Time to rethink road safety, says campaigner

The government needs to change the way we operate our roads, says, the car review website dogandlemon.com.

Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson, who is an outspoken road safety campaigner, says:

“The public has been more or less deliberately misled about the causes and cures of road deaths. For example, few people realise that around a quarter of the road toll involves trucks[1] and over one quarter involves old people[2]. And, despite what the public has been led to believe, about 80% of the road toll occurs below, not above, the speed limit.”

“It’s easy for the government to blame yobbos, because yobbos generally don’t vote. However, very old drivers pose about the same road safety risk as teenagers. The reason you almost never hear this is because old people vote in large numbers, and they’re extremely paranoid about losing their freedom. So, the police and the government often turn a blind eye to the issue.”

"I'm not attacking elderly motorists. However, we all get to the point where it's no longer safe to drive. Yet, older drivers are effectively encouraged to believe that they can safely drive forever. This simply isn't so."

Pointing to the high numbers of accidents involving trucks, Matthew-Wilson claims the trucking industry effectively runs the government transport policy.

“The government is deliberately running down the rail network and instead designing the transport network around trucks and private cars. So, we have more and more trucks, and a higher and higher road toll. And, we have more and more tourists and holidaymakers crashing.”

“In tourist areas and during holidays, the volumes of traffic on our roads are too high for safety. However, instead of encouraging alternatives, such as holiday trains and buses, the government is effectively doing the opposite.”

“Obviously, the government should be encouraging tourists and holidaymakers to use passenger trains and buses. The government should also be urgently moving longhaul freight off roads and onto freight trains.”

Matthew-Wilson says the government must bear the ultimate responsibility for the rising road toll.

“A few years ago the government was crowing about the record low road toll, as if their road safety policies had worked. In fact, the best evidence suggests the record low road toll of those years was simply the result of the economic downturn that followed the 2008 global financial crisis. This is because the road toll tends to go up and down with the economy. That’s yet another fact that the government failed to share with the country.”

Matthew-Wilson adds there's also a strong link between petrol prices and the road toll[3].

"When petrol is cheap, the high-risk groups start using cars for joyriding rather than just transport. This is a perfect set-up for a fatal accident."


Matthew-Wilson believes the police are wasting their time asking motorists to drive safely.

"The high risk groups: drunks, motorcyclists, tourists, very young drivers and very old drivers, are effectively immune to road safety slogans; they already think they're driving okay. They may even agree with road safety messages, but they don't believe it applies to them."

Matthew-Wilson believes the police would be better lobbying government to improve our 'Third World roads and cars'.

"Stern lectures from the police have clearly changed nothing. Nor has issuing millions of tickets to ordinary drivers who drifted a few Ks over the speed limit. What does work is changing the cars and the roads, so silly behavior doesn't kill innocent people."

study by Monash University of the effectiveness of roadside fencing and median barriers[4] concluded that: “reductions of up to 90% in death and serious injury can be achieved, with no evidence of increased road trauma for motorcyclists.”


[1]           In 2014 (the latest available figures),, 67 people died and a further 772 were injured in road crashes involving trucks. This was 23% of all deaths and 7% of all reported injuries on our roads.

            Source: NZTA


[2]            In 2014, road users over 60 made up 83 of the 294 total fatalities for that year.

            Source: NZTA

The facts are: road users aged 60 and over make up over a quarter of the road toll. While the group as a whole is represented in road deaths at about the same amount as you would expect based on population, the risks increase significantly with age. So, from about 65 onwards, the risks for road users within this group grow exponentially.

To quote the NZTA:
"While older drivers don't have as many crashes, they and older passengers, if involved in a crash, are more at risk of being seriously injured or killed. This is principally due to their physical vulnerability. With the same impact force, the fatality rate is approximately three times higher for a 75-year-old motor vehicle occupant than for an 18-year-old one.

Illness and changes that are more common with age increase the risk of older drivers being involved in a crash. These changes may be physical or they may be changes to memory and thinking."


According to both local and  international research, by the time a road user is 75, the risks rise sharply. During 2009–14 New Zealand senior road users (ie drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians aged 75 years and over) made up:
5% of the population
11% of fatalities


So, senior road uses within this group are over twice as likely to die in accidents as their percentage of population. This does not necessarily mean that they're bad drivers, but that if they do have an accident (either as a drivers, passengers, cyclists or pedestrians), they are far more likely to die as a result.

But there's a much more serious issue that isn't fully understood by many groups. This is the issue of the distance travelled by an elderly driver;  statistics for older road users vary depending on how you measure the problem.

According to US research, based on the distance travelled, by the time a road user is 85, the risk of their dying on the roads is about the same as a teenager.

But this is where not all elderly drivers are in the same situation:  Elderly users who travel short distances are far safer than road users who travel longer distances. The above chart shows the number of accidents BY DISTANCE.

This is quite relevant to New Zealand. The statistics suggest that if an elderly road user, for example, lives in the country, or travels to visit relatives, he or she is at the extreme end of the risk scale, because for all road users, the higher the kilometres travelled, the greater the risk.

By comparison, many elderly road users, with or without help from support groups or family, modify their driving to minimise risk as they age. So, in theory, if an elderly driver drives only during the day, avoids motorways and drives only short distances, they are a lower risk. However, there's a catch.

Because age-related health issues, such as loss of cognitive ability, or degeneration of eyesight, are gradual, the driver concerned may be unaware that any significant changes have taken place.

Therefore, they may have a totally unrealistic understanding of their ability to safely travel.


[3]           According to a major study, every 10% rise in fuel costs leads to a 1.5% decline in crashes, although the effects are most clearly shown after about nine months.

            Safer Roads Owing to Higher Gasoline Prices: How Long It Takes
Guangqing Chi, PhD, Willie Brown, MS, Xiang Zhang, PhD, and Yanbing Zheng, PhD, 2015.


 [4] Flexible Barrier Systems Along  High-Speed Roads: A Lifesaving Opportunity

Magnus Larsson, Nimmi Candappa & Bruce Corben,

Monash University Accident Research Centre, 2003