The Ministry of Transport has released its latest report on the impact of high-risk drivers. This page answers some frequently asked questions about the report.

What is meant by high-risk drivers?

In this report ‘high-risk driver’ means: 

  • unlicensed and disqualified drivers (including drivers who are forbidden to drive or who have an expired licence or the wrong licence class for the vehicle being driven)
  • drivers identified as racing or showing off at the time of the crash
  • drivers with a blood alcohol level of at least fifty percent over the adult legal limit (i.e.120 mg/100 ml)
  • repeat alcohol offenders, specifically drivers in alcohol-related crashes who have at least one prior alcohol conviction in the previous five years
  • repeat speed offenders, specifically drivers in speed-related crashes who have at least two prior speeding offences in the previous five years, with at least one involving 35 or more demerit points (note that this excludes speed camera offences).
    These categories of high-risk driver are based on those set out in Safer Journeys: New Zealand’s Road Safety Strategy 2010-2020. Although, note that Safer Journeys did not specify levels of offending. These have been developed for this report.

How many drivers fit these criteria?

We know that 34 percent of drivers at fault in fatal crashes are high-risk drivers. However, it is not possible to say how many drivers on the road fit this category, as some of these criteria can only apply to their actions in a crash. We do know that around 67,000 drivers are disqualified each year and that 27 percent of drink drive offenders are repeat offenders.

Are high-risk drivers mostly young people?

About half of the high-risk drivers at fault in fatal crashes are under 30.

Why are men more likely to be high-risk drivers?

Men have traditionally been overrepresented in fatal crash statistics. We know one reason for this is that young men are more prone to taking risks than young women.

The government’s actions for improving the safety of young drivers and reducing the impact of alcohol on our road deaths and injuries will help improve the safety of all road users.

How was this analysis carried out?

This report was compiled by the Ministry of Transport from data contained in the Crash Analysis System. Details of all Police reported crashes are recorded in this system. NZ Transport Agency data on alcohol convictions and speed demerit points was also used.

Does this mean drivers who do not have prior convictions or do not engage in high risk behaviour are not a road safety risk?

No. All drivers can make mistakes, and it is important that everyone take responsibility for their actions on the road, no matter what their driving history. However, what this information does show is that there are a number of drivers whose high risk actions cause a significant number of road deaths and injuries.

What is the government doing about these drivers?

The government has already progressed a number of actions for improving road safety as part of its Safer Journeys road safety strategy. This is available at www.saferjourneys.govt.nz(external link). These include actions that will help reduce the impact of high-risk drivers such as allowing the use of alcohol interlocks for repeat drink drivers, a zero drink drive limit for young drivers and repeat drink drivers, raising the driving age, raising awareness about young driver crash risk, and increasing penalties for drivers who cause death. Alcohol interlocks are breathalyser type devices which prevent a vehicle from being driven if a person can not pass a breath test.

In addition to Safer Journeys actions, last year the government announced a $10 million per year investment package to increase access to alcohol and other drug treatment. $1 million of this is dedicated to fund programmes for drink-drivers and is estimated to achieve up to a 9 per cent reduction in repeat drink driving for 1,400 drink-drivers a year.

What is meant by ‘at fault’?

At-fault drivers are defined in the Crash Analysis System as those deemed to have primary responsibility for a crash. This is based on the details of the crash. It is not based on legal liability or court conviction.

Are drugged drivers included in this report?

The definition of high risk driver used for this report does not directly include drugged drivers. However, drivers affected by alcohol could also be affected by drugs. In addition, the numbers of those driving while disqualified could also include people disqualified for driving under the influence of drugs.

What is the government doing to improve the safety outcomes for Māori and Pacific drivers?

Actions in the main Safer Journeys priority areas, including those already progressed, should also see improvements for these groups. In addition, when actions are implemented we may need to see how they can be tailored to respond to the differing needs of New Zealand’s communities.

This definition of repeat offender includes those with only one previous drink-driving offence. What results would we get with a more restricted definition?

As noted above, these are based on the description of high-risk driver used in the Safer Journeys road safety strategy. As would be expected, more restrictive definitions reduce the number of high-risk drivers involved in crashes. However, even with a more restrictive definition of high-risk driver that limits alcohol offenders to those with a blood alcohol content of over twice the legal limit and repeat offenders to those with at least two prior alcohol offences, statistics show these drivers were 29 percent of at-fault drivers in fatal crashes.