Another Easter holiday has passed and after all that relaxation and delicious chocolate we call sit back and listen to the media tell us all about the worst possible aspect of the 4-day break.
This Easter saw the worst road toll in 17 years. Thanks for that little bit of joyous information there, media. So how many tens of people were horrifically killed on our roads this most doomed of years? Only eleven you say... I’m not saying I was hoping for more deaths, it’s just that when you hear about the worst road toll in 17 years you think it’s got to be pretty big. After all, in the last ten years alone there are approximately 500,000 more light passenger vehicles on the road (a 21% increase), and nearly a million more vehicles in total (MoT - NZ Vehicle Fleet Statistics); surely that alone would cause the road toll to rise. So if you make a big deal about it, it’s got to be worse than a slight increase due the larger number of vehicles on our roads?
They say it’s the worst in 17 years. Nominally perhaps, but statistically? Between 2004 and 2008 the average annual road toll was 404 (MoT - Road Toll). That’s roughly 1.1 road deaths per day. So in any typical block of four days you would expect there to be 4.4 deaths on our roads. So the road toll was 2 and a half times greater than any random selection of four days. OK, that’s pretty bad. But that’s just a typical daily average taken across a whole year; long weekends do not contain typical days when it comes to traffic. I can’t find statistics for the increase in volume, however conservatively I would say there is at least twice as much traffic on the roads over Easter, particularly on State Highways where people are more likely to speed and overtake in a dangerous fashion. Taking that into account, one would expect an increase on the average road toll. And what’s this, the road toll includes Thursday afternoon and early Tuesday morning? Nearly half the daily traffic flow is in the afternoon, so that could account for more of the increase on the average road toll. Even though it finishes at 6am on Tuesday, that’s still time to include some people who are merely commuting to work. Their deaths are equally tragic, but they can hardly be considered to be part of the ‘holiday road toll’, yet they are.
Don’t get me wrong, eleven deaths is a lot. It’s at least eleven too many, and people definitely need to be more careful rather than thoughtless douche-bags. But, minor fluctuations in the daily average aside, the Easter road toll itself has barely changed in 30 years (MoT - Holiday Road Toll); despite the fact that if there has been an increase of more than one million vehicles on our roads in the past decade then there are at least two million more vehicles than 30 years ago. Since 1980 the average Easter road toll has been 9.4 (±0.8), so a road toll of 11 is statistically only 1 death above the 30 year average. The average Easter road toll in the 1980s was 13; in the 90s it was 9.4 and in the 00s it had dropped to 5.6. If we convert that to deaths per million vehicles (the numbers being no more than an educated guess) that works out at roughly: 1980 (1 million vehicles) – 10 deaths, 1990 (1.5 million vehicles) – 6.3 deaths, 2000 (2 million vehicles) - 2.8 deaths.
If anything the media should be focussing on how something seems to be getting through to people, since the road toll is barely changing despite a near exponential increase in vehicles on our roads. I know there are still idiots and thoughtless pricks on the roads, however on the whole the road-going public appear to be doing something right. Instead the media chooses to ram the worst of the weekends news down our throats like we all spent the weekend speeding through crowds of children. I’m surprised they don’t just go all in and show us a nightly running average of the road toll over the past few days just to remind us that no matter how relaxed or responsible we get, there is death. They could fit it in somewhere between the 6:30pm rain prediction and the 6:45pm rain prediction.