus, especially after the toll in 2013 was the lowest in over 60 years. In total 297 people lost their lives as a result of road crashes which is up from 253 in 2013. The result is still considerably down on 1970’s and 80’s where more than twice as many died on our roads. Data for injuries is not yet available however I would expect it to show a similar trend. The historical results for deaths and injuries are below.

Road Toll 2014

Of course in the past there were less vehicles people and vehicles on the roads, the graph below shows the number of deaths per 100,000 people and per 10,000 vehicles.

Road Toll 2014 per pop and veh

So based on 2014 data we sit at about 6.6 deaths per 100,000 people. As a comparison, Sweden which manages to achieve one of lowest (if not the lowest) road toll in the world has around 3 deaths per 100,000 people. If we could get to that level that would see our current toll more than halved.

The AA say they want to see the police targeting roads other than motorways and are calling for more median barriers.

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    1. Totally agree. Also think NZTA better off putting their RONs money on concrete barriers (not the motorbike killer wire ones)on all state highways, so do agree with AA for once. Also one extra row for two-way cyclists (or 2 for protected one way cycling, would also help car safety)the whole way where practicable to link with the other regional cycleways. This would be an awesome two count.

      1. More motorists in general die or are injured hitting concrete barriers than cable or armco barriers, since concrete does not dissipate the crash force.

  1. Unlike New Zealand, Sweden has an alternative mode for people to get around: proper intercity and regional rail networks. This means, for example, that people who are unfamiliar with local driving conditions can still see the country – actually, they can probably see more of the country – without having to rely on hire cars, or if they’re doing it on the cheap, coaches.

      1. Like most of Continental Europe. They actually move huge amounts of freight on trucks in Europe but wisely keep the top speed down.

        1. yes, and ban trucks on Sundays and holiday periods, imagine how low the toll would be in NZ in that case? But I guess some logs are more important that life

          1. Logs should be on rail. The proposed branch to Port Marsden would take hundreds of trucks off the SH1 daily (250 leads per day into Port Marsden mostly from areas that have rail access).

          2. Agree on all the above comments. Truck speed reduction like Sweden, limiting periods and maximising rail for freight especially logs. Sounds like that Port Marsden branch would be very beneficial when you take everything into account. If NZTA focussed on safety rather than major roads of no significance then we could get this toll heaps lower. Maximising all rail (in fact extending) for freight and patronage would be an excellent start, plus concrete medians can probably do a couple of lengths of NZ for $1B per year.Does anyone know approx cost of mass produced concrete barriers up to correct test level for 100kph per m.

          3. Isn’t a road fatality valued at approx $4m per person according to the funding manual. So approx 300 people killed is $1.2B per annum. Doesn’t that mean the whole NZTA highway programme should be fully focussed on safety. Maximising rail for freight,patronage, concrete medians, concrete barriers for cyclists etc etc not some asphalt super width monstrocities for holiday season or flyovers actually adding to the exposure? These guys are not just working for the Ministry of Petroleum and Climate Change Advancement they are working for the funeral industry as well but they write manuals about safe roads???Yip we are in safe hands.

          4. How many billions per year, deaths per year before we sack these guys.
            $1.2b Fatalities let alone families destroyed etc.
            $1.25b congestion just Auckland ( when fix is just changing mode balance, promoting rail,bus cycle,.)
            $1b on capital projects fully focussed on cars with benefit-cost lower than actually putting this money on pure safety.
            $1b when you take subsidised projects into account on car mode projects in cities that are not balanced with no.mode bias.
            Wow you guys should be proud, good work pretty much $4b backwards per annum and emissions through the roof.Stop pretending you know anything about transport.

  2. First observation from those graphs, its obvious that “people” not “vehicles” kill people – the more people we have (driving), the more we die.
    if this was a graph of smoking deaths per 100K population we’d have had several royal commissions in to smoking years ago and people wringing their hands in despair.

    And despite nearly 100 years of driving, we’re really no better (or safer) at doing it than we ever were 100 years ago as shown by the stats, even though we do a lot, lot more of it now.

    The obvious goal for is NZTA, to aim to get the deaths per 100K people below the level it was in the early 1920s (about 4.5 per 100K people), and do so ASAP and keep it there, so that we are finally starting to win the “road” war. Then focus on getting it lower still for deaths per 100K people to a more like Swedish total.

