Story: Road accidents

Every year large numbers of people are killed or injured in road accidents in New Zealand. Many New Zealanders own cars and the accident rate is high. Alcohol and speeding are common causes, and young people are most likely to die. Better roads, more stringent policing, and people’s understanding of road safety are helping to reduce the number of crashes.

Story by Nancy Swarbrick
Main image: Car crash, Northland, 2004

Story summary

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Deaths and injuries

In 2007, 422 people died and 16,013 people were injured in road accidents in New Zealand. In 2008 the number of deaths dropped to 366, probably because high petrol prices reduced road traffic. Between 2011 and 2020 the average annual death toll was 321.

New Zealand’s worst road accident was in 1963 when a bus ran off the road after its brakes failed – 15 people died.

Social cost

Governments measure the ‘social cost’ of road accidents, including the cost of medical treatments and damage to property, and legal and court fees. In 2006 the estimated cost of road accidents was $3.5 billion.

More accidents

From the days of horse-drawn vehicles, people have died and been injured on the roads. When cars were introduced more accidents happened.

Throughout the 20th century cars became more powerful and faster, and the number of accidents rose. In 1973 there was the highest ever road toll: 843 died. Large numbers of people were driving. The speed limit had increased, and high-speed crashes caused more serious damage and injuries. Alcohol was a factor in many accidents.

Road safety

Accident numbers began to come down as:

  • there were tougher laws about drinking and driving
  • police patrolled the roads more strictly
  • seat belts became compulsory
  • people were taught about road safety
  • road design improved
  • cars were designed to be safer.

The government is trying to reduce the number of road accidents.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Road accidents', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 April 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 11 March 2010, updated 1 December 2014