Speed kills - and are Aussies better drivers?

Road death and injury is a classic WOMBAT - and we do not trivialise it or it’s impact - the human and financial costs are huge. The notion of “holiday road tolls” and the “Easter road toll” brought this matter to mind. I have to say that I have been of the opinion that there has been overmuch emphasis on speeding and ticketing speeding - but, having read quite a lot of material over the last few days, I’m almost ready to change my mind.

Driving out of town on Good Friday I was stuck behind a car travelling at 85km/h in the outside lane. Weaving through the middle and left lanes to get ahead was another vehicle. Which driver was the problem here? The “well within the speed limit” driver or the weaver. I’d say that they are both a problem - but not unrelated. The driver of the 85km/h vehicle seemed blithely unaware of vehicles around him and who he was sharing the road with.

“Sharing the road” is a section of “Reducing Road Trauma … - The South Australian Road Safety Strategy, 2003 – 2010 (PDF 600 kB)”. The phrase “sharing the road” caught my eye as I consider that this idea - the idea that we “share the road” with others (drivers, vehicles, bikes, pedestrians, …) is critical to reducing road crashes. South Australia has achieved a 21% reduction in road death in 2006 compared with 2005. A look at what we’re doing in New Zealand “Road crashes in New Zealand” (PDF 160kB) shows that we are following a similar approach.

However, in New Zealand there seems to be a singular focus on the reduction of speed as the way to reduce road trauma. This has raised suspicions that there are ticket quotas and that the focus on speeding tickets is more to do with revenue than safety.

Within a jurisdiction it’s pretty hard to argue against the research that shows risk of accident is higher at higher speed. Back in the era of 80km/h open road speed limit, there was a significant drop in road death (scroll down to 1970-1979).

What is interesting though is to compare jurisdictions. Take a look across the Tasman to Australia and compare speed and road trauma rates to those in New Zealand. In many states in Australia the urban speed limit is 60km/h (50 km/h in New Zealand) and the open road limit is 110km/h (100km/h in New Zealand).

Going with the correlation of higher speed to higher risk of accident and there being a 10km/h difference between here and there for both urban and rural limits we would expect to see a significant difference in road death rates in Australia compared with New Zealand. However, the reverse appears to be true. Here are the statistics for 2005:

  • Australia 8.2 deaths per 100,000 of population
  • New Zealand 9.9 deaths per 100,000 of population

For 2004:

  • Australia 134.8 deaths per million vehicles
  • New Zealand 144.2 deaths per million vehicles

We have lower speed limits yet we have a higher road death toll on a per capita basis and on a per vehicle basis.

Raw speed alone doesn’t appear to describe the whole picture - or perhaps the Aussies are just better drivers!

One Response to “Speed kills - and are Aussies better drivers?”

  1. No Wombats » Blog Archive » Police attack the cause of the problem Says:

    [...] the scatter gun approach to “speed” being the cause of many accidents, it is welcome to see the Police in Christchurch taking a [...]

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