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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1996  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/06/1996   
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Contents >> Transport >> Special Features: Motor vehicle traffic accidents

Special Features: Motor vehicle traffic accidents

Between 1983 and 1993, the number of people who died due to motor vehicle traffic accidents decreased by 31% and the number of people hospitalised decreased by 23%.

Motor vehicle traffic accidents are costly in terms of deaths, injuries and damage to vehicles. They remain a major social issue both in terms of years of potential life lost and in the cost to the community.

The National Road Safety Strategy, introduced in 1992, aims to save lives and reduce serious injury and loss of quality of life resulting from road crashes. The key priorities of the strategy are alcohol and drug abuse, speeding, driver fatigue, road hazards, heavy vehicles, novice drivers and riders, protection of vehicle occupants, and improved trauma management1.


Traffic accidents

In this review, data are from two main sources: the ABS Causes of Death collection, and the Federal Office of Road Safety's Serious Injury Database.

The ABS Causes of Death data are compiled from data provided by the state and territory Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages. In this collection deaths from motor vehicle traffic accidents are deaths occurring within 12 months as a result of transport accidents, involving motor vehicles, which occur on a public highway. Motor vehicle traffic accidents occurring on private property are excluded.

The Federal Office of Road Safety's Serious Injury Database uses police records to compile information about road crashes resulting in death or hospitalisation. In this collection, road crashes refer to crashes occurring on a road involving all motorised and almost all non-motorised vehicles. Road crashes occurring on private property are excluded.

A fatal crash is a road crash which results in the death of at least one person within 30 days.

A road crash fatality is a person who dies within 30 days of a road crash due to injuries sustained.

A hospitalisation crash is a road crash in which at least one person was classified by police as admitted to hospital from resulting injuries but in which there were no fatalities.

A person hospitalised is a person classified by police as admitted to hospital from injuries received in either a hospitalisation or fatal crash.

The latest available data for hospitalisations are 1993, while the latest available data for fatalities are 1994 (see Health - State summary tables). However, in order to make comparisons between the characteristics of fatal and hospitalisation crashes, 1993 data have been used throughout this review.


Motor vehicle traffic accident fatalities
Deaths from motor vehicle traffic accidents have declined from 27 per 100,000 population in 1973 to 11 in 1993. The introduction of compulsory seat belt legislation and random breath testing have played a major role in reducing the motor vehicle traffic accident death rate.

However, despite this fall, motor vehicle traffic accidents remain one of the main preventable causes of death in Australia. In 1993, 1,956 people died in motor vehicle traffic accidents. Almost one-third (31%) of these were aged 15-24. 7% were children aged under 15. 71% of motor vehicle traffic accident fatalities were male.

In 1993, road crash fatalities most commonly occurred in New South Wales. However, per 100,000 population, more people died from motor vehicle traffic accidents in the Northern Territory than any other state or territory. In the Northern Territory, 28 people per 100,000 population died from a motor vehicle traffic accident. This was followed by 15 in South Australia and 13 in Tasmania. People in the Australian Capital Territory were least likely to be killed in a motor vehicle traffic accident, 2 per 100,000 population.

MOTOR VEHICLE TRAFFIC ACCIDENT FATALITIES PER 100,000 POPULATION


Source: Causes of Death (cat. no. 3303.0); Estimated Resident Population by Age and Sex, Australia (cat. no. 3201.0).


People hospitalised
In 1993, 21,602 people were hospitalised due to road crashes. 46% of these people were aged 15-29. 9% were aged under 15. The majority of those hospitalised were male (61%).

The number of people hospitalised due to road crashes has also decreased, from 182 per 100,000 population in 1983 to 122 in 1993. This rate of decrease was slower than that for fatalities.

As with fatalities, people in the Northern Territory were most likely to be hospitalised due to a road crash. In 1993, 254 people per 100,000 population were hospitalised due to a road crash there. This was followed by 154 in Western Australia and 133 in Victoria. People were least likely to be hospitalised due to a road crash in the Australian Capital Territory, with a rate of 52 per 100,000 population.

PEOPLE HOSPITALISED PER 100,000 POPULATION


Source: Federal Office of Road Safety Serious Injury Database: 1993 Tabulations; Road Traffic Accidents Involving Casualties, Australia (cat. no. 9405.0).


Type of road user
People who are killed or injured in road crashes are most likely to be drivers. In 1993, 44% of road fatalities and 43% of hospitalisations were drivers. Passengers accounted for a further 26% of road deaths and 27% of hospitalisations.

The type of road user killed or injured is related to patterns of usage. The 1992 Time Use Survey found that 59% of people aged 15 and over drove cars for transport on an average day, while only 19% were passengers (see Car use). Drivers also spent more time per day on car travel than passengers (86 minutes compared to 59 minutes).

