Imagine how the public would react if they learnt the government, or one of its agencies, wasted billions of dollars of taxpayer money. The public would expect heads to roll. Now imagine what the response would be if it was revealed that the govt/agency had been doing this each and every year. Then add to that they planned to keep on doing the same thing in the future. The latest report from the Ministry of Transport, released last week, shows that’s almost exactly the situation we’re in today with road safety.

We’ve talked plenty of times before about crashes, and perhaps understandably, that is mostly focused on the loss of life. However, the report released by Associate Transport Minister David Bennett, the latest version of a series of reports titled The social cost of road crashes and injuries, highlights just how much impact crashes have from an economic point of view.

Annual research released today has highlighted the hidden cost we pay for road crashes, says Associate Transport Minister David Bennett.

The Ministry of Transport’s annual Social Cost of Road Crashes and Injuries report seeks to understand the social and economic cost of road crashes to New Zealand, and the estimated total social cost of fatal and injury crashes rose from $3.53 billion in 2014 to $3.79 billion in 2015.

In per-crash terms, the updated average social cost is estimated at $4,729,000 per fatal crash, $912,000 per reported serious crash and $99,000 per reported minor crash.

“Putting a value on a life lost or permanently altered is impossible. This report shows that on top of the high price paid by friends, families and communities, each and every crash has serious social and economic consequences for all of us,” Mr Bennett says.

Over 300 New Zealander’s lost their lives on New Zealand roads last year, and about 2,500 were seriously injured.

That is a huge loss to the overall New Zealand economy each and every year. This is shown in the graph below and with more fatalities in 2016 compared to 2015, I’d expect that line to keep going up.

The cost of crashes in NZ over time

The report explains more about how the costs are derived but they include the following key components

  • loss of life and life quality
  • loss of output due to temporary incapacitation
  • medical costs
  • legal costs
  • vehicle damage costs

A breakdown of these for the 2015 crashes is shown below, and as you can see, the cost of loss of life/permanent disability makes up the vast majority of the total.

Given the enormous cost crashes have, you’d think we’d be doing a lot more to prevent them. Our current safety strategy is clearly failing. Yet you’d think from the press release that all of our transport money was going into safety.

The Government spends billions of dollars a year on physical infrastructure improvements such as median barriers, rumble strips and wide shoulders, as well as on road safety enforcement, advertising, and education campaigns trying to encourage the sort of behavioural change required on our roads.

The government are being disingenuous here. Yes, they spend billions every year on transport but the vast majority of that is going the hugely expensive Roads of National Significance, diverting funding many smaller but vital safety improvements. Furthermore, projects like the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway will see the existing roads remain as dangerous as ever. Spending a few years focusing our road budget on safety improvements all over the country would likely deliver significant improvements.

ATs speed limit paper

The NZTA’s upcoming speed management guide is intended to modernise how speed limits are set. This includes making it easier to set speed limits below 50kmh in urban areas. A paper to Auckland Transport’s board in February highlighting their planned approach to the guide was recently be made public. They’re initially targeting to make changes to just 10% of road network in the region and most of that will be in rural areas. Speed limits will decrease in some cases but much of the focus will be on be “engineering up” roads so the existing limits can remain. One of the most telling comments in the paper is below:

Potential operational impacts on the network as a result of lower operating speeds will need to be considered during development of the programme of work.

Over the years we’ve heard many variations of this. Essentially it amounts to the value of of flowing traffic being put ahead of the value of people’s lives. If we really want to get serious about improving road safety then this is an attitude that need to quickly change. As we’ve said before, we need to be adopting Vision Zero.

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  1. The jihad on drivers continues.

    This blog has been consistently against roading improvements up and down the country regardless of the level of safety improvement being conducted. Well, you reap what you sow.

    Cycle lanes aren’t going to transport people on their 20km+ commute to work everyday and PT is for the priviledged who have access to it. For many New Zealanders there is simply no other option and it would be const prohibitive to create another option.

    The results of phase one of Auckland’s transformation speak for themselves:
    – Housing Crisis
    – Rates rises way in excess on inflation
    – Congestion like no one could ever believe
    – 6 out of 10 Aucklanders advising house prices have affected their quality of life

    If we were to include drivers as well I’d estimate 80% of Aucklanders would say their quality of life has diminished since Auckland’s transformation. But never fear the scaremongering shall continue!

    1. If the social and economic costs of the current method of moving from A->B has poor outcomes, why shouldn’t it be replaced as a paradigm or approach to solving the problem?

    2. Lol, accused of hating cars in a post where I say we should be spending money on improving roads all around the country instead of just a handful of mega expensive projects, all in a bid to reduce the number of people dying and getting injured.

    3. You’ve jumped the shark there TRM. A call to spend money better to make more roads safer for more drivers is somehow a “jihad on drivers”.

      The real jihad on drivers is sitting back complacently while 55 drivers each and every every week get hospitalised or killed on the road in New Zealand. If that isn’t ideological war, I don’t know what is.

    4. Ummm sure

      Let’s see
      Auckland Plan refresh under-way
      Goal? Encouraging close employment options to home
      Result: less commute and more feasible commute by transit and cycling

      CFN 2.0
      Goal: Supports above
      Result: Less crashes and less congestion

      Goal: Gold plating motorways with low volumes
      Result? Money sucked out of basic safety programs, excessive speed encouraged which causes more crashes and injuries (you drive to what it is designed for), and no money for transit to decongest roads that would mean less accidents.

