A grim 50-year statistic will be recorded in New Zealand sometime this month – road toll victim number 28,000.
At midnight on Monday, November 30, 27,999 people had died on our roads since January 1965, an average of 559 deaths a year.
The two worst months for road deaths in that time were December 1977, with 84 victims and December 1981, with 81. The worst year was 1973, with 843 deaths.
The year with the fewest road deaths was 2013, when 253 people died. The month in which the road toll was lowest in the 599 months between January 1965 and November 2015, was April 2012, with 11 deaths.
Road deaths were consistently bad in the years 1965-1969, when 2770 people were killed, an annual average of 554. Hardly anyone wore a seat belt back then. Cars built from 1965 on in New Zealand had to have seat belts in the front seats, but it wasn’t compulsory to wear them until 1975.
The road toll deteriorated further in the five years 1970-1974, with 3564 deaths at an average of 713 a year. The years 1975-79 were only slightly less grisly – 3147 deaths were recorded, or 629 a year. It was the time of the oil embargo and car-less days helped lower the overall road toll.
But the bad days returned through 1980-1984, despite a law in 1979 requiring seat belts to be worn in both the front and back seats of new cars. Transport statistics show road deaths at 3253 over that period, or 650 a year.
The years 1985-89 were the worst in the last 50, with 3799 deaths at an average of 759 a year. The government had opened the doors for second-hand imports from Japan. They flooded in and the country’s car park swelled. So did carnage on the roads.
It didn’t ease between 1990-94 when 3207 people died, an average of 641 a year. But it did through 1995-99 with 2646 deaths, or 529 a year. It was the first time in 30 years that the annual average road toll dropped below 600.
The millennium came and with it encouraging signs. In the years 2000-2004, statistics show there were 2178 road deaths, or 435 a year. That was a hugely welcome 33 per cent drop on the 1980-84 toll.
It had taken 20 years. More good signs were apparent in the period 2005-2009 when road deaths again fell. There were 1969 over those five years, or 393 a year.
The past five years 2010-14 have seen the road toll tumble to 1514, or 302 deaths a year. The development of active and passive safety technology in cars has helped.
But there are still worrying statistics: of the 287 road deaths to midnight on Monday, 146, or one out of every two, was at the wheel. Forty-one of the 146, or 28 per cent, were aged between 15 and 24.
The main cause of road deaths sits atop the statistics: losing control of the vehicle and driving too fast for the conditions. The two often go hand in hand.