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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 young adults. 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 2006, 391 people died as a result of motor vehicle crashes, a rate of 9.4 deaths per 100,000 population. A further 15,174 people were injured, a rate of 367 injuries per 100,000 population.87 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 49 percent lower in 2006 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 percent fewer people injured in 2006 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, 1986–2006

Figure SS4.1 Road traffic injury and death rates, 1986–2006

Source: Ministry of Transport

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 of the increasing fragility of the very old.

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 2002–2006, a big improvement on the average annual rate of 50 deaths per 100,000 for the 1987–1991 period.  

Males are much more likely than females to be killed in motor vehicle crashes. Between 2002 and 2006, the average annual death rate for males was 14 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 1987–1991 period (31 deaths per 100,000 for males and 13 per 100,000 for females).

Figure SS4.2 Five-year average annual road death rates, by age, 1987–1991 to 2002–2006

Figure SS4.2 Five-year average annual road death rates, by age, 1987–1991 to 2002–2006

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 death rate of 20 per 100,000 population in 2004. In comparison, the provisional death rate for the European and Other ethnic group in 2004 was 9 per 100,000 and for Pacific peoples, 7 per 100,000.

Table SS4.1 Land transport accident death rates, by ethnicity, 2000–2004

  Age-standardised rate per 100,000 population
Year Māori Pacific
and Other
2000 22 12 11 13
2001 17 12 11 12
2002 20 12 10 12
2003 24 9 11 12
2004 20 7 9 11

Source: Ministry of Health, New Zealand Health Information Service
Note: The injury mortality classification changed in 2000 and, as a result, data from earlier years is not comparable

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.88 

International comparison

In 2005, New Zealand was ranked 17th out of 27 OECD countries, with a road death rate of 9.9 per 100,000 people.89 This was just above the OECD median of 9.1 deaths per 100,000. The Netherlands had the lowest road death rate (4.6 per 100,000), followed closely by Norway and Sweden (each 4.9 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 (9.1 per 100,000), Australia (8.1 per 100,000) and the United Kingdom (5.5 per 100,000). New Zealand's road death rate for youth aged 15–24 years (22.4 per 100,000 in 2005) ranked 25th, just below the United States (25.9 per 100,000) but considerably higher than the OECD median of 16.4 per 100,000 people aged 15–24 years.