Cary’s story

Cary Grant, a Winton St John paramedic, argues when we use the term road toll we distance ourselves from the people it represents.  He supports the Southern Road Safety Influencing Group’s call to stop using the term road toll. 

We’ve got a problem in Southland with people dying on our roads. I could give you the statistics – the highest national road toll in five years, a disproportionate number of people dying in Southland and Otago, a regional road toll that’s been trending upward. But what do these numbers do? Will we pat ourselves on the back this year if “only” X number of people are killed?

Our fixation on counting the toll, of comparing numbers year-on-year, distracts us from the real issue – avoidable road crashes are killing people in our communities.

I recently learnt Australia and New Zealand are the only countries that use the term “road toll’ when referring to the number of people killed on our roads each year.

Over this holiday period we’ve heard that phrase a lot. It becomes a media focus as we watch the numbers ticking over like the scoreboard at a rugby game.

I don’t think this is right. And I’m joining the Southern Road Safety Influencing Group in challenging it. We should call it what it is.


When we use the term “road toll’ we distance ourselves from the people it represents. From the families, friends, communities who are grieving. And from people like me who are out there trying to save lives. I can tell you now, what I’m seeing is not a game.

What I see is the realisation that hits when a young person realises their friend, the person who was sitting next to them moments before is dead. It’s the realisation of the magnitude of what has happened and the consequences that are spreading out in front of them. It’s realising they are going to be faced with the grief of their friend’s family and community and there is nothing they can do.

It’s the culture that got us here. So many people on our roads think they can try something and get away with speeding just a little or checking that phone just once when their hands should be one the wheel. But you don’t always get away with it. Sometimes you die. Human nature is “it won’t happen to me”, but it does. It happens all over New Zealand hundreds of times a year.

At midnight of December 31 we reset the road toll back to zero. We wiped away the previous year’s count of those killed on our roads and we started from zero. If we stick with the ‘toll’ concept it follows then that our collective “cost” for the year is wiped too.

But the reality for our communities, the hundreds of families and the thousands of friends and neighbours across New Zealand who lost someone this year, is that their grieving won’t stop, those lives haven’t been forgotten. The cost of someone’s life is a debt that our communities are never able to repay.

We’ve got a problem in the South with people dying on our roads. I want Southland to stand up and face that. Let’s not use words or numbers to hide it. Let’s say together “Any number is too many” and do something about it.

We need to collectively examine the issue with honesty if we want to make lasting changes. This year I challenge everyone to stop saying “road toll’ and start calling them road deaths. Let’s make this a New Year’s resolution that actually counts. If we start calling road deaths for what they actually are, maybe it will help us focus on coming up with some solutions.

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