Analysis of deaths and serious injuries involving people not wearing seatbelts (Ongoing)

The AA Research Foundation has collaborated with a number of Government agencies to jointly commission research into seatbelt use in New Zealand. We particularly want to better understand why in recent years we have seen an increasing number of deaths and serious injuries involving people not wearing a seatbelt.

This is despite the use of seatbelts being high - with 96.5% of all
vehicle occupants wearing one according to a 2016 Ministry of Transport
observational survey. 

Between 2012-14, around 50 people who were not wearing a seatbelt died each year. This rose to 91 people in 2015 and to 100 people in 2016 (39% of drivers and 42% of passengers killed in 2016).

While the total road toll has also been increasing, the rise in unrestrained deaths and serious injuries has risen disproportionately.

Expert Steering Group

  • Simon Douglas - AA Research Foundation Manager
  • Dylan Thomsen - AA Research Foundation Advisor
  • Alec Morrison - Ministry of Transport
  • Alex Brocklehurst - NZ Transport Agency
  • Rebecca Whiting - Accident Compensation Corporation
  • Nils van Lamoen - NZ Police


The AA Research Foundation has combined with the above Government agencies to procure an in-depth analysis of deaths and serious injuries in crashes where occupants were unrestrained. 

This level of co-operation among road safety agencies speaks to the level of concern that this trend has sparked.

The AA Research Foundation holds the contract and is providing contract administration on behalf of the Steering Group.

Research project

The project will involve a desk-top analysis of all available, existing data sources and research to achieve a more detailed understanding of non-restraint use in serious and fatal crashes. 

The study will identify levels of non-usage; trends over time; search for geographic, temporal, demographic patterns; and collect information on seating positions, vehicle types and driver behaviours. 

This study will not develop proposals to address the problem. But the findings should provide valuable information to guide effective interventions.

The Steering Group hopes to receive the final research report in September 2017.

Current knowledge

It is currently not clear who is not wearing a seatbelt or why. 

Recent incidents reported in the media include three young people killed in December who were underage, under the influence of alcohol, driving a car they didn’t have authorised access to. In contrast to this a recent Auckland Transport intercept study identified the harried mothers of young children as common group of non-wearers. Meanwhile, a recent NZTA campaign targeted “tradies” and the AA is aware that the West Australian AA found a high incidence among rural populations.

Once we understand “who”, work can be undertaken on the “why”, and then programmes designed to effectively intervene. 

Why is the AA interested?

In New Zealand, many of the “easy wins” in road safety have been achieved. 

We are now entering the challenging area of changing social norms in targeted, and in some cases potentially difficult to reach, sections of society. 

A safe system approach demands that we look to change these norms at the same time as we continue looking at vehicles, roads and road-sides in our drive to reduce the road toll, and the impact of serious crashes. 

Interventions such as building/retrofitting safer roads or improving safety features in cars are expensive and have long timeframes. 

Many people have thought that ‘simple’ solutions such as using restraints had been achieved. But while overall usage rates are high (although a small drop has occurred between the last two MoT observational surveys), the increase in fatal and serious crashes where restraints were not worn suggests that this is not a problem that has been solved. 

If all those not wearing restraints had worn them, it is estimated that 50-60 lives would have been saved in 2016. 

There is arguably no other initiative where such gains could be made for such, on the face of it, simple changes.

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