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Australia’s car crash calendar

James McCay

Oct 12, 2021

The deadliest time to drive

On average, more than 1,000 people die every year on Australia’s roads from fatal accidents and crashes.1 However, these incidents are not evenly spread throughout the year – there are times when the number of deaths on the road spike.

We explore the data to find out when most road deaths occur and what’s behind these increases.

What’s the most dangerous time of the week to drive in Australia?

On any given week, most road fatalities occur on a Saturday, based on data from the Australian Road Deaths Database (ARDD).2

Source: Australian Road Deaths Database. Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, Australian Government. 2021. *Data time frame ends on 02/03/21. Fatalities include drivers, passengers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, motorcycle pillion riders and pedal cyclists.

Compare the Market interviewed Professor Max Cameron from the Monash University Accident Research Centre to discuss the numbers.

‘Weekend traffic is more social and more likely to occur at night, where there is a higher risk for crashes,’ says Professor Cameron.

‘Social driving is more likely to involve alcohol and drugs. During the day, people may be more inclined to speed, which can’t be done during the congestion we see on weekdays.’

Looking at the year as a whole, August, November and December are the most dangerous months, based on monthly averages from the last decade. March and May are the next most dangerous months.

Source: Australian Road Deaths Database. Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, Australian Government. 2021.

Notes: Monthly average is rounded up to the nearest whole number. Fatalities include drivers, passengers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, motorcycle pillion riders and pedal cyclists. The months with the highest monthly average fatalities for their year are highlighted.

 

Professor Teresa Senserrick from the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety – Queensland (CARRS-Q) tells Compare the Market that there are clear spikes on school holidays.

‘The dates where we see spikes in road deaths match with school holidays. This is why there is justification for double demerit points during those periods.’

 

– Professor Senserrick

Professor Cameron echoes this statement.

‘There are more fatal crashes that occur during holidays. A key characteristic of fatal accidents is they usually involve higher speeds, and higher speeds are more common in rural areas, which also see more traffic during holiday periods, increasing the risk.’

Other factors can increase the numbers, according to Professor Senserrick. This includes extremes in weather during the height of summer and winter, and the breeding season of animals.

The impact of Easter and Christmas on road fatalities

Christmas and Easter see specific spikes in road fatalities, but only represent a small period within the year, as shown above. Excluding Christmas, which increases the monthly average in December, August and November are the most dangerous time of year to drive.

Still, based on the Easter and Christmas fatalities alone, there is cause for concern as Easter road fatalities continued to rise from 2017 (2020 is the exception due to the COVID-19 lockdown), while Christmas road deaths have been declining steadily since spiking in 2017.

Sources: Australian Road Deaths during the Easter period. Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, Australian Government. 2021.
Australian Road Deaths during the Christmas period. Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, Australian Government. 2021.

Notes: Fatalities include drivers, passengers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, motorcycle pillion riders and pedal cyclists. Easter is a five-day period from the Thursday before Good Friday and ends on Easter Monday. Christmas is a 12-day period starting on 23rd December and ending 3rd January. Deaths are rounded up to the nearest whole number.

Are road deaths in Australia declining?

Fortunately, the number of lives lost on the road has been declining since 2010 – with spikes in 2012 and 2016. Given that Australia has a growing population and an increasing number of vehicles on the road, this is a positive outcome.3,4

The reduction in road deaths is in part due to modern vehicles being safer than older ones. The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) notes that the fatality rate for cars built before the year 2000 is four times higher than that of vehicles built after 2011.5

As part of the National Road Safety Strategy 2021-30, the Australian Government aims to reduce road deaths by 50% per 100,000 population to 689 a year, 6 with a future goal of reaching zero road deaths by 2050.

Source: Australian Road Deaths Database. Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, Australian Government. 2021.

Light rain more dangerous than torrential rain

The Bureau of Meteorology notes that most of Australia, particularly along the northern and eastern coasts, receives more rainy days from November to March than during the rest of the year. Australia’s south receives more days of rain during the cooler months in the middle of the year.7

While rain creates an obvious risk factor for drivers, there’s no clear discernible trend in road deaths increasing during rainy months compared to months with less average rainfall, based on the monthly road death averages.

The issue with rain is based on how torrential it is, with light rain actually causing an increased risk of crashes – depending on location – according to Professor Cameron.

‘In some parts, rain is quite torrential, but when the rain first starts in Australia’s southern states, the roads often have a lot of dust on them. Rain turns that dust to mud, which is very slippery. Heavy torrential rain quickly clears the mud away.’

Professor Cameron adds that roads are designed to provide the right amount of friction for tyres so you can stop very quickly, but it’s hard to overcome that initial muddiness when rain first forms. Heavy rain also deters other types of road users.

‘Motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians don’t tend to be on the roads during heavy rain so much, so there are fewer fatal crashes for these groups of road users, who are at a higher risk of dying in a crash compared to vehicle occupants.’

Over a third of road fatalities occur at night

While most people drive during the day for work, errands and leisure, from 2010 to 2020, 38% of road deaths occurred at night, reflecting a much greater risk from driving at night.8

A number of risks are present at night-time driving, such as reduced visibility and driver fatigue on top of the risks associated with social driving.

Professor Senserrick states that while most drivers travel during the day, driving at night, any day of the week, comes with a greater risk of crashing.