      So jihad against cars?
      Government having a jihad against everyone else including safety, and transport alternatives? Yes

    5. I think you misspelled ‘roading improvements’, it’s supposed to be spelled ‘pork barrel pet motorway projects’. Real improvements cost in the low millions(operation lifesaver) and it’s worth looking at David Bennett’s home province(where he stonewalled intercity rail between Hamilton and Auckland) which is the annual winner of the national provincial road death toll championships. Its road of national magnificence is almost complete with the exception of the Huntly and Hamilton sections yet the road toll in the province has continued to grow, when it should have shrunk according to your road development argument? However small improvements such as the Hangatiki intersection and the Hamilton Airport junction have done more to reduce lives lost than the motorways you speak of for a fraction of the cost, which I would believe most ‘jihadists against road deaths’ would agree is money well spent. Better trucking regulation in regards to weight wouldn’t go amiss either.

    6. “Cycle lanes aren’t going to transport people on their 20km+ commute to work everyday”. Auckland has the longest median commute distance of any New Zealand city at 6 kilometres.

    7. That’s an idle calumny if ever I heard one. Your quality of life would be sadly diminished without GA/TB to rail against. Where on the web can a pro-PT agitator flame away and get such well considered responses?

      1. On nice days I “cycle” my electric bike 9km to work. It is actually quicker and more convenient than the bus, train or car. Don’t knock it until you try it. If I really wanted to, at my old job I could have done the 20km trip by bike in about the same time as using the bus/train. But it’s not very nice being run off the road by cars. I’m no MAMIL though. If my bike wasn’t electric, i’d never cycle. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

  2. The speed management guide needs some teeth. Each region must address the 5%of roads with the worst alignment to the guide every year.

  3. I understand countries with better developed systems of public transport have lower rates of death and injury than mono auto dependent societies.
    It seems logical to switch our transport expenditure from ‘moar’ roads to investment into public transport facilities for a quick gain in the accident rate reduction……………!

  4. Unreal Matt – jihad against dickhead drivers, yes, by all means. But then again, not all drivers are dickheads…

  5. Matt,

    1) Whilst I accept that some of the Roads of National Significance have low B/Cs (and could have been delayed until the B/Cs improved) that doesn’t remove the fact that, in general, motorways have lower crash rates than other types of roads. The standard of state highways in NZ are low and the more passing lanes, 1×1’s with medians and motorways we can build the better.

    2) NZ doesn’t spend enough on safety works because the travel time savings almost always end up being higher and favours congestion reduction.

    3) However I do not believe that NZ is serious enough about improving safety. Much of this for intersection crashes comes down to the minimum design standards.

    Here in Abu Dhabi all traffic signal phasing is approach based (there are some exceptions with through traffic running in two directions) & there is NEVER any filtering turns. This also allows cyclists and pedestrians to have their own protected phasing. Most of these junctions also have slip left turns(NZ equiv) to minimise pedestrian crossing distances.

    While adopting such a phasing approach inherently requires more lanes and land the junctions are much safer and provide exclusive movements for all travel modes. In somewhere like Christchurch where there is a high intersection crash rate trialing intersection layouts like this would be ideal.

  6. How many billions are wasted on healthcare for people who don’t take physical care of their health? Likewise for how much money is wasted as a result of crime or paying for people to have kids they can’t afford to have etc.

  7. Auckland’s roads are clogging up so badly speed is less and less of an issue. However according to Aussie reach cell phones are a far bigger killer than even alcohol.

    Anyway there is a major funding cut for traffic law enforcement so it’s really just an academic exercise.

    1. We desperately need better regulation, enforcement, and design when it comes to mobile phones.

      We could start with blanket advertising, a strong and concentrated enforcement effort, and higher penalties. Ultimately we need to have manufacturers lock out users from their devices while operating a vehicle, but NZ has little power to influence this directly.

  8. Completely agree that you need to invest in PT and give people good options close to those networks as alternatives to driving day-to-day and reduce costs of crashes. What doesn’t seem to be focused on in the article though is that drivers licenses in New Zealand are acquired after 1.5hours of professional testing, with only a few fortunate people who’ve gone to a private lesson or two, or if they wanted to speed up the process to get their full – went and did a defensive driving course. Our drivers, myself included, having been thought by our parents and not professionals, will continue making their mistakes. What we should be doing is making it more difficult for people to get their driver’s licenses and encouraging them to understand what wheedling a ton and a half of steel really means and the impact (pun intended) that it may have on other people’s lives.

  9. “Potential operational impacts on the network as a result of lower operating speeds will need to be considered during development of the programme of work”

    Talk about you mixed messages. Millions of dollars are spent on advertising campaigns telling people to slow down, but when it comes to lowering the speed limit on a road that can’t safely handle the current speed limit the message is we can’t do that because then people might take a little longer to get from A to B.

    I have always believed in “better to arrive late than DEAD on time”

    It seems the real message is better to let people kill and injure themselves on the road than risk any travel delays.

  10. I doubt a lot of people care. It’s one of these attitudes which are ubiquitous across continents and cultures. A few 100’s of people get dead every year, but so what.

    Actions speak louder than words. You can observe any day how people text and drive. Or drive without lights in the rain at dusk. Or experience the aggression from other drivers if you’re not at least 5 km/h above the speed limit.

    And the politics, IIRC a councillor had the 10 km/h speed limit in some shared spaces in the CBD reverted back to 50 km/h (!) a few years ago.

  11. Speed is not the problem, it is the poor standard of Kiwi drivers that cause the crashes. This includes cyclists, cars, trucks, taxis and even busses. Our DL tests need to be much harder and enforcement on things like running red lights, needs to be stepped up

    1. I think our tests are hard enough now (normal vehicle anyway, don’t know about special licences). Way lacking in the old days, and a lot of us are on those licences still, or perhaps OS drivers that are transferred to our ones (though I know nothing much about this aspect). It’s more a aspect of fast road designs & attitudes.

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