    For comparison as its 100 years since WWI started lets consider the WWI and WWI death tolls v the road toll:

    If we add together the total deaths in WWI and WWII we get about 30,000 killed (and triple that in injuries – as an estimate) in those two wars. I’ll ignore Korea, Malaya, Vietnam and recent middle east wars, not because they are irrelevant or unimportant, but because WWI and II was where most NZ war deaths have occurred over the last 100 years.

    Over the entire 95 years of those road toll stats, we have seen more than that combined WWI and II war total, killed by driving, and the total injuries are far far higher than the injuries from WWI and II at over 600 thousand.

    While NZTA and Police focus on speed and drinking as the main causes, lots of other factors also come into play like road design, driver skills and certification and vehicle fleet age and safety too

    We need a roading and transport system that reduces exposure to, and then collectively anticipates and then forgives mistakes and not simply magnifies them into death and injury.

    And no, driverless cars, no matter how much we wish them to, won’t solve that problem anytime soon (next 20+ years) so we have to focus on what we can do now and not just wait and hope that a future driverless technology will save us from ourselves. Also bear in mind while people are the problem, taking people out of the driving seat won’t fix all (or even a majority) of the problems.

    The NZTA Cycle Safety panel has this exact issue in their sights to tackle cycling deaths and we need to take a leaf from their book and apply it at large to the rest of the transport system too for everyones safety.

    See http://www.saferjourneys.govt.nz/resources for the report and other resources on the “Safe system” approach they recommend:

    In a nutshell the ‘principles’ of the Safe System approach involve recognition of:
    • human fallibility
    • human vulnerability
    • shared responsibility among system designers for reducing deaths and serious injuries
    • the need for coordinated efforts to strengthen all parts of the system.

    This means a whole bunch of things, not just separate cycle lanes – but these are a big start. Have a read of the above report for their take on the issues. They apply to all road users, not just cyclists.

    Lastly, I think we truly need some radically different approaches to dealing with the road deaths and injuries issues as the current approaches are simply not working as well or as quickly as they need to be.
    The same old same old approach doesn’t work in the 21st century – any more than it did in the 20th.

    *Sources of figures for WWI and II deaths and injuries:


    “16,697 New Zealanders were killed and 41,317 were wounded during the war – a 58 percent casualty rate.[1] Approximately a further thousand men died within five years of the war’s end, as a result of injuries sustained, and 507 died while training in New Zealand between 1914 and 1918.”
    i.e. a total of about 18,000 killed in war or war related activies of injuries.

    Our population in WWI 1,100,000 = 1641 “deaths” per 100K of pop.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties

    WWII: 11,900, pop: 1,629,000 = 743.75 “deaths” per 100K of pop.

    1. “despite nearly 100 years of driving, we’re really no better (or safer) at doing it than we ever were 100 years ago as shown by the stats, even though we do a lot, lot more of it now.”

      Um, yes we are. That’s why the crash rate used to be 9 fatals per 10k vehicles and now it’s ~1 fatal. 100 years ago there were considerably fewer motor vehicles around (and hence lower vehs per capita, and veh kms driven). So comparing fatals per capita over time is not comparing apples with apples. China’s fatals per capita is typically less than ours but that’s because they still have relatively few cars per capita – their crash rate per vehs or veh-kms is still horrific.

      We’ve done the standard low-hanging-fruit things regarding drink-driving, seat-belts, licensing and are slowly working our way through road/vehicle engineering improvements. What we haven’t done much yet is to address the speed factor (witness the grizzling about bringing down the enforcement tolerance). “Safer speeds” is one of the four planks of our Safer Journeys programme, yet it’s the only one we’ve done zilch about so far this decade (some enforcement tolerances notwithstanding). Introduce more sub-100 and sub-50 zones where they’re warranted (and adjust the road environment where necessary) and you will get a notable drop in fatals.

      1. Our uptake of cars in the 20s and 30’s was pretty high per capita compared to the rest of the world (closer to the US uptake than the UK uptake), as cars replaced horses as the main method of local/short haul transport.
        [Railways and Ships being the main long haul options back then].

