What is it with NZ Roads?


I wanted to put together some research which may help to articulate some of the problems on New Zealand roads because I have become fed up by every accident and incident being attributed to tourists, Asians and speed. I want New Zealand to take responsibility for themselves and not just slap a concerning problem with one of the three labels previously mentioned.

This summary aims to consolidate some research I did from various sources and to conclude with recommendations which may just benefit New Zealand and make it a safer and more efficient road using community.

My Summary

From recent studies it was concluded that 44% of accidents were as a result of drivers who failed to look or react in time. In New Zealand we have been half-heartedly dealing with a very serious problem of using mobile devices whilst driving whether viewing and/or holding them. But it has not gone far enough to recognise that the accident figures include any activity which divide the attention of the driver which could be a simple as maintaining eye contact whilst talking to a passenger.

We should change the moto of “Speed Kills” to “Speeding Kills” because it is misleading.  “Speed” not only kills but it gets you from A to B in a specific time which could range from zero to the speed of light.

There is one fact about speed which is not disputed which is, “the bigger the speed of impact, the bigger the mess”. However, there is only so much mess you can make so there has to be a point at which crossing it results in fatality. A frontal impact in a car where the impact is 80 kph+ will result in 90% certainty of fatal injuries to human occupants wearing seat belts. This impact could be a car hitting a wall at 80 kph or from two cars crashing head on both doing 40 kph. Setting a speed limit based upon avoidance of fatalities on the road would mean that all road speed limits should be considerably less than 40 kph!

From the same study, it was concluded the 37% of accidents were as a result of drivers who lost control of their vehicle. Looking at this for a moment would make you instantly think about speed again but in fact only 5% of accidents are caused from drivers who are exceeding the speed limit. The real problem is the inability to adequately control their vehicle which may be as a result of a few factors.

For example, if you learn to drive in an automatic and avoid using a manual altogether, you are far less likely to learn how to prepare for a corner or a situation ahead along with the control gained by understanding the distribution of power from the gears to the road. By only experiencing driving in an automatic would be like driving a go-kart or the dodgems at the funfair when you were 6 years old, to all intense and purposes, it is simply start and stop and a few rules; you’re driving before you’ve even been shown how to really know what you’re getting yourself into.

So what about speeding then? “Speeding” is not how fast you are going, it is how fast you are travelling over and above the speed that you are allowed to travel at on any given road. The setting of the speed of different type of road along with specific stretches of road should not be affected by the people who break a speed limit irrespective of what that limit is. When giving a road a speed limit, you are setting the variance of traffic speed.

If a lot of drivers travel safely at 110kph on an open road where the limit is 100kph, if you increase the limit to 110kph for that road, it doesn’t result in the drivers to now drive at 120kph, there is simply a change to the variance which results in an overall safer road.

People who ‘speed’ are no less likely to be affected by a lower speed limit as criminals are to a change in gun laws or drug users are to the change in classification of their recreational drugs. These dangerous drivers are not brought into line by a change of a speed limit, they are quite simply disregarding any authority over them and their use of the road.

Additional to speeding are people who are driving too slowly who are in fact more dangerous than those focussed intently on controlling their vehicle at a higher speed. People who are driving too slowly are more likely to allow their mind to wonder and find the whole driving thing as a way of unwinding or thinking about other things. How many times have you been behind someone oblivious to you behind them? These drivers test the impatient drivers amongst us to attempt to get past them and risk the safety of themselves, their occupants and other road users.

My Recommendations

I have laid out ten recommendations which I am certain would make New Zealand a much safer place. In addition to recommendations which are directly related to points in this summary, I have also included other significant ones which need to be addressed at the same time to improve the safety and efficiency of New Zealand for both road users and pedestrians.

