New Zealand's road toll is tipped to drop to "historically low levels" as people self-isolate and economic pain from the coronavirus crisis hits.

"The economy is the biggest single influence on the road toll," said Clive Matthew-Wilson, editor of car review website dogandlemon.com.

"The road toll plummeted globally after the 2008 global financial crash and rose again as the economy recovered.

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"In fact, the OECD found that: 'The economic downturn in 2009-10 may well have contributed to about two-thirds of the decrease in fatalities from 2008'. The same reduction is likely to occur this year; as people travel less, the road toll is likely to be substantially reduced."

In New Zealand, 2008's road toll came in at a 50-year low of 366 road deaths – something officials at the time speculated might have been as a result of motorists driving more slowly to conserve fuel amid tough times.

"Globally, a high percentage of the road toll involves trucks. Reduced demand for many goods means less trucks on the road and therefore a reduction in the number of fatalities," Matthew-Wilson said.

Pedestrian and cycle accidents were likely to drop also, because there would be fewer car trips and less people getting drunk, he said.

"Less people getting drunk means less drunk drivers hitting pedestrians and cyclists. Less people getting drunk also means less drunk pedestrians and cyclists."

Road safety campaigner Clive Matthew-Wilson. Photo / Michael Craig
Road safety campaigner Clive Matthew-Wilson. Photo / Michael Craig

But he believed motorcycle accidents might fall more slowly.

"In the last two decades there has a been a spike of middle-aged men riding large motorbikes, which has led to multiple fatalities," he said.

"While sales of these large bikes are likely to drop sharply, the men who already own them are likely to keep riding, although they may ride less often."

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He called on the Government to invest in road safety improvements during the recession that was following the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The road toll has actually been dropping overall throughout the western world since the late 1980s. Aside from the economy, the biggest factors in the lowered road toll have been safer cars and safer roads."

Automobile Association road safety spokesman Dylan Thomsen also expected to see the general trend.

"It makes sense that in an economic downturn, there tends to be less driving, and the less driving that's going on, the less crashes you are likely to have."

He also predicted an impact on crash figures from the large number of Kiwis now staying home - but questioned whether there would be an off-set with more people driving as a result of public transport shut-downs.

NZ Police has been approached for comment.