        So comparing deaths then with now is a perfectly valid comparison. The main limitation on driving then was cost of petrol (2 and 6 a gallon), or 50 cents a gallon in decimal terms.
        And was pretty much that up to WWII. [the fuel economy was about 28-30 MPG for a Model T Ford, in “Imperial” not US Gallons] – about 10l / 100km in todays terminology. Our average today is about 11l/100km ]

        But as a percentage of income yes it was expensive to drive a car, but that didn’t stop people driving in droves, or stop the deaths or injuries as a result.

        It is true that cars now are so much safer than the ones in the ’20s were, but you’d expect that after nearly 100 years of continual safety advancement, expecially in the last 25 years wouldn’t you?

        The slide in deaths caused between the late ’30s and 1946 was pretty much due to petrol rationing/restrictions – meaning we drove less (and used PT way way more).
        In fact all the big drops are: Depression, WWII, Oil Shocks on the early 70s, Stock Crash of ’87 – events that caused major changes in our driving habits.

        For most of the 20th Century it was simple: less exposure to driving = less deaths in the population from road accidents.

        And don’t you think that given our population has risen over 3 fold since the early 20’s and our driving many times that, that we should be doing a better job of driving and not crashing than we actually do?

        1. You are still confusing rates and absolute numbers.

          Number of crashes = exposure x crash-rate; similar principle applies to no. of injuries or fatals, adjusted for average severity

          Exposure has gone up as we have bought more cars and driven more. E.g. since the 1950s the number of motor vehicles in NZ has increased more than six-fold (while population has just doubled) and we could reasonably infer that the no. of veh-kms driven is at least the same. Meanwhile the number of fatals now is about the same as the 1950s (and I’d suggest that the somewhat higher injury numbers now reflects better crash-reporting processes, not more crashes, so that’s probably the same too). So our exposure has gone up six-fold but our injury stats have ended up the same, which suggests that our crash rate is about 1/6 of what they were in the 1950s. Some of that will be due to better vehicles, some of that will be better roads, and some of that will be better road user behaviour.

  3. “First observation from those graphs, its obvious that “people” not “vehicles” kill people – the more people we have (driving), the more we die.”

    That’s not what the evidence shows.

    Clearly there are more people driving now than in 1973 yet total deaths are considerably less.

    There are a number of factors in play here. Firstly we’ve only had full license testing for around 16 years. Previous to that you just turned up with your money and got a license! I have two friends (I’m 32) who started on their 15th birthdays and managed to get through under the old system. As someone who failed their full license test I envy them. The full license test has no resemblance to reality but I think it opens up drivers minds to driving issues which is a good thing.

    A second factor is the improvement of our roading, something that will continue with RONS. The Waikato expressway for instance is a great example of a safe road. Pretty hard to have a head on crash with a median barrier or when the two sides of the road don’t run parallel to one another. The Coromandel turnoff from the Southern Motorway is another example of improving the safety of a road via road building. Sadly some idiot decided it should be a 90kmph zone but we live in a nanny state so that happens. I’m sure posters from different parts of the country can provide other examples of roading improvements.

    The final factor I’ll point out is the decrease in drink driving. This has been an area of focus for Police and combined with a change in societal attitude we have seen huge improvement. Personally I’d like to see much harsher penalties for highly inebriated drivers to drive further improvement in this area but the nanny state see’s us take a wet bus ticket to the worst drink drivers.

    1. Matthew,

      Agree with you re standards of licence testing and drink driving. With luck more improvements will continue in these areas.

      But although you may have a point about overall roading standards, your example (SH2 from the SH1 intersection) is a poor one. Think about the state of this road next time you drive it. The reason it’s a 90 zone is that (all except the first little bit from SH1 to about the sawmill) it’s lethal. Narrow bridges (remember this is a major truck route), sharp corners, minimal road shoulders and deep ditches, side roads joining SH2 just by blind crests, this road has it all. Even the NZTA recognises that something needs to be done, see http://www.nzta.govt.nz/network/projects/project.html?ID=249

      Problem is that all the money is going into the SH1 RONS. So while travellers heading to Hamilton from Auckland get a nicer, safer road, those heading to the Coromandel or east Waikato get the same old deathtrap. This is not a nanny state issue, this is politics in action.

