Local councils can improve New Zealanders' health and save lives with less focus on the car and a greater emphasis on walking, cycling and public transport, researchers say.
Wellington has the highest level of sustainable travel of the main centres with 35 percent.
- The trams that could've stopped Auckland's traffic nightmare
- Opinion: Are cable cars the answer to Auckland’s catastrophic congestion?
A study led by Otago University (Wellington) set out to quantify what would happen if other cities had the same rate, and found there would be significant health and carbon gains.
In Auckland - which has the highest level of multiple car ownership with 55 percent - there would be an estimated 57 fewer premature deaths each year.
As well, carbon emissions from light vehicles would be 20 percent lower.
The figures for the four other cities in the study were (fewer premature deaths and lower carbon emissions from light vehicles):
Hamilton, 52 and 32 percent; Tauranga, 50 and 27 percent; Christchurch, 31 and 8 percent; and Dunedin, 13 and 7 percent.
The study, published in the NZ Medical Journal, says the different amounts of walking, cycling and public transport use between cities reflect different urban planning priorities over time.
Lead author Dr Caroline Shaw says the health gains are mainly through increased physical activity, but also as a result of reduced air pollution and few injury deaths.
"The costs of preferentially funding infrastructure for cars are high," Dr Shaw said.
"This research shows we can address carbon emissions while also significantly improving health in cities."