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No surprise in rise of annual road toll, UC transport expert

No surprise in rise of annual road toll, UC transport expert says

New Zealanders should not be surprised by the rise in the annual road toll this year, a University of Canterbury transport researcher says.

The 2011 road toll of 268 fatalities has already been exceeded but UC transport engineering professor Alan Nicholson says despite it being disappointing it is not a major issue.

``While there is an overall downwards trend, there are fluctuations about the trend, so one should not be surprised by the death toll for 2012 already exceeding the total for 2011,’’ Professor Nicholson says.

``If discussing trends for holiday periods, one needs to be particularly careful, because the variability is even more pronounced.

``The Christmas and New Year period depends upon the day of the week on which Christmas Day and New Year’s Day fall and varies in length from nine-and-a-half days to eleven and a half days which adds to the variation in the number of deaths and injuries.’’

Professor Nicholson says he had not seen any evidence that motorists were less careful during the Christmas and New Year period but traffic flows were generally higher, particularly on some roads, and this increased the demand on drivers. Some drivers cope with those increased demands better than others, he says.

``The pattern of traffic flow during the holiday period depends on which day of the week Christmas Day and New Year’s Day occur. Identifying which particular days during the holiday period when road deaths and injuries are more likely to occur is difficult to say. Daily death and injury counts are inherently more variable than those for holiday periods than whole years.

``Crashes involve a wide range of factors relating to the road, the vehicles and the drivers. It is important to address the full range of factors, and not focus on any particular type of factor, if deaths and injuries are to be reduced further. There have been improvements to the roads and vehicles and there have been changes aimed at improving driver behaviour.

``There are numerous options which have been adopted overseas and found to help reduce road deaths and injuries. A greater emphasis on accident reduction and prevention work via low-cost improvements to the road environment would help, as would enhanced driver education and training prior to being licensed. An increase in the age at which people can obtain a licence would also help reduce the road toll.’’

Professor Nicholson says there are three main measures of performance used for comparing countries. They are the deaths per capita, the deaths per vehicle, and the deaths per kilometre of travel. While New Zealand’s performance relative to other countries depended on which measure was used, it generally compared reasonably well with other highly motorised countries.

The best performing countries, based on a range of measures, are Sweden, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Those countries have road safety strategies which address the wide range of factors involved in road deaths and injuries, he says.

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