Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Failure to wear seat belts a major concern in fatal crashes

Police last week started a nationwide campaign to get people to wear their seat belts. Photo / John Stone
Police last week started a nationwide campaign to get people to wear their seat belts. Photo / John Stone

Causal factors behind fatal crashes last year

• Travelling too fast for the conditions (38 per cent)
• Alcohol/drugs (30 per cent)
• Inattention (13 per cent)
• Fatigue (10 per cent)

- Source: Ministry of Transport. Because there can be several factors contributing to each accident, percentages cannot be added together. Percentages may change after full crash reports are analysed.

Nearly 40 per cent of people who died in fatal crashes last year weren't wearing a seat belt - as new research estimates the social cost of each fatality at $4.09 million.

The Ministry of Transport is updating the country's road safety strategy, which will run until 2020 and is expected to be finalised in the middle of the year.

What else can be done to bring down a road toll that has worsened in recent years is being considered.

Labour wants any link between heavy trucks and road safety to be investigated - saying the Government should think carefully before approving new, bigger vehicle limits.

The latest information from the ministry, provided to Parliament's transport and industrial relations select committee, shows many of the key safety messages aren't getting through to everyone.

The social cost of each road fatality is estimated to be $4.09 million. Photo / File
The social cost of each road fatality is estimated to be $4.09 million. Photo / File

While the ministry doesn't have full crash reports for all fatal crashes last year, early indications are that the causal factors included travelling too fast for conditions (38 per cent), and alcohol or drugs (30 per cent). Inattention was a factor in 13 per cent of fatal crashes last year, and fatigue an influence in 10 per cent.

Failure to wear a seat belt was a major problem - at least 38 per cent of drivers and passengers who died last year weren't restrained at the time of the crash.

Over the past three years, New Zealand's death toll has risen steadily from 253 in 2013 to 320 last year.

That has alarmed Labour's transport spokeswoman Sue Moroney, who questioned whether a "cash-strapped" police force has enough resource to target serious driving offences.

Ms Moroney told the Herald she had pushed for a review of the road safety strategy to find out what more could be done.

One aspect she would like investigated is any link between heavy vehicles and road safety. "[There are] an increasing number of heavier and bigger trucks on our roads. The Government is consulting at the moment about making them bigger and heavier again, and I think the Government should think very carefully before they go down that track, given the increase in our road toll."

Police last week started a nationwide campaign to get people to wear their seat belts.

Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss said the road toll is "much, much too high".

"Alcohol, drugs, excessive speed, fleeing police and not wearing a seat belt are still the primary contributors to fatal and serious injury crashes.

"There is no silver bullet here - it takes a range of organisations and measures all working together to improve road safety across all parts of the system."

The Ministry of Transport's annual Social Cost of Road Crashes and Injuries report, released last week, estimated the total cost of fatal and injury crashes in 2014 was $3.47 billion (a 5.8 per cent increase from 2013).

The estimated social cost of each fatality was $4.09 million, dropping to $430,000 for each serious injury, and $23,000 for each minor injury.The estimated cost includes a component representing the estimated value of pain and suffering to the injured and their family. Reduced productivity, medical and other resource costs are also included.

- NZ Herald

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