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New Zealand pedestrian profile

Published: 11 2000

This Profile aims to make visible the extent and importance of pedestrian activity and injury in New Zealand. Its focus is on walking as a transport mode, and it aims to provide an accessible overview to those who plan our communities and manage our roads.

6. Overview of pedestrian injury on New Zealand roads


6.1   Extent of the problem

One in nine road deaths nationally; one in four deaths on urban roads

From 1993-1997, one in nine New Zealanders killed on the roads died as a pedestrian. On average, every week in New Zealand, nearly 20 pedestrians (around 1,000 annually) are injured seriously enough to require hospitalisation, and at least one (65 annually) dies.

The significance of pedestrian injury in the road safety picture increases for urban areas. From 1993-1997, on urban roads (i.e. those with speed limits of 70 km/ph or less), pedestrians accounted for 28% of road fatalities, 12% of reported injury crashes and 18.6% of the social cost of injury crashes.

Two thirds of reported pedestrian casualties (and 61% of hospitalisations) occur in the three regions with the largest urban populations - Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury.

$290 million in social costs annually

The social cost of road crashes involving pedestrians is estimated at $290 million annually (four year average to 1999)*.

Part of the high social cost of pedestrian crashes relates to the relative severity of many pedestrian injuries. On average, pedestrians who are hospitalised cost twice as much to treat as hospitalised motor vehicle occupants. (Inpatient costs of injury due to motor vehicle traffic crashes in New Zealand; Langley et all, 1993)

ACC has estimated its costs for a six year old child, injured as a pedestrian, who loses a leg and suffers a serious head injury, at between $1.4 million and $4 million over their lifetime, dependent on their ability to support themselves in adulthood. (Safekids National Child Pedestrian Factsheet, 1996)

* Social cost is the measure of all costs that a road crash inflicts upon the community - on road users, emergency service providers and others. It includes not just material losses and resource costs (e.g. to treat pedestrian injuries), but also pain and suffering.

Figure 5: Percentage of pedestrian fatalities of all road user fatalities

Figure 5

6.2   Who gets injured?

Pedestrian injury occurs among all age groups, with children accounting for the highest percentage of hospitalisations.

Kids and older adults most at risk

Taking into account their percentage of the population, children aged 0-14 years remain at most risk of hospitalisation, with a rate of 33.5 pedestrian hospitalisations per 100,000 head of population. They are followed by older adults aged 65 plus and young people aged 15-24 years, both with rates of 26.5 per 100,000. Adults aged 25-64 years are least at risk (11 per 100,000).

The higher rates of risk for children and older adults also hold true when taking into account the number of trips taken by various age groups, and time spent in the road environment, however the risk for young people drops almost to that of adults when risk is calculated against these factors.

Children in the Auckland region (29% of the nation's children) account for 44% of the nation's child pedestrian hospitalisations. Their rate of pedestrian injury hospitalisation is 49.5 per 100,000.

Older adults are more likely to die of their injuries (accounting for a quarter of fatalities), a fact likely to reflect their greater physical fragility.

Around 30% of those aged 15 years or older who were killed as pedestrians between 1994 and 1996 were found to have alcohol levels over the legal driving limit. This equates to around 15 per year, or 8% of all pedestrian fatalities (LTSA Crash facts, Alcohol, 1997).

Pacific peoples and Māori

In terms of time spent walking in the road environment, Māori and Pacific peoples are at twice the risk of pedestrian hospitalisation as Pakeha.

The risk for Pacific children is particularly high - seven times that of Pakeha children, and three times that of Māori children. However, it is important to note that the vast majority of Pacific Island children in New Zealand live and undertake their walking in the type of busy urban road environments where pedestrian crashes are most likely to occur.

More males than females

Males account for 57% of reported pedestrian injuries, and 69% of fatalities.

Aucklanders, especially the region's children

Although home to only 30% of the country's population, the Auckland region accounts for 41% of the nation's hospitalised pedestrians. On the region's urban roads, pedestrians account for:

  • nearly a third of road fatalities
  • one in six reported injury crashes
  • a quarter of the social cost of road crashes.

Children, 23% of the region's population, account for 43% of the region's pedestrian hospitalisations.

Figure 6: Percentage of pedestrian hospitalisations by age group

Figure 6

6.3   Where and when are pedestrians injured?

Urban roads

Nine out of ten reported pedestrian injuries (92%) and nearly seven out of ten pedestrian fatalities (67%) occur on urban roads (roads with speed limits of 70 kilometres per hour or under). Most commonly, roads with 50 km/ph speed limits are involved.

On main roads, not minor roads

In New Zealand, the vast majority of our pedestrian injury crashes occur on the relatively busy urban roads that bisect our suburbs and communities. More than half occur on ‘arterial roads’, and a quarter on ‘distributors/collectors’. Only one in five occur on streets designated as ‘local roads’ by territorial authorities.

Figure 7: Percentage of pedestrian crashes by urban road type

Figure 7

Close to home

The majority (57%) of New Zealand pedestrians are injured locally, within two kilometres of home. This pattern of ‘close to home’ injury is most apparent for children and older adults.

Generally, the surrounding land use at the site of the crash is either residential (in over half of cases) or commercial in nature (in a third of cases).