The type of road user killed or injured varied between males and females. Male fatalities were more likely to be drivers (48%) while female fatalities were more likely to be passengers (41%). Again this is linked to patterns of car use. In 1992, 66% of men drove a car on an average day compared to 52% of women. And only 12% of men were passengers in a car on an average day compared to 26% of women.

The type of road user killed or injured is also linked to age. Children can only legally be passengers, pedestrians or bicyclists, therefore the proportion of people killed or injured who were passengers is largest among those aged 0-14. 55% of people aged 0-14 who died, and 47% of people aged 0-14 who were hospitalised, were passengers. The proportion of people killed or injured who were bicyclists was also largest in this age group, accounting for 9% of 0-14 year-olds who died and 18% of those who were hospitalised.

People aged 15-29 made up the largest proportion of those killed or injured in road crashes, both as drivers and as passengers (41% of fatalities and 46% of hospitalisations). This age group includes many novice drivers which may contribute to the high rates. In addition, many young people participate in risk taking behaviour, such as speeding and drink-driving.

People aged 15-29 also made up the largest proportions of motor cycle deaths and injuries, 67% of fatalities and 66% of hospitalisations. This is linked to their patterns of motor vehicle use. In 1992, less than 1% of people used a motor cycle for transport on an average day. However, 44% of these people were aged 15-242.

The likelihood of death or injury in a road crash varies according to the type of vehicle a person uses. Motor cycles are much more likely than cars to be involved in a fatal or hospitalisation crash. In 1993, 986 per 100,000 motor cycles were involved in a fatal or hospitalisation crash compared to 279 per 100,000 cars.

FATALITIES BY TYPE OF ROAD USER, 1993

Aged 0-14
Aged 15-29
Aged 30-44
Aged 45-59
Aged 60 & over
All fatalities(a)
Type of road user
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.

Drivers
0
348
237
119
147
851
Passengers
71
227
83
48
78
512
Pedestrians
44
82
45
35
123
330
Motor cyclists(b)
2
135
49
15
1
203
Bicyclists
11
9
9
9
7
46
Total(c)
129
804
426
226
357
1,953

(a) Includes age not known.
(b) Includes pillion passengers.
(c) Includes fatalities where road user status was not known.

Source: Federal Office of Road Safety Serious Injury Database: 1993 Tabulations

HOSPITALISATIONS BY TYPE OF ROAD USER, 1993

Aged 0-14
Aged 15-29
Aged 30-44
Aged 45-59
Aged 60 & over
All hospitalisations(a)
Type of road user
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.

Drivers
11
4,108
2,498
1,282
1,257
9,210
Passengers
869
2,497
770
494
670
5,762
Motor cyclists(b)
26
1,762
680
151
44
2,694
Pedestrians
610
726
383
290
565
2,681
Bicyclists
331
452
182
63
44
1,106
Total(c)
1,848
9,575
4,528
2,290
2,589
21,602

(a) Includes age not known.
(b) Includes pillion passengers.
(c) Includes hospitalisations where road user status was not known.

Source: Federal Office of Road Safety Serious Injury Database: 1993 Tabulations.


When road crashes occur
In 1993 there were 1,736 fatal crashes and 17,186 hospitalisation crashes. Crashes involving death or injury were most likely to occur on a Friday or Saturday (17% each), followed by a Thursday or Sunday (14% each).

Both fatal and hospitalisation crashes were more likely to occur between 4pm and 8pm. 23% of fatal crashes and 27% of hospitalisation crashes occurred during this time of day. A further 19% of fatal crashes and 24% of hospitalisation crashes occurred between midday and 4pm.

WHEN CRASHES OCCURRED, 1993

Fatal crashes
Hospitalisation crashes
Total
Day of week
%
%
%

Monday
10.0
12.5
12.2
Tuesday
11.5
12.3
12.2
Wednesday
13.2
13.1
13.1
Thursday
13.9
14.4
14.4
Friday
17.6
16.9
17.0
Saturday
18.4
16.5
16.6
Sunday
15.2
14.3
14.4
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
no.
no.
no.
Total crashes
1,736
17,186
18,922

Source: Federal Office of Road Safety Serious Injury Database: 1993 Tabulations.


Factors contributing to road crashes
It is difficult to identify a single cause of road crashes since many factors are often involved. These include use of alcohol and other drugs, speed, driver fatigue, car failure, illegal over- taking and dangerous manoeuvring.

In 1993, of all drivers, motor cyclists, pedestrians and bicyclists who were killed or injured in a road crash, blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was known for 74% of fatalities and 50% of hospitalisations. Of these, 29% of fatalities and 22% of people hospitalised had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05 or more.