    2. “A second factor is the improvement of our roading, something that will continue with RONS. The Waikato expressway for instance is a great example of a safe road. Pretty hard to have a head on crash with a median barrier or when the two sides of the road don’t run parallel to one another. The Coromandel turnoff from the Southern Motorway is another example of improving the safety of a road via road building. Sadly some idiot decided it should be a 90kmph zone but we live in a nanny state so that happens. I’m sure posters from different parts of the country can provide other examples of roading improvements.”

      Actually the RoNS aren’t really helping safety except on the short sections that are being built. That’s because they are diverting funding away from fixing up other roads where the money could go much further. As an example the reason the section of SH2 is 90km/h is due to the high history of crashes on that road. The solution the NZTA have is to do more Mangatawhiri Bypass type projects all the way from SH1 to SH25. Most of that was planned to have been done by now but the RoNS have sucked up all the cash.

      In the trade off between a few gold plated motorways or a broad programme of safety upgrades across the entire country I know which I would prefer. Sadly the photo ops of sods being turned or ribbons being cut on mega projects get more press.

    3. If you compare the total vehicle fleet (deaths per 100K vehicles) with deaths per 100K population, you can see that the total number of people (who drive) is the main indicator as to total number of deaths.

      Its a simple exposure calculation. If it wasn’t we’d have deaths per 100K people down to the same level as Sweden.

      Even so we’re worse now in Deaths per 100K population in 2014 than we were in 1921 when records began.
      Its not just how many vehicles we have, it how much driving as a country we do. Yet as Sweden shows, you can break that cycle.

      The main reason deaths have dropped since the peak of ’87 is that cars in particular are so much safer than were, in that they now don’t kill the occupants as readily as the death traps of the 70s and 80s did.

      Remember our average vehicle age in the vehicle fleet is on average 13 years old, so those 87 stats include all those Holden and Ford death trap cars (with non-retracting seat belts) from the mid 70s.

      Same with our stats now – they include cars from the late 90s and early 2000s – which precede widespread airbag availability, seatbelt pre-tensioners, crumple zones, stability controls and NCAP safety crash tests.

      Our fleet simply lags behind with the incorporation of modern safety features and remember thats an average age, which means 50% of the vehicles out there are that age or even older.

      It is true that if we did nothing else but wait, deaths may continue to drop for no other reason than more safety features wash through the fleet, but is that an acceptable strategy to tackle the problem?
      Wait 13 to 20 years? I think not.

      As for your claim of “only had full license testing for around 16 years” thats complete rubbish, a graduated driver license system has been in place for over 30 years, sure its not as tough then as it is now with the age at 16 and 3 levels of driver licensing, but the days of turning 15 and walking in and getting a full car license on the same day are many decades in the past – even in the mid 80s as recognition of the need to upskill young drivers.
      Motorcycle licenses were always a 2 tier system for at least 50+ years, with CC rating restrictions on motorbike engine size.

      The bad old days were when they removed the need for L plates for new/learner drivers as that way you couldn’t tell a newly licensed driver from anyone else on the road, so couldn’t give them more leeway on the roads.
      And thats what has been bought back along with the other changes of late..

      As for your suggestion that RoNS are the answer, they are not the answer to this issue, as the others point out – spending all your money on RoNS starves all the other more worthy road projects of urgent safety upgrades and they continue to kill people in great numbers. Puhoi to Wellsford is another – because of the RoNS no improvements to the SH1 route have been done for many years, yet death and injuries continue to mount there and it will be many years before the RoNS Puford “toll road” opens with its safer features. And even once open because of the toll road, many more will continue to use the “free” old SH1 route, which has no safety improvements still now its a local road not a state highway.

      As for drunk drivers being the main cause of crashes, hence the reduction in deaths – because of a reduction in drink driving.

      Polices own estimates are drink drivers cause 25% of the road deaths and injuries now,
      So whats causing the other 75%? Drugged Drivers? Bad drivers?

      See this video from NZTA on the Safer Roads programme for why those simplistic beliefs are out of place:


      There are many factors that go into fixing the issue, but stopping the “blame the driver” attitude is the first one.
      Investing in “inherently safe” roads another step so that when people make mistakes (as they can and will do) the system protects them from their and other drivers mistakes.
      Thats a multi-pronged approach but its now international best practise.

