3 Jan 2009

Annual road toll lowest since 1959

9:35 am on 3 January 2009

New Zealand has recorded its lowest annual road toll in almost 50 years.

Ministry of Transport figures show 360 people died on the roads, the lowest number since 1959.

In 2007, the road toll was 421, while the previous year 393 people died on the roads.

Some 34% of those deaths involved drink-driving and 36% were speed related.

Of the 263 driver and passenger fatalities, 50 people were not wearing safety belts.

Ministry of Transport general manager of environment and safety David Crawford said the drop is due to continued education campaigns, enforcement and better car and roading design.

He said it is a significant landmark, but there is still some way to go before the rate drops to the Ministry's 2010 target of just 300 road deaths.

Mr Crawford said soaring fuel prices and harder economic times have also played a part.

John Gottler from the New Zealand Traffic Institute said monthly crash data from 2008 shows the number of crashes dropped off as the price of fuel increased, and rose when cost of petrol decreased.

While the annual death toll has fallen, Dr John Langeley Director from Otago University's Injury Prevention Research Unit, says the level of serious injuries caused by crashes is going up.