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Preventing rural road deaths

The number of Waikato road deaths involving drivers under 25 years decreased last year over the previous year from 13 to four (New Zealand Transport Agency Crash Analysis System, February 2014).

The Waikato Child and Youth Mortality Review Group, which comprises clinicians, other health sector personnel, Māori health providers, NZ Police, Ministry of Education, social and community agencies and community service providers, says that is great news but every death on the road is one too many.

“There will be some new young people coming to work on farms over the next few weeks and we want to remind them of the dangers which exist out on the country roads which they may not have experienced before,” says medical officer of health Dr Felicity Dumble.

“The road outside a farm gate is probably one of the most familiar stretches of tarseal or gravel for most farmers,” she said.

It is also the strip where they are more likely to have a car accident than any other road in the country.

That familiarity can be fatal, according to research done by the Child and Youth Mortality Review Groups.

Recent analysis of crashes involving dairy farmers in several regions in New Zealand uncovered other findings which when added together can prevent rural road deaths.

Fatigue, for example, is one of the most significant risk factors and is something dairy farmers or sharemilkers have to contend with every day.

Other highlights of the research:

  • Rural roads are not designed for high speeds.  Even in good weather conditions, there is very little tolerance and 100 kph is not generally the recommended speed – and certainly any speed over the limit is dangerous.
  • Driving alone makes a driver even more vulnerable to fatigue as no one else notices they are dozing.
  • Alcohol takes time to be processed. One standard drink1 takes approximately one hour to be metabolised by the liver and removed from the blood stream.
  • Having a sleep does not clear the slate in terms of blood alcohol content – one hour per standard drink is still required to process the alcohol.
  • Always use seatbelts – no matter how short the distance. Driving round the farm without a seatbelt can cause the “putting on the seatbelt reflex” to be lost.  It is absolutely essential though to have the seatbelt buckled up when driving on the road (CDC, 2012) and so it is important to have a routine to remind yourself to buckle up.  If you are involved in a crash and not wearing a seatbelt, there is a much greater risk of death.
  • The majority of accidents occur relatively close to home (McGwin, & Brown, 1999) and insurance reports suggest that familiarity with the road can be an additional risk (Churchill, 2005).
  • Family, friends and workmates are encouraged to be assertive when they see that someone should not be driving.  Take the car keys away.
  • Driving under the influence of any substance is extremely dangerous.

This information is based on fatal accident evidence.  The reviews are conducted by the Child and Youth Mortality Review Groups using an inter-agency approach.

The members of the review groups are clinicians, other health sector personnel, Māori health providers, NZ Police, Ministry of Education, social and community agencies and community service providers.   All the reviews are conducted under the auspices of the Health Quality & Safety Commission and the legislation governing the work of the Child and Youth Mortality Review Groups is the NZ Public Health and Disability Act 2000, schedule 5.


CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012).  Policy Impact: Seat belt.  Retrieved January 20, 2014 from http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/seatbeltbrief/

Churchill Insurance (2005).  One third of all accidents happen within one mile of the home.  Retrieved November 16, 2011 from

McGwin, G., & Brown, D.  (1999).  Characteristics of traffic crashes among young, middle-aged, and older drivers.   Accident Analysis & Prevention, 31 (181-198).

1 one standard drink = 10g pure alcohol = approximately 330ml of beer, 30ml of spirits, 100ml wine (ALAC publication Drink Check, 2006)

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