      Not building more RoNS is also considered international best practise.

      1. Graduated licensing was introduced in 1 August 1987, I know this because my birthday was a couple of days into August and some of my class mates got licenses under the old system and some of us didn’t.

        So I’d say almost 30 years (27), not over 30.

        I think the use of BCR to prioritise spending would favour improvements over RoNS, but politics would trump the BCR, so we end up with what we’ve got now.

    1. very interesting, I saw it before. I went through all the motorbike accidents and turns out most of the accidents in built up areas are from cars not giving way to bikes.

  4. Nik – there was full license testing, both theory and practical, before graduated licensing was introduced. I arrived from the UK in 1986 and was exempted from the practical test but had to take the theory one – a bit of a shock, since there was no theory test in the UK at that time.

  5. NZTA’s “Safe System” approach is a huge step towards a “vision zero” in which few people are ever killed or seriously injured on our roads. It’s achievable and implementable in a rich country with a small population and a large rural roading network. (ie. Sweden and New Zealand). The video above is instructive, and represents the very start of a journey that the agency is on.

    Safety improvements include things like lower speed limits, barriers in the middle of and sides of roads, wider run off areas and audiotactile markers, removing the worst corners, improved vehicle safety standards (airbags, traction control), continued enforcement of speed and alcohol, education of drivers about risks and their minimisation (eg. fatigue).

    1. Continued…

      What this isn’t compatible with is gold plating a few sections of road. This is the case for a number of reasons; the diversion of technical and other resources within the NZTA towards these; the huge allocation of budget, starving other improvements; and the fact that this requires a cultural shift and different way of thinking about roads and their users.

      It will take a while before the NZTA adopts this approach – they still have to adopt it and value it as an organisation. Until that happens, large numbers of people will die.

      1. Even worse is that Auckland Transport are not adopting it either. They continue to allow developers to create poor designs for pedestrians and bikes.

  6. I’m not just a land transport enthusiast. I’m also an aviation nerd. One of the key concepts in aviation safety is the idea of “separation”. This essentially means that flying vehicles are kept at appropriate distances from each other, and great pains are take to ensure that this remains so. The consequence of two vehicles coming into proximity at high speed would be catastrophic.

    As a result, one thing that horrifies me whenever I drive on the open road (as work frequently demands) is the giant swathes of our state highway network painted with dashed white lines. A dashed white line is a clear signal to the driver that it is safe to overtake, if there is no oncoming traffic. It is also a signal that the road is safe to operate without extra care and attention.

    Unfortunately, on huge parts of the network neither of things are true. White lines continue around blind corners, and down dips and over crests, on roads with no runoff space. If a vehicle was to overtake at 100km/h, and another vehicle was to appear coming in the opposite direction at this speed, both vehicles would have to take emergency evasive action.

    1. These deadly white lines also encourage speeding, by encouraging overtaking. The recent death of several people who plunged into a river was preceded by a series of overtaking manouvers, in which they sped past other traffic. In the 1970s and 1980s we had a lot of older vehicles on the road which struggled to maintain 100km/h, and newer vehicles with the power to go much faster than this. However, virtually every vehicle on the road is powerful enough to cruise at just under 100km/h most of the time, with the exception of steep hills. We can essentially all drive in procession at 95km/h. The problem is when a person feels inconvenienced at this speed, and wishes to go 105km/h – requiring overtaking. I often see near-death manouvers which have been implicitly sanctioned by the NZTA, and shake my head. This is a road design problem.

      It’s also a cultural problem which has not been rectified through education. Indeed, NZTA’s design manuals presume that dashed white lines allowing overtaking are the norm on all sections of state highway, with separation only enforced when thousands of people use a road daily.

      There are very few circumstances in which a vehicle should be driving on the wrong side of the road.

  7. Does “we all share responsibility” suggest driving a vehicle of greater weight and speed
    Has equal responsibility to weaker road users.
    “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal – Aristotle”

      1. It’s interesting that it’s so similar. Maybe some effect of the flat lining vkt that the rate is nudging above the population rate in recent years.