  1. Learner and Provisional Driving Licenses should only be issued to drive Manual Transmission Vehicles. Learning to drive a manual will ensure that a new driver will have learned how to properly control a vehicle before designating the vehicle to do some of it for you the majority of the time. Considering 37% of all accidents were due to a loss of control of their vehicle, it’s about time they learnt to drive without the training wheels on.
  2. Educate via Social and Television Media about top ten highway code rules which are broken. A lot of New Zealand drivers do not understand a lot of the rules of the road. Maybe a lot of the older drivers passed their test when there were less rules to the road to observe.  In Mount Eden and at the Pitt Street/Southern Motorway roundabout there are box junctions, which no-one seems to understand how to use along with keep clear signs. The more traffic there is, the more we need to learn to get along and at the moment, your everyday Kiwi is out for themselves on the road when a little more consideration helps everyone move along.
  3. Make the New Zealand Roads Safer. This was mentioned and dismissed in a news article recently where they said it was a distraction to blame the state of New Zealand roads but it is actually fundamental to the safety of driving in New Zealand. This includes adequate signage, median barriers which can avoid head on collisions at high risk roads.
  4. Heavier Penalties for drivers who are distracted from their primary role performed behind the wheel of a vehicles. 44% of accidents were as a result of drivers who failed to look and react. This includes holding and/or viewing a mobile device or performing an activity which itself would require full/partial attention to accomplish adequately which includes drinking, eating or entertaining an occupant of the vehicle.
  5. Junction Red Light Cameras. We have a serious problem in New Zealand of drivers jumping traffic lights and speeding up to do so. This has to stop.
  6. Get rid of “Turning Traffic Give Way to Pedestrians” this is very dangerous. To have a road system which allows it to be green for pedestrians and green for road users is unexplainable especially to overseas visitors. In order to avoid more fatalities and near misses, if it is green for people to cross the road then it HAS TO BE red for vehicles to use that road, simple.
  7. Increase the speed limit on the motorways to 110kph. It is careless drivers who disregard speed limits who are likely to cause accidents where it results in them or others to lose control of their vehicle and not the limit which applies to all other road users. Only 5% of accidents are as a result of speeds exceeding the limit. The cause of accidents involving speed is not driving to the conditions and not knowing how to control a vehicle properly.
  8. Enforce the fast lane policy on multi-lane roads. Undertaking is dangerous, period. By enforcing an end to this practice, it will significantly reduce accidents by ensuring drivers are aware of the traffic around them more effectively and apply lane changes when necessary and safe to do so.
  9. Remove onramp phasing traffic lights and install new joining traffic prioritisation. These are dangerous and go against the purpose of an onramp. Onramps are designed so that cars can reach the speed of the road they are joining so that it does not affect the traffic which is already there. It would be better to force the existing traffic out from the first lane to allow for a safer merge of traffic than what we currently have which is a race from the lights of two lanes which merge into one lane before joining the road the motorway.
  10. Force cyclists to also follow the rules of the road which applies to them also. Going through red traffic lights at junctions and pedestrian crossings are not acceptable. They cause distraction for other drivers whilst they themselves feel an elevated sense of right to break the rules that apply to all of us. Accidents caused by inside overtaking of stationary vehicles, cycling to the left of a turning long vehicle around a corner and driving to close to parked vehicles is their responsibility to. They need to be aware of the dangers and follow the rules and everyone will get along nicely.

My Research

How does New Zealand compare to other countries for serious or fatal crashes?

Figures from 2012 indicate that there was an average of 10.23 fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles compared to 7.6 Australia, 6.2 United Kingdom 4.7 Switzerland and 4.4 Norway.

What types of roads do accidents generally occur?

Based upon analysis done on UK motor vehicle accidents carried out by the RAC in 2014, it came to the conclusion that 60% of all fatalities were on country roads. The majority of accidents occur on built up roads and a third of all fatalities occur on a bend.

Motorways only account for less than 5.4% of car accident fatalities.

The joint report of the RAC Foundation and the Road Safety Foundation – Saving Lives, Saving Money – highlights that 6,000 lives could be saved on Britain’s roads over the next 10 years by bringing main roads with safety flaws such as missing safety fencing and unsafe junction layouts up to safety levels that should reasonably be expected.

How do speed limits affect the frequency of accidents in these countries?

From the table below you will see that speed limits on the roads of the above stated countries are reasonably aligned with exception to New Zealand on motorways where it has a lower maximum limit.

