Of those that died on New Zealand roads last year:
- 66% were male
- 34% were female
- 28% were 60+
- 14% children or teenagers
- 13% aged between 20-24
According to Ministry of Transport:
- In 2016 there were 9,682 injury crashes
- Resulting in 12,456 people injured
- In 2016, motor vehicle crashes accounted for 38,391 hospital days
The social cost of motor vehicle crashes have been estimated to be:
- $4,729,000 per fatal crash
- $912,000 per reported serious crash
- $99,0000 per reported minor crash
Somehow, we take it for granted that deaths and serious injuries are a legitimate part of our transport system. What we do know, is that unrelated tragedies trigger emotional and behavioural responses. Phobia of a plane crash can prevent us from travelling, yet when statistically speaking, a person would have to take a flight every day for 55,000 years before encountering a fatal accident. (Curiosity, 2017). In 2017, there were 37 million flights and 13 deaths. Yet approximately, 1.35 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes (World Health Organisation, 2018).
Eric Wilson, a professor at Wake Forest University and author of Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can't Look Away, says the scale of our fears stems from both morbid and empathetic impulses.
"Fixating on disaster reportage can bring out the worst in us: getting a rush from the suffering of others, and the best: a feeling of empathy for those suffering as well as a deeper understanding of the meanings of suffering and death.”
"I also think that we probably get a feeling of relief when watching disaster coverage, relief that this terrible thing didn't happen to us."
A survey conducted in the US by Chapman University analysed the scale of ‘fear’. What they found, was the 43 percent of the participants surveyed revealed that their hierarchy of fears stemmed from lack of control. For instance, there is less control travelling via airplane than driving a car.
It’s true, large catastrophes, with multiple fatalities spark a larger reaction than individual mounting mortalities. Yet, if we compare 2018’s death toll to a community similar in size, the figure becomes much more paralyzing and a lot less tolerable.
For instance, 70% of New Zealand schools have a total pupil roll of 380 or less. There are 28 towns in New Zealand that have a lower population count than 382. Plus, the standard office size in New Zealand is below 300 employees. Would we accept these deaths?
Jared Thomas, Technical Principal of Behavioural Science has a background in human factors, applied social psychology and environmental psychology, with a particular interest in improving the safety and usability of transport environments and public spaces.
Jared believes that in terms of attentiveness, we are very good at filtering information to attend to what is most important when we are focused, but several bias and distractions limit this ability.
"Biases include optimism (it won’t happen to me) and self-enhancement bias (or “othering” where most people believe they are better than the average driver), which can make us think we are safer than we are. In-vehicle footage of thousands of drivers shows us that prior to crashes about 50% of motorists are involved in a secondary task. Some tasks we attempt to reduce (e.g. no cell phone use), but other tasks, such as taking our eyes off the road to manage children or reach for something to eat or drink still exist. Overall, we need a mind-shift of greater respect around risk when using our roads, but we also need to do better at creating environments that support our people when they are tired or distracted.” Says Jared.