44 road fatalities so far this year

We opened the newspaper to very sad news this last Monday morning: five young men had burned to death in a violent car crash early Sunday morning. Two were 18, two were 19 and the fifth was 20 years old. The driver had no trace of alcohol or drugs in his blood, but the car had been racing, headlights off, through the streets of central Nouméa at over 130 kilometres/hour before it crashed into a wall. The car exploded almost immediately and the bodies were found in positions indicating that the victims had been trying to escape.

These five horrible deaths bring the car accident death toll this year to 44, 3 less than the 2011 death toll for the same period. 44 may not sound like a lot for countries like the United States where the total is 111 deaths per million inhabitants. But when you do the math, you realise that for its small population (close to 250,000), New Caledonia has an alarmingly high number of road fatalities. Here are just a few numbers by way of comparison:

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Road fatalities in selected countries, 2009

Per 250,000 inhabitants

Russian Federation: 46 (full year)

New Caledonia: 44 (2012, to date)

Korea: 30

United States: 27.75

Australia: 17.5

France: 17.25

United Kingdom: 9.5

Source:  OECD Factbook, 2011.

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The only  OECD country to have higher road fatalities per inhabitants is the Russian Federation – and 2012 is not finished yet! So New Caledonia will most likely come out on top.

One of the more frightening things about these statistics is not just the quantity of road fatalities, but the age of its victims. 80% of the victims killed by car this year in New Caledonia were under 44; 45% of them were between 18 and 24.

Not all of the victims die in cars, however: 25% of them were pedestrians. Just last week, a woman was run over in the north of the island by a drunk driver, while walking home. When we arrived, a woman of 50 had just been killed while walking along the Baie des Citrons, just days before her wedding.

As the headlines read here, a road fatality every 6 days is enough!

Alcohol is the primary cause of car accidents in New Caledonia, accounting for 62% of this year’s deaths. Other causes include excessive speed (35%), rain (16%) and driving without a driver’s license (13%). One of the teens who died this last Sunday morning had been pulled over Friday night for not having a driver’s license.  He was to appear before a judge on Monday.

Interestingly enough, 62% of this year’s car accidents have taken place outside Noumea and greater Noumea.

The worst days for killer car accidents on the island? Weekends and holidays.

The time of day would be interesting to know. From the stories I’ve been reading these last few months, many of the accidents occur after nightfall, but I’d like to see the actual statistic.

What is to be done? There are limits on purchasing alcohol here (one cannot do so after mid-day on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays – discussed in this post) and there is talk of creating pedestrian licenses for children 7 and up. But the truth is, it’s not enough. Many drive without licenses and insurance. Many drive inebriated.  Will it take greater education in schools? A much wider national and local community awareness campaign? Stricter penalties for drunk driving?

New Caledonia is losing a fair share of its youth – a class of 20 this year – for preventable and lamentable reasons. What are we going to do about it?

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4 thoughts on “44 road fatalities so far this year

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