      2. It’s virtually identical because it only went back to 2001 and our vehicle ownership rates per capita have hardly changed in that time. If you were able to take it back at least 50 years you’d see quite a separation of the two charts, in the same way that the “per 10k vehs” chart has consistently dropped.

        1. The question has to be asked, that why has the road toll this year been so much worse than previous years relatively speaking?
          its not like we had 40 more deaths in December and good results up to then – each months road toll has been worse than the same month from earlier years. It did start off well early in 2014 but seemed to go off the rails after summer ended.

          Yes, these annual tolls are all below 300, but we are not seeing the year on year drop that we have seen for much of the last 28 or so years since 1987 (with some exceptions e.g. around 2001). And whic hthe Police were expecting to occur hence their comments on it.

          I noted this comment in a NZTA report I was reading when looking up VKT information
          See this report http://www.transport.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/Research/Documents/2013-Fleet-report-final.pdf page:22. I quote:

          “In December 2013 the proportion of the light fleet that was 15 years old or older had risen to just over 40 percent. It was
          only 27 percent five years earlier, in December 2007. It is expected that many of these older vehicles will require replacement in the next five years.”

          So in the last 6 years (to end of 2013) the light vehicle fleet – which does 77% of the annual VKT in NZ, and therefore is involved in the biggest majority of all road toll contributing accidents, has increased from 23% of the total light fleet in 2007 to be 40% of the total light fleet as of Dec 2013. This confirms that cars that are 15 or more years old is now a substantial chunk of the vehicles involved in accidents.

          As of 2013 the dates of manufacture when most vehicles exit the light fleet e.g. when vehicle is scrapped, was on or before 1996. So we have a heap of old bangers in the fleet now (40%) with little safety features on them, coming to the end of their economic life, and with everything in the car being worn out.

          As a result, its reasonable to suggest that NZ having keeping (and possibly not maintaining as well), an older fleet is causing more deaths as accidents which involve cars with newer safety features and that are better maintained tend to be more survivable than accidents involving older cars. It does appear that since the GFC replacing of older cars with newer ones has stopped or at least slowed for a variety of reasons, causing the rapid aging of the fleet and causing the “15+” age bracket to swell to 40%..

          And while its true that they will eventually need to be replaced – presumably with younger cars, not necessarily new ones, or will be scrapped completely and not replaced. Meaning the proportion of the fleet with these 15+ year old cars will then reduce quite quickly in the future. There is therefore a possibility that the road toll could resume its downward trend after staying put at the current higher than expected level for a number of years as these old cars are scrapped and replaced with newer ones.

          But you’d have to say if 40% of your cars onthe road are over 15 years thats a worrying statistic, especially given how a lot of the “must have” safety features we have now came in around 2000-2001, so are not actually on 40% of the current fleet and won’t be for a few more years yet.

  8. I think the police need to focus less on “speeding” on more on driving safely. People already get that they dont want people exceeding the limit, we dont need constant ads about it, not going to change anything except causing people to obsess about that instead of actually driving safe. In fact now the majority of people think by driving the speed limit they are 100% safe on the road… lol.

    I have noticed less people driving 110 in 100 and 60 in 50 lately though. But thats probably only because they announced that they are removing any tollerance.

    Would like to see % of crashes *caused* by speed limit being exceeded.

  9. I agree with a focus on driving safely. theoretically the speed limit is generally set at around the maximum speed that a car can travel on the road in good conditions and be reasonably safe. i.e the risk of a crash is not too high.
    I think the message of zero tolerance is a good one because the speed limit is supposed to be a maximum limit. not the posted limit plus 10 km/hr.
    However it is when you have less than ideal conditions that the risk of a crash starts to seriously climb such that the posted limit is not safe and you need to slow down. When speed is a factor it is speed that is too fast for the conditions which may or may not be above the posted limit. the problem for the police is that it is quite easy to catch and ticket someone going over the posted limit but much harder to catch and ticket someone who is driving too fast for the conditions but are below the posted limit.
    While I agree that if you break the limit you deserve a ticket. I am not necessarily convinced that if someone speeds in ideal conditions that they don’t know to slow down in less than ideal conditions. Or more importantly someone who learns to drive within the limit will slow down below in less than ideal conditions.

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