Country Within Towns Single Carriageway Motorway
New Zealand 50-70 kph 80-100 kph 100 kph
Australia 50-60 kph 100-110 kph

4x NT Highways 130 kph

Stuart Highway No Limit

100-110 kph
United Kingdom (30 mph) 48 kph (60 mph) 97 kph (70 mph) 113 kph
Switzerland 50 kph 80-100 kph 120 kph
Norway 50 kph 80 kph 90-110 kph

Looking at statistics for countries with motorway limits of 100 kph finds countries include Morocco (206.3 fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles), Cameroon (887.8 fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles) and Mali (1672.5 fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles). So does having a lower speed limit have a direct impact on lower vehicle accidents on these roads?


What causes of Motor Vehicle Accidents?

The RAC analysis suggests that 44% of accidents involved people who failed to look, 37% of accidents were caused by a loss of vehicle control, 20% were related to driver tiredness and 14% were related to drink/drug driving. Only 5% of accidents were as a result of exceeding the speed limit – in these cases, 90% of these accidents where were they had failed to drive to the conditions of the road (low visibility, we roads, etc.). One in three accidents involved vehicles being drive to or from work.

Where failure to look is a factor, distraction seems to be the number one cause which maybe where the driver is pre-occupied trying to do two or more things at once which include sending/reading a text or email, attempting to eat or drink at the wheel or maintaining eye contact whist having a conversation in the vehicle or holding a mobile phone in their hand rather than up to their ear to avoid being caught by Police for holding a conversation on their phone, ironically without the use of a hands-free kit.

Where a loss of control of the vehicle is a factor, many (18%) of these accidents were contributed by drivers who were young and/or inexperienced. Although it has been statistically proven that younger drivers are more likely to exceed the speed limit than older drivers, it is more appropriate to focus on their ability to drive to the conditions and control their vehicle if wanting to come to the correct answer to why someone lost control of a vehicle. We all know that “speed kills” but only if it’s in the hands of someone who does not have the ability to control it.

How many accidents were contributed by drivers who learnt to drive in an automatic transmission vehicle?

People who learn to drive in a manual transmission learn about how power is transferred through the gears and how to prepare the vehicle for corners and when to apply power instead of the brakes in order to maintain effective control of the vehicle.

With an automatic transmission, there is no preparing the vehicle for something up ahead, it is simply slowing down by decelerating or braking and there is limited control over which gear is to be used in any given circumstance. It has been proven that a driver who have experience in a manual transmission are also more in control of an automatic just through their second nature understanding of what the car is and should be doing in any situation.

If you learn to drive in an automatic and avoid using a manual altogether, you are far less likely to learn how to prepare for a corner or a situation ahead along with the control gained by understanding the distribution of power from the gears to the road. Learning to drive an automatic feel like an easy exercise which would have been first experienced driving a go-kart or the dodgems at the funfair when you were 6 years old, to all intense and purposes, it is simply start and stop.

Geoff Day wrote recently in an Auto magazine blog “Getting a driving license by only ever driving automatics is a bit like learning to ride a bike with training wheels on, expect most drivers never take the baby wheels off. It’s time to learn to read the manual.” Although the majority of city road users want to buy and drive an automatic vehicle, why should this dictate the standards which we learn to drive and pass our tests with?

If we were all required to have a driving license for a manual transmission vehicle, wouldn’t that mean that every driver ends up learning to drive properly before they get their automatic? If you are a young learner, wouldn’t you want to learn how to drive the real thing like you saw in the movies?

What is the speed of impact at which it is considered to be serious or fatal for all vehicles involved?

Michael Paine a vehicle safety engineer in Sydney wrote: “Travelling at 60km/h in a modern car feels safe – but that is an illusion. An impact at this speed has a very high risk of severe or fatal injuries. This is due to Newton’s laws of physics – which, unlike speed limits, cannot be broken – and the frailty of the human body.”

He also states that “The Australian Transport Safety Bureau publishes data on fatal road accidents. It reports that in the two years 2005-2006 45% of fatal crashes occurred on roads with a speed limit of 100km/h or more and 32% occurred on roads with a speed limit of 60km/h or less.”

