High fuel prices lower the road toll - study

A new study has found the number of road deaths in New Zealand decreases when petrol prices are higher.

The study, by the Australian National University's Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis, found in the short-term fatal accidents decrease when the fuel price is high, and increase as the price lowers.

When the price is high other modes of transport, particularly cycling, have more road accidents as people switch to more fuel-efficient modes of transport.

New Zealand's road toll is currently at its highest in years, after the official 2017 reached 379. In 2013 it was as low as 253. The current road toll for 2018 is 355, one above where it was at this time last year.

Petrol prices peaked this year at around $2.50, but have dropped sharply due to changing economic conditions.

According to the Automobile Association, on November 30 the price of a litre of 91 octane averaged was $2.06 a litre.

"The real retail fuel price decreased by approximately 23 percent from 2013 to 2016," the study said.

"If one were to apply the average fuel price elasticity of road deaths over the period May 2004 -March 2017... this would be associated with an increase in the level of road deaths of approximately 16 percent.

"It is thus conceivable that around half of the overall increase in road deaths over the period was due to lower fuel prices."

Study authors Rohan Best and Paul Burke suggested other factors in the increased road toll could include smartphone use, increased weekly earnings, lower unemployment or a higher number of international visitors.

The study stopped short of suggesting increased taxation though. Instead it favoured tailoring road safety advertising spending.

For example, when the price is low more focus should be put on open road driving, while safety around cyclists should be the priority when prices are high.