1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2005  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 21/01/2005   
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Road fatalities and fatality rates - 1925 to 2003

Road crashes are a major cause of death and injury in Australia. Since record keeping began in 1925 there have been over 169,000 road fatalities in Australia. This death toll surpasses the aggregate number of Australians killed (89,850 deaths) in the four major wars (World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam) in which Australia has been involved (FORS).

Graph 22.41 compares the trends in Australian vehicle ownership and road fatalities between 1925 and 2003. Graph 22.42 shows road fatalities per 10,000 registered vehicles and 100,000 persons for the same period.

Until 1970, each year other than during the Depression and World War II had seen a steady growth in motor vehicle ownership and a corresponding increase in road deaths. By 1970 the number of vehicles had increased twelve-fold over the number in 1926 and the road toll had increased about four times to reach its highest mark of 3,798 deaths. The number of fatalities per 100,000 people also peaked in 1970 at 30.4. The road toll in 2003 of 1,633 people was less than half the 1970 figure, while the number of fatalities per 100,000 people (8.2) for 2003 was less than a third that of 1970. Also, while there were 8.0 road fatalities per 10,000 registered vehicles in 1970, this rate has decreased to 1.2 in 2003 (ATSB).

Since 1970, despite there being an increased number of motor vehicles, it appears that wide ranging road safety changes and initiatives, and a corresponding heightening of community awareness, have contributed to a reduction in the road toll (FORS). These have included:

  • Improvements to roads, such as separated dual lane highways, major roads by-passing towns and suburbs, road shoulder sealing, eliminating known dangerous 'black spots', use of audible edge-lining, and removal of roadside hazards.
  • Changes to vehicles via the application of Australian Design Rules, including child restraint anchorages and seats, head restraints, airbags, and increased vehicle impact resistance and roll-over strength.
  • Legislation requiring the fitting and wearing of vehicle seat belts, and motor cycle and bicycle helmets.
  • Initiatives against drink driving, such as random breath testing and public education campaigns.
  • Enhanced police enforcement aided by improved technology such as red light and speed cameras.




ATSB (Australian Transport Safety Bureau), Road crash data and rates, Australian States and Territories, 1925 to 2002, 2003.

FORS (Federal Office of Road Safety), monograph 23, The history of road fatalities in Australia, 1998.