‘Compared to the much lower amount of time we spend travelling at night compared to the day, the risk of crash is substantially greater. There are more nuances at work, such as driving at a time you would normally be asleep.’

Source: Australian Road Deaths Database. Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, Australian Government. 2021.

Notes: In the ARDD data, day-time starts at 6:00AM and ends at 5:59PM. Night starts at 6:00PM and ends at 5:59AM.

Your location is also a risk factor

There is a higher likelihood of road fatalities in rural areas, according to government data.

Source: National Road Safety Strategy 2021-30: Consultation Draft February 2021. Infrastructure and Transport Ministers, National Road Safety Strategy, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, Australian Government. 2021

According to Professor Cameron, the quality of the roads, combined with higher speed limits, leads to higher road deaths. The distance between crash sites and the emergency services also plays a role.

‘Speed limits in poor quality country roads are often 100kph. Regrettably, some people drive at those speeds rather than driving to the conditions of the road. Also, the lack of traffic encourages some drivers to speed to excess.’

‘Speed is a big issue. It’s time we took it more seriously. It doesn’t just increase the risk of crashing, but it makes crashes more likely to result in fatalities.’

 

– Professor Cameron

When asked about the greater fatality rate in regional areas, Professor Senserrick also called out higher speeds as key issue.

‘Far more crashes occur in urban areas – but two-thirds of fatalities occur in regional and remote areas. Urban environments have lower speed limits, more traffic controls and more congestion,’ Professor Senserrick explains.

‘From regional to remote areas, the higher speed limits and less congestion have a marked role. It is simply the laws of physics. The higher the impact speed, the higher the risk of death.’

Are other countries also reducing their annual road fatality numbers?

Based on the available data, most countries are seeing a decline in annual road fatalities, except for two. New Zealand is reversing a recent upwards trend in road fatalities, but the number of deaths on the road in the USA continues to grow.

Graph sources

  1. Australian Road Deaths Database. Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, Australian Government. 2021.
  2. National, state and territory population. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Government. 2020.
  3. Deaths on NZ roads since 1921. Ministry of Transport, New Zealand Government. 2021.
  4. Population. StatsNZ, New Zealand Government. 2021.
  5. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Government of the United States of America. 2021.
  6. National Population Totals and Components of Change: 2010-2019. United States Census Bureau, Government of the United States of America. 2020.
  7. Department of Transport, Government of the United Kingdom. 2020.
  8. Overview of the UK population: January 2021. Office for National Statistics, Government of the United Kingdom. 2021.
  9. Road accidents, killed and injured – municipalities. IStat, Italian National Institute of Statistics, Italian Government. 2021.
  10. Reconstructed resident population – Years 2002-2019. IStat, Italian National Institute of Statistics, Italian Government. 2021.
  11. Annual tables. French Road Safety Observatory, Ministry of the Interior, Government of France. 2020.
  12. Demographic balance sheet 2019. National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, Government of France. 2020.
  13. Persons killed in road traffic accidents by month. Destatis, Federal Statistical Office of Germany, Government of Germany. 2021.
  14. Current population. Destatis, Federal Statistical Office of Germany, Government of Germany. 2021.
  15. Road traffic accidents involving personal injury. Statbank, Statistics Norway, Norwegian Government. 2021.
  16. Key figures for the population. Statbank, Statistics Norway, Norwegian Government. 2021.
    Canadian Motor Vehicle Traffic Collision Statistics: 2018. Transport Canada, Government of Canada. 2019.
  17. Population estimates, quarterly. Statistics Canada, Government of Canada. 2021.
  18. Road fatalities. Central Statistics Office, Government of Ireland. 2021.
  19. Population and Migration Estimates. Central Statistics Office, Government of Ireland. 2020.

What is the Australian Government doing about the numbers?

Currently, Australia has a $2 billion Road Safety Program,9 which includes the Road Safety Strategy for 2021-2030. This is just one part of the massive investment federal, state and territory governments make on road safety enforcement, policing, and safety awareness campaigns.

The states and territories themselves have added their own millions to improve roads, such as Western Australia putting a combined $100 million into upgrading more than 17,400 kilometres of regional roads with audible lines and sealants to reduce ‘run-off road’ crashes.10

Reducing road fatalities to current levels has taken years of work, campaigns, and billions of dollars.  Given the reward is reducing deaths on the country’s roads, the investment is invaluable.

Brought to you by Compare the Market, making it easier for Australians to search for great deals on their Car Insurance.

Sources

  1. Road deaths by road user. National Road Safety Strategy, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, Australian government. 2021.
  2. Australian Road Deaths Database. Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, Australian Government. 2021.
  3. National, State and territory population. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Government. 2020.
  4. Motor Vehicle Census, Australia. Australian Bureau of Statistic, Australian Government. 2020.
  5. New Analysis: Fatality rates four times higher in an older vehicle. Australasian New Car Assessment Program. 2017.
  6. National Road Safety Strategy 2021-30. Office of Road Safety, Australian Government. 2021.
  7. Average annual & monthly days of rain. Bureau of Meteorology, Australian Government. 2021.
  8. Australian Road Deaths Database. Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, Australian Government. 2021.
  9. Road Safety Program. Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, Australian Government. 2020.
  10. McGowan Government secured funding towards WA’s biggest-ever regional road safety initiative. Government of Western Australia. 2020.