Unintentional errors, not reckless behaviour, behind majority of serious injury crashes

Mistakes and unintentional errors are behind the majority of serious injury crashes in New Zealand, a new AA Research Foundation study has found.

27 March 2018

Unintentional errors, not reckless behaviour, behind majority of serious injury crashes

Mistakes and unintentional errors are behind the majority of serious injury crashes in New Zealand, a new AA Research Foundation study has found.

AA Research Foundation Manager Simon Douglas says the first-of-its-kind study, which is covered in the Autumn issue of AA Directions, challenges the commonly-held belief that deliberate reckless behaviours such as driving drunk or at extreme speeds are the most common causes of these crashes.

Reckless behaviour was involved in 49% of the fatal crashes studied, but only 29% of serious injury crashes. The remainder were defined as “system failures” which involved drivers who were generally obeying the road rules but crashed after making a mistake.

“The public’s focus on road safety often gets stuck on drunk drivers and extreme speeds but our study showed many more serious crashes involved everyday drivers going about their ordinary business when something went wrong and they were seriously injured,” Mr Douglas says.

“In around three quarters of crashes where vehicle occupants were seriously injured the drivers were generally following the rules of the road, but they made a mistake or poor decision, or something unexpected happened.”

These included situations such as drivers who were sober and not speeding drifting off the road or across the centreline, possibly through inattention or fatigue.

“While we can all do more to be better drivers, part of the road safety challenge is recognising that there are still going to be times when people make mistakes and that’s why we also need to be doing more to keep lifting the safety of our vehicles and roads,” Mr Douglas says.

The research highlighted that 41% of serious injury crashes involved a vehicle crossing the centreline on an undivided 100km/h road and more than 60% of serious crashes involved vehicles more than 14 years old, which in several cases, did not have features such as ABS brakes or driver airbags.

“Upgrading high-risk roads, making sure we have the right speeds for the environment and getting more people into modern vehicles with side-curtain airbags and electronic stability control would result in less severe consequences if a crash occurs,” Mr Douglas says.

The AA Research Foundation study, which was carried out by Mackie Research, Auckland University and TERNZ (Transport Research NZ), was based on detailed reports from 300 passenger vehicle crashes that resulted in either a fatality or serious injury.

There are about 10 people seriously injured from road crashes for each death each year and the social cost to the country is estimated at $786,000 per reported serious injury.

The AA Directions report on the study has more detail about why it was done and what it concluded. The Autumn issue is currently being delivered to the letterboxes of 630,000 AA Members and is on the AA Directions website.

The complete AA Research Foundation study can be found here.


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