Economic growth a factor in rising road toll, says NZTA

NZTA cited a rise in heavy traffic movements in an increase in the road toll. Photo by Lynn Grieveson.

The New Zealand Transport Agency says a rise in truck movements linked to economic growth and an ageing car fleet were factors in a 50 percent rise in the road toll in the last five years.

On Thursday, the Transport Select Committee asked NZTA to explain why New Zealand’s road toll had increased 50 percent from 2013, far outstripping the increase in population over that period. In 2012, 253 people were killed on New Zealand’s roads; in 2017 that figure was 379.

NZTA Safety and Environment Director Harry Wilson told the committee that the problem was partly due to road use increasing as New Zealand emerged from the Global Financial Crisis.

“The number of trucks on the roads increased, which is a great thing for New Zealand because it shows increased productivity, but the chance of an accident involving a truck also increases,” said Wilson.

Wilson also said that the profile of New Zealand’s car fleet and the number of young motorists driving old, unsafe cars was a “perfect storm” for fatalities.

“In the last five years, 50 percent of the deaths and serious injuries occurred in cars over 15 years old,” he said.

He said that young people, who were more likely to be driving older cars, bore the brunt of the road toll.

“Young people aged 16-24 represent 26 percent of road deaths in the last five years… we’re putting our youngest people in some of the most unsafe vehicles on the road,” he said.

Although NZTA would like to see the profile of the fleet change, Wilson said that New Zealand was still importing old cars that did not have the safety technologies of new ones.

“50 percent of cars coming to New Zealand are new and the other 50 percent are ten years old and if you bought a ten year old car, you’re likely to keep it,” he said.

Labour MP Michael Wood asked why New Zealand saw such a large increase in its road toll when other countries managed to ride out a period of economic and population growth without their road toll increasing.

Wilson responded that speed and geography were big issues in New Zealand. He said that NZTA was investing in infrastructure like meridian barriers and also reviewing parts of the road network where the default maximum has been 100 km/h.