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Road casualties


The number of people killed or injured in motor vehicle crashes as a proportion (per 100,000) of the total population.


Motor vehicle crashes are a major cause of premature death, especially among younger age groups. Deaths, injuries and disability resulting from motor vehicle crashes inflict considerable pain and suffering on individuals, families and communities, as well as on other road users, emergency service providers, health workers and others.

Current level and trends

In 2008, 365 people died as a result of motor vehicle crashes, a rate of 8.6 deaths per 100,000 population. Provisional reported injury data for 2008 shows a further 15,022 people were injured, a rate of 352 injuries per 100,000 population.104 In 2007, the death rate was 10.0 per 100,000 and the injury rate was 379 per 100,000. Deaths and injuries from motor vehicle crashes have declined substantially since 1986, when the rates were 23.1 and 570 per 100,000 population, respectively. The number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes was 52 per cent lower in 2008 than it was in 1986. Although the number of people injured has risen since 2000 (partly because of better recording by police), there were 20 per cent fewer people injured in 2008 than in 1986.

There is no conclusive evidence on the reasons for the reduction in road casualties since 1986. Better roads and better vehicles, as well as legislation, enforcement and education aimed at reducing road casualties, may all have contributed to an improvement in drivers’ attitudes and behaviour.

Figure SS4.1 Road traffic injury and death rates, 1986–2008

Figure SS4.1 Road traffic injury and death rates, 1986–2008

Source: Ministry of Transport
Note: 2002-2006 data has been revised using new population estimates

Age and sex differences

Young people aged 15–24 years are at a far higher risk of death from motor vehicle crashes than any other age group. Death rates for 15–24 year olds are more than double those of the population as a whole. The risk of dying in a crash is relatively low in middle age, then increases at older ages, partly because the very old are more fragile.

The death rate for all age groups has fallen steadily over the period since 1986. The decline has been particularly marked among 15–24 year olds, who had an average annual rate of 21 deaths per 100,000 in the period 2004–2008, a big improvement on the average annual rate of 45 deaths per 100,000 for the 1989–1993 period.

Males are much more likely than females to be killed in motor vehicle crashes. Between 2004 and 2008, the average annual death rate for males was 13 deaths per 100,000 males, while the rate for females was 6 deaths per 100,000 females. For both sexes, this was considerably lower than the average annual rate for the 1989–1993 period (28 deaths per 100,000 for males and 12 per 100,000 for females).

Figure SS4.2 Five-year average annual road death rates, by age, 1989–1993 to 2004–2008

Figure SS4.2 Five-year average annual road death rates, by age, 1989–1993 to 2004–2008

Source: Ministry of Transport, rates derived by Ministry of Social Development

Ethnic differences

Māori are much more likely than other ethnic groups to die in motor accidents, with a provisional age-standardised road death rate of 21 per 100,000 population in 2006. In comparison, the provisional road death rate for non-Māori in 2006 was 8 per 100,000.

Table SS4.1 Land transport accident death rates, by ethnicity, 2000–2006

  Age-standardised rate per 100,000 population
Year Māori Non-Māori Total
2000 22 12 13
2001 18 12 13
2002 21 11 12
2003 25 11 13
2004 21 10 12
2005 21 9 11
2006 21 8 10

Source: Ministry of Health, New Zealand Health Information Service
Notes: (1) The injury mortality classification changed in 2000 and, as a result, data from earlier years is not comparable (2) 2006 data is provisional (3) Age-standardised to the WHO standard world population

Māori and Pacific peoples are less likely to drive than Europeans, but when they do they are at a greater risk of injury and death. A 1998 survey showed that, per distance driven, the risk of being hospitalised as a result of a crash was more than three times as high for Māori drivers, and only slightly less than three times as high for Pacific drivers, compared to European drivers.105

International comparison

Using the most recent data for the years 2005–2007, New Zealand was ranked 18th out of 27 OECD countries, with a road death rate of 10.0 per 100,000 people. This was slightly higher than the OECD median of 9.2 deaths per 100,000. The Netherlands had the lowest road death rate (4.3 per 100,000), followed by Iceland (4.9 per 100,000) and Switzerland (5.1 per 100,000). The New Zealand road death rate was lower than that of the United States at 14.7 per 100,000, but higher than those of Canada (9.2 per 100,000), Australia (7.7 per 100,000) and the United Kingdom (5.4 per 100,000).106

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