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"The lost years on the roads"

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To All News Editor s/Bu.reau Heads/Chiefs οι*. Staff


The attached article, by Dr. Ronald Wells (Director of A.C.T. Health Services), will be published in "The Medical Journal of Australia" on Saturday, January 22. .

If you use extracts from this article, please mention the fact that it appears in the current issue of "The Medical Journal of Australia". ’ '

Your co-operation is also sought in ensuring that information contained in this article is not published before January 22.

' The section entitled "Discussion" (p.4 ) would appear

to contain the most quotable material.

Nigel Starck PRO A.C.T. Health Services Tel. 49-8077 Ext. 38

(A.H, 48-7104) ' ■

Release.No. 269 January 21' 1972


The Lost Years on the Roads

Ronald Wells, M.D., B.Sc., M.R.C.F., M.R.A.C.P.

. Commonwealth Director of Health, A.C.T.

Sooner or later we all must die, and if after a full life

this happens in advanced old age when all our mental and physical

processes are flickering to a close, there should be no great con­

cern about the ultimate cause of death. However, we should be

gravely concerned about the- preventable causes of death in the

younger and middle aged; people who could otherwise have expected

long and sociably useful lives in the prime of life.

In a previous paper in collaboration with Lawrence Kuplcee,

who was then an undergraduate at the Australian National University, ·

attention was therefore focussed upon the normal life expectancy

and the years of this lost as a result of certain causes of death

(Wells and Kupkee, 1966). The lost years of life due to various

causes in Australia during 1963 were calculated, and also for good

measure the lost years of working life. Diseases of the circulatory

system accounted for 2 7 .34$ of all the lost years of life due to

deaths in 1963 - the largest group by far - and accidents, poisoning

and violence accounted for 14·27$. But as a considerable proportion

of the circulatory system deaths occurred in the older age groups

while the majority of the accidental, poisoning and violet deaths

occurred in younger people, the relative importance of these causes

of death was reversed in the years of working life lost. Accidents,

poisoning and violence accounted for 22.55$ of all lost years'of

working life, compared with 15*01$ due to diseases of the circulatory


During recent years increasing public concern in

Australia about traffic accidents has led to the introduction in

certain States of the breathalyser, and even legislation to make

the wearing of seat belts compulsory. However, these and other


measures that may be taken, xd.ll only have their full potential

effect if those who use the roads have an acute and continuing

awareness of the risks involved. The purpose of this paper is

to present some of the statistics relating to traffic accident

deaths in a way which may mean something personally and he

impressive to the ordinary man on the roads.

Motor Vehicles Accident Death Rates .

The annual age and sex specific death rates in

Australia for motor vehicle accidents during the period 1950 to

1965 have been published (Commonwealth Bureau of Census and

Statistics, 1968). To bring these up to date for the purposes

of this paper the figures for the period 1966 to 1969 have been

calculated using information on causes of death and population

provided by the Bureau (Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Stat­

istics, 1971)· Immediately prior to 1968 these figures relate

to causes of death classified xmder sections 810-825 inclusive

of the Seventh Revision of the International Classification of

Diseases, and for 1968 and 1969 they relate to causes classified

under sections 810-825 inclusive of the Eighth Revision.

The rates for the period 1950 to 1969 are shovm in

Figure 1, and the main features may be summarised as follows -

(i) the death rates at all ages are substantially ■

higher for males than for females;

(ii) the death rates for both sexes are lowest in

the 5-14 age group, rise sharply in the 1 5 -24

age group, have a minor reduction in early

middle age, and then rise to their highest

levels in old age;

(iii) the rates for most male age groups tend, to be

* slowly rising; and

(iv) the rates for young and middle age group women

show the most rapid increases.

Lost years of life due to motor vehicle accidents

The lost years of life due to motor vehicle accidents

in'.Australia have been calculated for the years 1963 to 1969 .

inclusive, "by the methods previously described (Wells and Kupkee,

I966) and are summarised in Table 1. In this six year period

the years lost from this cause increased by 45*2/ in males, and

75*0/ in females, and 52.6$ in the whole population.

