© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

New Zealand Roads: Alcohol, speed, distractions and death.

Isaiah Smiler

Since the turn of the century, New Zealand roads have claimed the lives of 6,922 people.

New Zealand is famous for its ingenuity, culture, and sport.

But beneath the common perception of New Zealand as a safe and happy place, lies a dangerous secret.

Police figures show that New Zealand roads have claimed 202 lives so far this year. A tally that is estimated to keep rising past 400 by the end of the year. At this rate, it’ll be the worst year for road fatalities in the last fifteen.

By the time our lives are over, chances are we’ll all have experienced a serious car crash.

What's happened in the past?


Traditionally, New Zealand’s road death toll numbers stack up as some of the worst in first-world countries.

On average, New Zealand has more deaths on roads per 100,000 inhabitants than Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

The New Zealand Transport Agency's historical figures show from 1969-1995, each year there were more than 550 deaths on our roads. Over the 26 years there were a total of 17,572 deaths on our roads.

Since 1995, there have been 8,787 deaths on New Zealand’s roads. This means the average number of road fatalities as decreased by at least 150 deaths per year.

In 2011, the death toll finally dropped under 300 for the first time in nearly fifty years. That lasted just a short while. For the past three years we reached annual death tolls well past 300. This year is no exception, as we are on track to surpass that mark even further.

Deaths on road by decade
This graph shows the number of road deaths on our roads each decade. As you can see, road deaths peaked during the 1980's, and since then have been steadily declining. Source: New Zealand Transport Agency

This year at a glance...


Just this past fortnight, we saw the most fatal car crash so far this year.

A crash in the small South Taranaki town of Waverley, claimed seven lives. 

At the end of June this year, 164 people had lost their lives on our roads. That’s the highest number of deaths at this time of the year, in eight years.
Backing that up, we had 41 road deaths in March of this year. The highest number of road deaths in the month of March since 2003.

Among them, was 53-year old Carmen Marie Yanko. An innocent motorist en-route to setting up her stall at the Nelson Sunday markets.

She was travelling along State Highway 6 just past Hope, when an on-coming car being pursued by Police, crossed the centre line.

Carmen, and two men fleeing Police, Johnathan Tairakena, 25, and Philip Jamie Stretch, 33, all died at the scene of the crash.

In a police media statement, Carmen’s children were shattered, labelling her death a senseless tragedy.

It’s families like Carmen’s whose lives have now changed forever. Without their loved ones, they’re left behind to pick up the pieces. As everyday New Zealanders, we're already likely to know someone who's been affected by fatal car accident, whether they be a family member or friend of a victim, or the victim themselves. 

This map shows fatal car crashes in New Zealand this year. Each red bubble has the name of victims and the time and date the crash occurred. For some reason unknown, some of the names of victims weren’t able to be found on the police news site.

A less fatal case study


You think you’re a pretty good driver, right? It’s okay, so does everybody else in New Zealand. But as Tiegan Lilley found out, a mistake can be costly.

It was just a normal day for Tiegan driving from her home to Ara, where she studies radio. Little did she know, a mistake at the Radcliffe-Main North Road intersection would cost her.

Pictures of Tiegan's crash. Although no one was hurt, the two cars pictured were written off.

Tiegan was involved in a car crash that wrote off two cars. Luckily, of the four people that were involved in the crash, nobody was seriously injured.

Check out her experience below and see for yourself just how easy it can to find yourself in a hard situation.

Her experience is nothing short of frightening, and it’s changed the way she drives.

“I’m even more of a Nana driver now. I’m like a double Nana!”

How's it being fixed?

 In December, Associate Transport Minister Julie-Ann Genter announced the government would pour an extra $22.5 million on improvements to State Highways around the country starting in February this year.

“The number of people losing their lives on our roads has increased every year for the past five years.”

She said the government will review speed limits on high-risk roads would be reviewed.

“Next year (2018), the Government will further increase funding for road safety improvements as we revise the overall transport budget.”

Back in 2013, the National Government of the time said it’d spend $10 million, over the next decade setting up new speed safety cameras all over the country.

Since 2013, the average amount of deaths has risen to 329.

Adding to that, every single year since 2013, the number of deaths on our road have increased. Last year, the largest number of deaths on our roads since that announcement was made.

There have been funds and plans put aside to improve our roads, and some of these plans are already in place, but why are we seeing more and more deaths on our roads?

Sergeant Nigel Price, of the New Zealand Police, blames three key things that contributed to most car crashes in our country.

Speed, Alcohol (including drugs) and distractions.

He says most drivers behind the wheel of a car have the “it won’t happen to me” mentality. Meaning that as motorists, many of us are over-confident and and believe because we drive safe that we won't be involved in a car crash. 

Sergeant Price has attended many crashes during his 19 years with the Serious Crash Unit, and says nothing's changed during that time. He's still seeing the same things he did, when he first started out. 

At the end of the day, the way to reduce the number of deaths of our roads is very simple.

It’s a message the New Zealand Police, the NZTA, and emergency services have been telling us for years. Obey the road rules, wear your seatbelt, drive to the conditions. It’s these simple messages, that clearly haven’t got through.

There’s a frustration amongst New Zealanders about the amount of deaths we are having on our roads. Problem is, we are the ones contributing to it. As Sergeant Price says, abolish the thought that you are a perfect driver. There is no such thing.

Be aware when driving on the roads and drive safely. Remember, we all drive these roads together, and it’s going to be a team effort to get these horrid numbers down.