Annual road toll lowest in more than 60 years

By Cassandra Mason

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

The number of people killed on our roads this year is the lowest since 1950.

The annual road toll of 254 was a 17 per cent reduction on the previous year, the Automobile Association (AA) said.

"This is the lowest number of people killed in road crashes since 232 deaths in 1950,'' AA general manager of motoring affairs Mike Noon said.

The toll has dropped below 300 only one other time in the last 60 years - in 2011.

"When you look at the number of people using the roading network in modern New Zealand, our roads are the safest they have ever been,'' he said.

Passenger deaths were down more than 40 per cent from 2012, and there was an 18 per cent drop in motorcycle fatalities.

However, the record low has been tarnished by the Christmas period road toll, which at six already equals the total for last year's entire holiday period.

The Christmas-New Year holiday period started at 4pm on Christmas Eve and ends at 6am on January 3.

"We've still got three more days to go, so we're not doing too good,'' Mr Noon said.

The holiday season hadn't seen as many drink-driving incidents, but more everyday people were making mistakes like not wearing seatbelts, he said.

Assistant Commissioner for Road Policing Dave Cliff said raising the driving age had helped lower the annual toll considerably, as well as improvements to roads, safety campaigns and new features like airbags.

"If you think back to the 1980s where there was 873 people killed in crashes [in one year] compared with the population at the point, we've come an incredibly long way to get the numbers down to where they are.''

However, it was always "with regret'' that 254 lives had been lost, and about 2800 people were hospitalised with serious injuries every year, he said.

"It's always great to see the number reducing [but] there's still an awful lot of trauma out on the roads.''

New Zealand would finish 2013 with fewer than one-third of the 843 fatalities recorded in the 1973 calendar year, said Ernst Zollner, the NZ Transport Agency's Director of Road Safety.

"New Zealand is a very different place today than it was 40 years ago - no where is that more obvious than on our roads.

"Most of the roads we drive on have changed in that time - they are better designed and safer. So are the vehicles we drive, and generally so are the people behind the wheel. We're much less likely to drive drunk, we've slowed down, and almost all of us wear seat belts.''

However the 2013 annual toll was not a cause for celebration, he said. Rather, it should be a call to action because it is not sustainable to have a transport system that kills and maims thousands of people every year.

"Our vision at the Transport Agency is that no-one should be killed or seriously injured on our highways and roads.

"That's why New Zealand's adopted the safe system approach, which aims to prevent crashes from happening and to make sure that whenever there is a crash, it doesn't result in serious injury or crash,'' Mr Zollner said.

"Road crashes are still the single biggest killer of teenagers in New Zealand. That's why the minimum driving age has been raised from 15 to 16, a zero alcohol limit introduced for teen drivers, and the bar has been raised for getting a licence with a tougher practical driving test.

"The safe system approach has proven effective overseas. But if we want to achieve our vision, we need to embed the safe system mentality with our next generation of drivers.''

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Historical Christmas/New Year holiday period casualties

2013/14 - 6 dead (as of mid-afternoon 31/12/13)

2012/13 - 6

2011/12 - 19

2010/11 - 12

2009/10 - 13

2008/09 - 25

2007/08 - 18

2006/07 - 9

2005/06 - 22

2004/05 - 11

Source: Ministry of Transport

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2013 road toll - the numbers

Passenger deaths dropped 41 per cent from 2012

Motorcyclist deaths fell 18 per cent

Deaths among 25- to 39-year-olds dropped by 38 per cent

The biggest reductions were in Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, Waikato, Manawatu/Wanganui and Southland.

- NZ Herald

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