22 Jan 2015

Rural roads blamed for road toll

7:36 pm on 22 January 2015

Risky rural roads are being blamed for New Zealand having a worse road toll rate than Australia.

New figures from the Ministry of Transport put that rate last year at 6.6 per 100,000 people, up from 5.7 deaths in 2013. That compares with just 4.9 per 100,000 in Australia.

Risky rural roads are being blamed for New Zealand having a worse road toll rate than Australia's.

Risky rural roads are being blamed for New Zealand having a worse road toll rate than Australia's. Photo: 123RF

But in Wellington and Auckland the rate is much lower, sitting at just over two, plus both have dropped since 2013.

And in rural areas, such as Manawatu and Whanganui combined, where 34 people died last year, 19 more than 2013.

Australian Road Safety Foundation CEO Russell White has driven on rural roads both there and here. He said New Zealand roads were worse than in his country.

"From my own experience of driving around some of those rural areas, the countryside is fantastic.

"But there are some roadside engineering, and roadside layouts, that if someone made an error, the chance of it being a serious outcome is pretty high," he said.

Mr White said until New Zealand improves its rural roads, nothing will change.

"It's probably not surprising but probably an indication too that if something is working well in one part of the world you should try and adopt those principles," he said.

The Ministry of Transport's Leo Mortimer said rural roads would always be more dangerous.

"That's where the high kilometres are travelled and the higher speeds are travelled. 73 percent of our road fatalities occur in the open road environment."

He said roads were being improved.

"People will make mistakes so therefore we have to continue to improve the environment.

"That means when people do make a mistake the roading environment is more forgiving and reduces the chances of death," he said.

Northland was the only rural area in the country which recorded a drop in the number of deaths on its roads last year - 18 compared with 21 in 2013.

Kiri Sloane-Hobson is a road safety educator in the region and said the roads could be treacherous.

"Our roads are windy, they're narrow. There's lots of patchwork that happens. It's a roading environment that isn't easily read," she said.