‘Mid-block’, at uncontrolled sites, and on the ‘near side’ of the road

The overwhelming majority (around 90%) of pedestrians injured on public roads are struck while crossing the road, as opposed to while walking on a footpath, walking along the side of a road, or, for example, ‘playing’ on the road.

The majority of reported pedestrian crashes (over 60%) occur mid-block, rather than at intersections. Eight out of ten occur at un-controlled sites, with around one in ten occurring on signalised crossings, and a further one in ten at or near a zebra crossing.

Sixty three percent of pedestrians are hit while on the near side of the road, rather than after they have crossed the centre line.

At the times pedestrians are most likely to be ‘out and about’

Not surprisingly, the majority of pedestrian crashes occur when pedestrians are most likely to be out and about - in good weather, and during daylight hours. For children, injuries peak in the after-school hours, with a further peak in the hour before school. For older adults, injuries peak late-morning and mid-afternoon. Injuries during the hours of darkness are more common among those aged 18 and older.

Crashes occur throughout the year, and throughout the week, with Sundays appearing the least common day, and Fridays the most common.


6.4   Why speed and pedestrians don't mix

Speed and pedestrians are a lethal combination, for two reasons:

  • The faster a driver goes, the more difficult it is for them to avoid hitting a pedestrian in their path. An alert driver travelling at 50 km/ph can just stop in time to avoid a pedestrian who steps out onto the road three house sections away (45 metres). The same driver, travelling at 60km/ph will still be travelling at 44 km/ph when the pedestrian is hit.
  • The faster the speed at which a pedestrian is hit, the more serious their injuries. A pedestrian hit at 30 km/ph has a 5% chance of dying, compared with a 40% risk of death at 50 km/ph. Hit at 70 km/ph, 96% of pedestrians will die. (Ashton, 1982)

6.5   Auckland study — provides insight into circumstances of child pedestrian injury

Children are among our most vulnerable pedestrians. Far more New Zealand children die as pedestrians on our public roads than die of violence, abuse or neglect; a similar number of children die as pedestrians as die of all infectious diseases combined (NZHIS mortality statistics, 1993-1997).

Forty four percent of child pedestrians hospitalised in New Zealand live in the Auckland region. A review by Auckland's Injury Prevention Research Centre (IPRC) of child pedestrian injury incidents on that region's public roads between January 1992 and February 1994 provides important information about where and when child pedestrian injuries occur. The review included 200 incidents in which children were seriously enough injured to be hospitalised (12 died). It found:

  • Over 75% of children were injured when crossing roads while on their way somewhere (e.g. school, shops, a friend's home). Only 2% were injured while ‘playing’ in the street.A third (and 40% of school-aged children) were injured on the school journey.
  • Sixty percent of children were injured within 500 metres of their home, 75% within a kilometre.
  • Only 25% of incidents occurred on ‘local’ roads; 55% occurred on arterials/major principal roads. Three quarters of incidents took place on roads with more than 2,900 vehicles per day travelling on them; half on roads with more than 7,600 vehicles per day; and a quarter on roads with 16,700 vehicles or more per day.
  • At nearly 50% of sites, the average speed of traffic travelling over the spot was more than the legal speed limit.
  • Most children were injured mid-block (60%), or at intersections without crossings. Seventy percent of sites had no pedestrian crossing within 100 metres on either side. Only 13% were injured on pedestrian crossings.
  • Children were more likely to be injured in lower socio-economic communities.The study report suggested that this may reflect both the riskier road environments faced by children in these communities, mixed with their higher levels of walking activity. Similar factors were suggested as an explanation for significantly higher rates amongst Maori and Pacific children - groups found to be more than twice as likely to walk home from school as Pakeha children.

Source: Safekids Decisionmaker Info Series #1: Child Pedestrian Injury in the Auckland Region, 1996


6.6   Pedestrian injury trends

Although the number of pedestrian fatalities in New Zealand has remained relatively stable since 1993, safety gains for pedestrians have been less than for other road user groups.

On roads with speed limits of 50 km/ph or less - the roads on which the majority of pedestrian crashes occur - pedestrian fatalities have risen from 29% of all road user fatalities from 1994-1996 to 36% of fatalities during 1997-1999.

Similarly, pedestrians now account for a higher percentage of the social cost of urban road crashes than in the past.The four year average (to 1999) shows pedestrians accounting for 21% of annual social cost of injury crashes on urban roads, up from 18.5% for the 1993-1997 period.

Injury risk remains high, especially for children

Poor progress has also been made in reducing our overall risk of serious pedestrian injury. The averaged annual rate of 21.5 pedestrian hospitalisations per 100,000 head of population for the five years 1988-1992, dropped only marginally to 20.5 over the following five year period (1993-1997).

This lack of progress is particularly alarming for children, whose much higher rate of risk (33.5 hospitalisations per 100,000) has not shifted - even though this group has experienced a 10% decline in walking activity (as discussed in the previous section).*

One would expect that if safety for child pedestrians was improving, a 10% drop in exposure will have been accompanied by a similar drop in their rate of hospitalisation. Instead, it appears that those who continue to walk may actually be at increased of injury.

Children living in the Auckland region are of most concern. Their rate of hospitalisation rose from 41.5 to 49.5 per 100,000.

* Nor was there any change in the high risk of hospitalisation for children when rates were calculated both against number of walking trips undertaken, and time spent in the road environment.