A deep dive into Trans-Tasman fatal truck crash stats

21.04.23 10:44 AM By WasteMINZ

Trucks are a common sight on Australian and New Zealand roads, but which country has a higher rate of fatal truck crashes and why? Reclaim’s Ajith Fernando delves into the statistics to find out.

Fatal truck crashes are usually referred to as head-on crashes, trucks leaving roads, trucks rolling over, or hitting another vehicle from behind or from the side.

In fatal crashes where trucks and drivers are at fault, the contributory factors include extreme and reckless behaviour, driver distraction, mechanical failures (particularly brakes), overloading and incorrect judgement due to lack of situational awareness. A research study by Transport Engineering Research New Zealand Ltd shows that two-thirds of fatal crashes involving trucks were the fault of other road users.

The purpose of this article is to compare the fatal truck crash statistics between New Zealand and Australia and discuss the reasons why the number of Australian fatal truck crashes and deaths is much less than in New Zealand.


Fatal Crashes: New Zealand vs Australia

The data shown in the table below indicate that the number of registered trucks has grown by 26% in New Zealand and 24% in Australia during the 10-year period from 2012-2021. 

During that period, the number of fatal truck crashes on NZ roads increased by 48% whilst crashes on Australian roads decreased by 27%. During the same period, the number of deaths on New Zealand roads involving trucks increased by 54% whilst deaths on Australian roads decreased by 33%.

Statistics show that during the past decade, the average fatal truck crashes (per 100 million Km travelled) on New Zealand roads is twice the number of similar crashes on [NQ1] [LT2]  roads.

It can be seen from the data above, Australian road safety performance for trucks is much better than that on New Zealand roads. The reasons why Australia has comparatively much improved safety performance than New Zealand are explained below.


Australia Road Safety Strategy  

Since 1970, Australia has continuously achieved large and lasting road safety gains from:

·  high-risk road improvements,

·  safer vehicles,

·  vehicle telematics,

·  fatigue monitoring,

·  alcohol interlocks,

·  autonomous emergency braking,

·  lower speed limits,

·  driver training,

·  improved chain of responsibility obligations,

·  partnership between regulators to share responsibilities,

·  graduated licensing, and

·  a range of successful behavioral programmes targeting drink driving, seatbelt usage and speeding.

Under the National Road Safety Strategy 2001–2010, Australia was one of the first countries to formally adopt the Safe System, which takes a holistic view of the road transport system and the interactions of its various elements. The Safe System aspires to create a road transport system in which human mistakes do not result in death or serious injury.

In Australia, a National Road Safety Strategy 2011–2020 was in place, which continues to advance the Safe System, and commits federal, state and territory governments to an action plan to reduce fatal and serious injury crashes on Australian roads. Australia’s 2011–20 strategy presented a 10-year plan to reduce the annual numbers of both deaths and serious injuries on Australian roads by at least 30%. An actual reduction in road fatalities of 19% was achieved over the period. In December 2021, the National Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030 was launched.


New Zealand Road Safety Strategy

New Zealand implemented its road safety programme only in the year 2000, whilst Australia had been working on it since 1970. In April 2004, a road safety education initiative, Up to Scratch, was launched across New Zealand to test people's knowledge of the Road Code and the road rules.

Safer Roads was the New Zealand government’s strategy to guide improvements in road safety over a ten-year period: 2010–2020. Like Australia, the strategy focused on road safety gains from road improvements, safer vehicles, and lower speed limits, graduated licensing and programmes targeting drink driving, seatbelt usage, and speeding. Overall, road travel in New Zealand has become safer in the last 25 years. However, since 2013 the levels of fatalities and serious injuries have not continued the downward trend experienced prior to 2012.

In December 2019, New Zealand Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi) committed to decisive action on road safety under Road to Zero: New Zealand's road safety strategy 2020–2030. Road to Zero adopts a vision of a New Zealand where no one is killed or seriously injured in road crashes, and a target for reducing annual deaths and serious injuries by 40% by 2030.


New Zealand Road to Zero Safety Strategy

The journey towards a Road to Zero vision will require significant effort to:

·  enhance the quality of our roads,

·  strengthen regulation and social expectations for safer vehicles,

·  improve people’s compliance with traffic laws, and

·  create a more empathetic transport culture that protects human life.

The strategy document highlights five focus areas that will require sustained focus over the next decade, and the strategic directions that will be required to address them:

1.  Infrastructure and Speed Management: Roads and roadsides protect road users if they make a mistake.

2.  Vehicle Safety: Safe vehicles help drivers and riders avoid crashes and protect occupants and other road users when crashes do happen.

3.  Work Related Road Safety: Road safety is treated as a critical health and safety issue in workplaces.

4.  Road User Choice: Road users comply with road rules and are enabled to make safe choices.

5.  System Management: System designers and policy makers share the responsibility to ensure New Zealand has a safe road system.

Road to Zero aims to achieve reductions in deaths and serious injuries through a combination of engineering, enforcement, legislation, advertising and education, and community interventions. With the implementation of this programme, it is expected that by the year 2030, the road safety gap for fatal truck crashes between Australia and New Zealand would be narrowed.



Statistics show that New Zealand has suffered a greater number of fatal truck crashes and deaths over the last decade when compared with Australia. Over the 2012-2021 period, New Zealand’s fatal crash rates haves increased by 48% whereas Australia’s fatal crashes have decreased by 27%. In addition, average fatal truck crashes (per 100 million KM travelled) on New Zealand roads are twice that of Australian roads. This is mainly because Australia has implemented better road safety & strategic programmes than New Zealand.

It can be concluded that New Zealand needs to put pressure on the trucking industry to improve safety standards. Relying on regulation through licensing will never be sufficient. Let’s hope that the Road to Zero initiative will help to achieve a substantial reduction in fatal truck crashes in New Zealand by 2030.