Story: Road accidents

Page 3. Promoting road safety

All images & media in this story


The rising road toll led to regulation of motor traffic.

Laws and penalties

The Motor Vehicle Act 1924 introduced penalties for dangerous driving, and drivers’ licences became compulsory in 1925. Gradually further laws and regulations were introduced, and from the 1960s penalties became harsher. Today the Land Transport Act 1998 and its amendments govern road safety, and there are regulations and rules covering issues such as penalties, licensing and vehicle safety.

Traffic patrols

The first traffic officer was employed by the Auckland City Traffic Department in 1894 to police horse-drawn traffic. A Transport Department was set up in 1929, but the government did not become involved in enforcement of traffic laws until 1937, when the first twelve traffic officers were appointed. In large urban areas, traffic policing remained the responsibility of local bodies. The centralising of traffic control occurred gradually and was not complete until 1992.

A training school for traffic officers opened in 1955, and from the 1960s a larger, better-equipped force began patrolling the roads. In 1968 the Traffic Department became a division of the Ministry of Transport. In 1992, as the Traffic Safety Service, it joined with the Police, and a separate Police Highway Patrol was formed.

Criminals and cops

Cost-cutting was one reason for the merger of the Traffic Safety Service and the New Zealand Police in 1992. The link between traffic and police work was another reason – research showed that many serious traffic offenders had other criminal convictions, making police involvement in traffic work desirable.

Driver behaviour

Reducing accidents and their effects was helped by growing awareness of the influence of speed and alcohol, and of the usefulness of seat restraints.

Speed limits

A 30 mile (48 kilometre) per hour speed limit was imposed in 1930. The limit was raised as vehicles became more powerful, but enforcing it was always controversial. In 1949 the first speed detector, developed locally by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, came into service. For years, traffic officers stopped speeding drivers and issued them with tickets, but in 1993 mobile speed cameras were introduced. These photographed the registration numbers of speeding drivers, and infringement notices were mailed to them.

Restraints and helmets

Seat belts had to be fitted in the front seat of cars from 1965, and from 1975 it was compulsory to wear them. After 1979 they had to be fitted and worn in both front and back seats of new cars. By the late 1970s safety seats for children were becoming common. They were legally required for children under five from 1994.

Helmets became mandatory for both motorcyclists and pillion passengers from 1974. Wearing of helmets by bicyclists was promoted from 1986, and became compulsory in 1994.

Alcohol restrictions

From 1969 there was a legal limit of 100 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood for all drivers. In 1978 this was lowered to 80 mg per 100 ml, and in 2014 to 50 mg. For drivers under 20, the previous limit of 30 mg per 100 ml was reduced to a zero blood alcohol content in 2011.

In 1969, breath and blood tests for alcohol began, but delays in getting results made it difficult to prosecute. However with scientific advances in the early 1980s testing became more reliable.

Drink-driving campaigns began in the 1970s. Random stopping of drivers for breath tests started in 1984, and from 1988 traffic officers began issuing on-the-spot summonses for evidential breath tests. In 1993 compulsory breath testing of all drivers passing mobile police checkpoints began, and ‘booze buses’ parked there speeded up the testing process.

Signs out, cross now!

School patrols – zebra crossings controlled by children with signs – began in 1938, and were officially introduced in 1944. They are an important way of teaching road-safety skills to children, and help keep them safe when they are getting to and from school.

Road engineering

Better roads helped to make motoring safer. Road safety experts now use the Crash Analysis System (CAS), a computer program, to identify high-risk locations. Since the 1990s, there have been major improvements to state highways, and passing lanes and median barriers have been built on dangerous stretches of road.

Public education

Community and school education programmes about road safety started in 1938. From the 1970s hard-hitting television advertisements began. Motorists are given incentives to take defensive driving courses, and there are now driving courses for young and elderly drivers, who are considered high-risk groups.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Road accidents - Promoting road safety', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 July 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 11 Mar 2010, updated 1 Dec 2014