Table 1. Lost years of life due to 1 motor vehicle accidents in

Australia, 1963-1969

Year Males Females Total

1965 68,936 22,487 . 91,422

1964 75,924 28,519 104,443

1965 82,306 28·, 984 ‘ 111,290

1966 87,304 31,756 119,039

196? 88,128 33,263 121,391

1968 98,821 32,901 131,722

1969 100,164 39,348 139,512

The proportions of the total lost years of' life from

all causes which were due to motor vehicle accidents only are

summarised in Table 2. In period 1963 to 1969 this proportion

increased by 31.2# in males, 63.7/ in females, and 39·9/ in the

whole population.

Table 2. Lost years of life due to motor vehicle accidents in

Australia, 1963-1969, 1 as · proportions of the total

lost years of life due to all causes

Year Males Females All Persons

1963 7.5l/o 3.17/ 5.62/

1964 7-97/ 3.88/ 6.19/

1965 ' 8.72/ 4.01/ 6.68/

1966 - 9.07/ 4.30/ 7.00/

1967 9.06/ 4.53/ 7.12/

1968 ' 9.75/ 4.29/ 7.40/

1969 9.85/ 5.19/ 7.86/

Lost years of life rates and trends

The analysis of age and sex.specific rates for lost

years of life due to particular causes gives no further useful

information than can be obtained from simple age

specific death rates. But when the lost years of life are

totalled for all age groups and are divided by the population

at risk this does produce a new series of rates which can in

■turn be studied for a new form of overall trend.

The data in Table 1 have therefore been used in this

way to derive the lost days of life rates shown in Table $.

These show rates of increase- which are very considerable for the

short period of six years, 1965-1969» namely 29.1% in males,

54.6% in females, and 35·2% in the whole population.

Table 3· Lost days of life due to motor vehicle accidents

in Australia, 1963-1969» per person of population

Year Males Females All Persons

1963 4-57 I.52 3.06

1964 4-94 1.89 5.42

1965 5.25 1.88 ' 3-58

1966 5-48 ' 2.02 3.76

1967 5.41 . 2..Ο7 3-75

1968 5-95 2.01 4.00

1969 5.90 2.35 · 4.14


Perhaps the average of 4 days 3 hours and 22 minutes

of life lost due to motor vehicle accidents in 1969 for every

man, woman and child in Australia does not seem a huge price to

pay for the convenience of travel on the roads. But the average

life expectancy at birth now includes some JO years of exposure

to the risk of these accidents, and at the iates occurring in

1969 this would mean that on average the life of every child

b o m would be shortened by more than 9 months (290 days) due to

traffic accidents. Furthermore, this risk is rising as women

use the roads more and begin to catch up with the mortality rates

of their male counterparts.


We seem to be in an age when women are not only yearn­

ing to live like men but are also learning to die like them. For

death on the roads is still to a large extent a matter of volunt-^

ary exposure. Very few people are forced against their will to

purchase powerful cars beyond their ability to control; drink

before driving, leave at the last minute, and drive like

pipistrelles. '

Most of us who have survived as pedestrians have learnt

that crossing a busy street is dangerous. We do it as little as

possible, and even then we choose the time and place with care.

Furthermore, we frown on other pedestrians who don't take proper

care. Jaywalking has become socially unacceptable behaviour, and

perhaps as a result there appears to be less of it than there was.

Any major reduction in motor vehicle accident rates will require

the same sort of change in personal and social attitudes about

driving. At best, this will be a slow process and it will need

to be continuously fired with facts - facts which convince ,

individual road users that driving is dangerous for them and not

just for other people. The facts about lost years of life may

be particularly useful for this purpose because they emphasise

the importance of deaths at an early age.


Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics

(1963)· "Supplement to Causes of Death

Bulletin No. 3", Commonwealth Government

Printer, Canberra. .

Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics

(l97l), "Personal Communication".

Wells, R., and ICuplcee, L. (1966) "The Lost

Years: Important Causes of Death in

Australia, 1963", Med.J.Aust., 2:466.

Annual Mortality Rates per




Age groups

-:V '