It is difficult to obtain data on the number of road crashes involving excessive speed, but data are available on the speed limit where the crash occurred. In 1993, 58% of all accidents involving fatalities or hospitalisations were in areas where the speed limit was 60 kilometres per hour. However, it should be noted that at any time most motor vehicles are travelling in areas with this speed limit.

Fewer vehicles travel in areas with a speed limit of 100 kilometres or more per hour. Therefore, crashes occurring in these areas probably account for a disproportionately high number of all crashes. In 1993, 29% of crashes occurred in areas with this speed limit. Fatal crashes were more likely than hospitalisation crashes to occur in areas with a high speed limit, 47% compared to 28%.

There are differences between male and female drivers in the causes of road crashes. A Federal Office of Road Safety study found that in 1990 fatal crashes caused by male drivers were much more likely to involve alcohol or excessive speed than those caused by female drivers3.

PROPORTION OF PEOPLE(a) WITH A BLOOD ALCOHOL CONCENTRATION OF 0.05(b) OR MORE, 1993

Fatalities
Hospitalisations
Type of road user
%
%

Pedestrian
31.4
27.8
Driver
29.4
22.4
Motorcyclist
30.7
16.5
Bicyclist
0.0
11.7
Total
29.3
21.6

(a) Refers to the proportion of drivers, motorcyclists, pedestrians and bicyclists who died or were hospitalised due to a motor vehicle traffic accident and whose blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was known.
(b) BAC refers to grams of alcohol per millilitre of blood. In Australia, it is illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.05 or more.

Source: Federal Office of Road Safety Serious Injury Database: 1993 Tabulations.

SPEED LIMIT AT CRASH SITE, 1993

Fatal crashes
Hospitalisation crashes
All crashes
Speed limit(a)
%
%
%

60 or below
39.3
60.3
58.3
70
3.1
3.5
3.5
75
1.6
2.1
2.0
80
7.0
5.5
5.6
90
1.6
1.1
1.1
100 or above
47.4
27.6
29.5
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0

(a) Refers to the speed limit in kilometres per hour.

Source: Federal Office of Road Safety Serious Injury Database: 1993 Tabulations.


Extent of injury
The extent of injury a person experiences varies according to whether they used safety devices such as a car seat belt or wearing a helmet if riding a motor cycle. In 1993, where seat belt and helmet use were known, 9% of people who were hospitalised as a result of a car accident had not been wearing a seat belt, and 9% who were hospitalised as a result of a motor cycle accident had not worn a helmet. Among fatalities, the proportions were much higher. 33% of fatalities had not been wearing a seat belt, and 15% had not been wearing a helmet. This suggests that in accidents of a given severity, people may be killed rather than hospitalised due to not wearing a seat belt or helmet.

There are differences between men and women in the extent of injury suffered in road crashes. Overall, women may be less likely to be fatally injured than men because they are less likely to be speeding and more likely to be wearing a seat belt. However, the Federal Office of Road Safety study found that, in crashes at a given speed, women are likely to suffer more severe injuries than men. This is considered to be because they have a greater physical vulnerability and they have a tendency to drive smaller cars3.


International comparison
A country's rate of motor vehicle traffic accident injuries and fatalities varies due to many factors. Road transport systems, vehicle safety standards, safety legislation, road conditions and modes of transport differ between countries, causing differences in the number and consequences of motor vehicle traffic accidents.

In 1991, of the countries listed, Australia had the lowest rate of motor vehicle traffic accident injury. However, it was ranked 8th highest for motor vehicle traffic accident fatalities.
MOTOR VEHICLE TRAFFIC ACCIDENT INJURIES AND FATALITIES PER 100,000 POPULATION(a), 1991

Injuries
Fatalities(b)
Country
rate
rate

Australia
129.9
12.2
Canada
934.5
13.8
France
362.6
16.9
Great Britain
555.8
8.2
Greece
282.0
17.4
Italy
423.9
13.2
Japan
652.7
8.9
Malaysia
141.8
23.8
New Zealand
489.4
18.9
Sweden
208.7
7.2
United States of America
1,353.9
16.3

(a) Population at 31 December.
(b) Refers to deaths occurring within 30 days of the accident except for the following countries: France-deaths within 6 days; Italy-deaths within 7 days; Japan-deaths within 24 hours.
Source: International Road Federation World Road Statistics, 1990-1994.


Endnotes

1 Federal Office of Road Safety (1992) The national road safety strategy Canberra.

2 Time Use Survey (unpublished data).

3 Federal Office of Road Safety (1994) A comparison of fatal crashes involving male and female car drivers AGPS, Canberra.



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