Data analysis: Road fatalities part 1 – by year

Car crashes have caused over 160,000 death s in Australia – more deaths than have occurred as a result of war (1). Although the total number of road deaths has decreased by 57% over the past 26 years, it is still around 1200 deaths per year (2). Here, road fatality data from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (2) is analysed in order to determine any patterns that may exist.

Road deaths.png

The data consists of 46,075 recorded road fatalities, over a period of 27 years (1989 to 2015). New South Wales (NSW) has the greatest number of deaths (31.1% of the total), and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has the least (0.9%). Queensland has the third largest number of death, at 9,050, or 19.6% of the total.

Fatalities by state.png

The total number of fatalities is not an accurate method of comparaing fatality rates between states, as higher populations are likely to have higher road fatality rates. Instead, the number of fatalities per 100,000 people is often used, as shown below.

Road fatality rates for states.png


The ACT had the lowest number of road fatalities per 100,000 people out of all the states, in both 1989 and 2015 (11.36 and 3.82 deaths per 100,000, respectively). Moreover, the ACT had the lower fatality rate for 25 of the 27 years of data. This may be due to either tighter road rules, such as lower speed limits, or decreased travel distances in the ACT, due to its small size, which could lead to lower driver fatigue.


The NT had the highest fatality rate in 1989 and 2015 (38.98 and 20.08 deaths per 100,000). In addition, the fatality rate in 2015 was still significantly higher than the Australian average in 1989. This is likely due to the unusually high speed limits, and low police presence. Indeed, 399 of the total 1,423 NT fatalities were recorded as occurring in a 900 km/hr road, and 215 were on roads with no speed limit. Together, this constitutes 43.1% of the total fatalities, supporting this theory.

The NT also showed the lowest decrease in fatality rates from 1989 to 2015 (48.5%), which suggests that safety measures in the NT need to be ramped up.


Queensland had the 2nd and 4th lowest fatality rates in 1989 and 2015 (14.91 and 5.07 deaths per 100,000 respectively).

Victoria currently has the second lowest fatality rate (4.20 deaths per 100,000), and also displayed the highest reduction in deaths from 1989 to 2015 (76.4%, compared to the Australian average of 69.5%).


The fatality rate is clearly decreasing over the long term; however the rate of decrease appears to be slowing. This may be due to the introduction of new safety features declining.

Fatality rates.png

One intriguing feature is a significant peak in the fatality rate of the ACT in 2005, which coincides with a medium peak in NT fatalities. This could be a random event, as the ACT’s road toll is very low (typically 10 to 15 people per year), so may be susceptible to annual variation.

Most states have seen a 60 to 70% reduction in fatalities between 1989 and 2015, with Victoria seeing the greatest reduction (76.4%), and the Northern Territory the least reduction (48.5%).

Reduction in fatality rates.png


High fatality rates do not have to be a consequence of using vehicles. Discerning speed limits, improved road conditions, and increasing driver awareness can all help reduce the number of fatal crashes. Although the fatality rate has reduced by 69.5% since 1989, there is still plenty of room for improvement.


  1. Burrows, K, Andriessen, M, McKay, B, Mott, JB & Tacon, J 2008, Queensland physics: context to concept, John Wiley & Sons Australia, Milton, Qld.
  2. Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development 2016, Australian road deaths database: fatalities, Australian Government. Available from: [7 April 2016].

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