Road crashes cost Waikato $111m
The number of people seriously injured in motor vehicle crashes is continuing to climb each year and is now the leading cause of trauma in the Waikato. And with the climbing rate, is the increasing social cost which shows road crashes cost the country $3.14billion a year, according to the Ministry of Transport.
Although there can be no price put on a life, the average social cost for every person who dies on the road is $3.98million. For those with serious injuries it is $724,000 and $70,000 for every minor injury crash.
Social costs take into account both financial and non-financial costs incurred as a result of a crash based in the year it happened, including loss of life and quality, loss of output, medical, property damage, legal and court costs.
So far this year 28 people have died on Waikato roads, the highest in the country for the second year in a row, costing an estimated $111.44m in social costs.
Dr Grant Christey, who heads the trauma team at Waikato Hospital, said although the cost of a fatal crash is considerably more, the ongoing healthcare and loss of ability in a seriously injured person leaves long-term effects.
“I knew the numbers were high, but I didn’t know they were that high. At this stage we are struggling about how to prevent it.
“The death rate in terms of the overall burden on the community is much lower than the burden from serious injury, which becomes a bit invisible, because they have disabilities and they adapt.
“The death rate in some years goes up and down, but it is the rate of those with serious and minor injuries that keeps on climbing and we are not seeing a reduction despite a serious effort.”
Most of the people dying in road crashes in the Waikato were young people, who are productive in society and face a long life of impact, said Christey.
“Up to 15 and 16-years-old the injuries go up and are related to high speed vehicle crashes.”
From July 1, Christey and the Waikato DHB trauma team will be rolling out an innovative new national database that gathers unidentifiable information on trauma patients to identify risk factors of crashes.
“We are going to be able to pinpoint exactly where these people are coming from, what the risk factors are and the prevention strategies from that.”
Data already analysed through Midlands Health shows the most fatal crashes occur on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“You have the road toll over a weekend of deaths, but actually it doesn’t represent the biggest burden of trauma, which is occurring all the time. It is not the only measure of how good we are going for prevention.”
In contrast the highest number of motorcycle crashes occur on weekends, with 100 of the 284, or 41 per cent, of those admitted to hospital with injuries from riding on a Saturday.
“There are the tried and true – the speed, the loss of attention, alcohol and drugs but it all comes down to the person not concentrating on the vehicle at hand. It comes down to decision making, which is where our focus will be.”
The database will analyse ethnic factors, rural versus urban communities, age and gender and geography.
“We thought the regions were quite similar when we started out but we are realising each region has a different flavour of types of trauma.”
Ninety per cent of trauma injuries in the Waikato are caused by road crashes and falls, said Christey.
“They do lose function and there is a cost to the individuals and their families, which is not taken into equation. The cost on society of people adapting to their new life is huge.”
Kaine Lewis is one of those trauma patients to come through Waikato Hospital with serious injuries from a road crash.
The 17-year-old avid rugby player was left critical on life support after the car he was a rear seat passenger in smashed into a powerpole in Rotorua last August.
The crash, which brought down three poles, occurred during a period of heavy rain, causing flooding along the Te Ngae Rd.
His mother Gwyn Lewis still remembers the “horrific day”.
“Those were the words that were used when we got to Waikato Hospital that day. I didn’t know much about what had happened, I just knew he was in a really serious condition and that if he made it through the night it would be a miracle.”
Kaine sustained trauma from head to toe, suffering a shattered neck, multiple bleeds on the brain that has caused a permanent brain injury and a snapped femur. He spent days in the Intensive Care Unit on life support and was in an induced coma for weeks.
“The surgeon said if Kaine had been 30-years-old instead of a strong fit 16-year-old we would have been having a totally different conversation.”
Ten months down the track and Kaine has learnt to walk and talk.
“I am amazed. I was always proud of him before the accident, but this. Kaine thrives on a challenge. He is a very different boy now.”
Before the crash the up and coming rugby player in Year 11 had played for the Chiefs Under-18s and was looking forward to trying for New Zealand schools selection.
Although he can no longer play rugby or attend high school, Lewis is not letting life keep him down.
“What happens, happens and what’s done is done. I will never play rugby again, and I’m sweet with it. It will be about two years until I’m recovered, but really a lifetime to go.
“When it comes to the brain injury it’s like nothings changed in my head. I forgot some people, but I didn’t forget the important ones.”
He advises teens out there to set goals and strive hard to achieve them, and never let life get them down.