From the figures below, you can see the relationship between accidents severity for belted drivers for both frontal and side impacts with the speed of impact shown in mph (miles per hour). You will notice that the severity vs speed is considerably more for side impacts due to less crumple zone of the vehicle.

Something to bear in mind and consider here is that the speed of impact is the combined speed of both vehicles.

If car A travels at 50 mph (80 kph) towards oncoming car B driving 50 mph then the speed of impact is 100 mph (160 kph). If car A travels at 50 mph (80 kph) towards oncoming car B driving 30 mph then the speed of impact is 80 mph (128 kph).

So in reality, is setting speed limits is about reducing fatalities then no car on the road where it could hit an oncoming car should be allowed to exceed 40 mph!

Does Speeding increase the likelihood of an accident?

The short answer is yes, but lets define speeding. Speeding is not “going fast” it is exceeding the speed limit of the road in ideal conditions. Some analysis was done in Ireland and they concluded that, in a 60 km/h zone, travelling at:

  • 65 km/h, you are twice as likely to have a serious crash
  • 70 km/h, you are four times as likely to have a serious crash
  • 75 km/h, you are 10 times as likely to have a serious crash
  • 80 km/h, you are 32 times as likely to have a serious crash than if you drive at 60 km/h.

In rural out of town areas, travelling just 10 km/h faster than the average speed of other traffic, you are twice as likely to have a serious crash.

So this is based upon exceeding speeds which are considered to be safe to travel at. This takes into consideration things like braking distance, response time, etc which are affected by the faster YOU are travelling which is in relation to the speed that OTHERS on the road are travelling.

Does reducing the speed limits decrease liklihood of accidents?

Variance in speed on a road is likely to be one of the greatest contributor to vehicle accidents. The Parker Study, observed time and again that “it’s the speed differential that is the problem. If you put the speed limit at 100km/h when most people are doing 120km/h, the differential between law-abiding drivers and everyone else is 20km/h. If you raise the limit to 110km/h, the faster drivers don’t go even faster – they tend to stay around 120km/h – but now the law-abiding drivers are doing 110km/h, reducing the speed differential to 10km/h”.

This has be proven in plenty of places around the world. For example vast stretches of I-15 between Utah and Arizona had the limit raised from 70mph to 80mph and the crash, injury and fatality figures fell noticeably.


Speed Limits by Country

Worldwide Traffic Related Fatalities

RAC UK Analysis

Geoff Day Article

Relationship between Speed and Fatal Injury

Speed Analysis – ie Govt

Reference to Parker Study Article


3 thoughts on “What is it with NZ Roads?”

  1. I am sorry but you lost me when you equated an 80kmh head on into a wall with 2 cars hitting at 40kmh.
    The physics for this has been proven many times please get your facts right. 2 cars of equal mass hitting head on will result in both vehicles effectively hitting a wall at 40kmh. This changes with Mass when a bigger car hit a death car ie something that is lighter than it. You may and probably did have lots of good comments in your article but I didn’t take the time to read them after this to me glaring error. Note I originally read it on stuff and a quick glance at the comments was disappointing.



    Liked by 1 person

    1. I said that the impact was 80KPH+ not 80kph and I did not refer to which vehicle may be worse off. A car hitting a motorcycle for example, fatality likelihood greater for bike rider with impact at 80 greater than a Ute. What someone mentioned earlier which was absolutely incorrect is that two cars doing 40 to each other is impact of 40, which is absolutely incorrect. So although your point required us to include of the types of vehicles, it does not disprove something I learnt at school 🙂 thanks


  2. http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2012/10/01/mythbusters-on-head-on-collisions/

    So it is like a 100 mph collision, shared evenly by two cars (so each gets 50 mph worth!) Where it may differ from energy transfer is comparing the damage of two cars to the damage to a car with a wall which may be different, for a start, it was only one car wrecked with people in it. The impact is still the same but likely to be absorbed more by the car than a wall. My point was impact speed, still correct, thanks


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