Indicators at a glance - Transport

This section summarises the latest Environmental Health Indicators about transport and health in New Zealand.


Transport can impact on our health through a number of ways: road traffic injuries and deaths, air pollution, noise pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and barriers to accessing services due to a lack of transport. 

Active transport (eg walking and cycling) and public transport have positive health benefits, such as on mental well-being, physical activity and cardiovascular health. 

Indicator Key findings
Motor vehicles
  • In 2017, there were about 4.2 million vehicles in New Zealand – the highest number ever.
  • New Zealand has one of the highest car ownership rates in the world. In 2017, there were 792 light vehicles per 1,000 people in New Zealand. 
Main mode of transport to work on Census day
  • In 2013, 82% of commuters used a car, truck or van as their main mode of transport to work on Census day. 
  • About 9.7% of commuters used active transport (walking, jogging or cycling). A further 5.7% of commuters used public transport.
  • There has been no change in the combined use of active or public transport to work from 2001 (15.4%) to 2013 (15.4%).
  • Wellington and Nelson regions have the highest use of active and public transport to work. 
Household travel time by mode of transport
  • In 2011–14, New Zealanders spent 79% of their travel time in motor vehicles (cars, vans or motorcycles). About 15% of travel time was spent walking or cycling. A further 4% was spent on public transport.
  • There has been little change over time in the proportion of time spent on different transport modes.
  • Active transport was used most in the Otago, Gisborne, Wellington and Nelson/Marlborough/Tasman regions.
  • Public transport was used the most in Wellington, Auckland and Southland. 
Active transport to and from school
  • The percentage of children walking to school dropped from 42% in 1989/90 to 29% in 2010–14.  For cycling, the percentage dropped from 12% in 1989/90 to 2% in 2010–14.  
  • In 2016/17, 44.5% of children aged 5–14 years used active transport to and from school. There has been no major change since 2006/07.
  • Children in Northland and Wairarapa District Health Boards (DHBs) had a lower use of active transport to school than the national rate in 2011–15. 
Unmet need for GP services due to lack of transport
  • In 2016/17, 2.6% of children and 3.2% of adults had a medical problem but did not visit a GP due to a lack of transport, in the past 12 months.
  • There has been little change in these rates since 2011/12.  
  • There were higher rates of this unmet need in Māori (7.5% of adults and 4.8% of children), Pacific (7.8% of adults and 4.5% of children) and people living in high deprivation areas (4.8% of children and 7.2% of adults).
  • Rates of unmet GP need due to a lack of transport were higher in Hawke's Bay, Hutt and Counties Manukau DHBs in 2011–14. 
Road traffic injury deaths and hospitalisations
  • The number of road traffic injury deaths increased from 2013 (253 deaths) to 2017 (379 deaths). 
  • Motorcyclists were at a higher risk of traffic injury deaths and hospitalisations per time spent travelling.
  • Males, young people aged 15–24 years, Māori, and people living in more deprived areas generally had higher rates of traffic injury deaths and hospitalisations.
  • West Coast, Tairawhiti and South Canterbury DHBs had the highest mortality rates for traffic injury in 2009-2014. In 2016, the highest hospitalisation rates for traffic injuries were in Northland and Tairawhiti DHBs. 
  • The number of traffic injury deaths for children aged 0-14 years decreased from 2007 (30 deaths) to 2014 (13 deaths).  
Health burden due to road transport

Road transport was estimated to be responsible for 650 deaths in New Zealand in 2012. 
These deaths included:
- 308 deaths due to traffic crashes
- 218 deaths due to particulate matter (PM10)
- 65 deaths due to nitrogen dioxide exposure
- 59 deaths due to noise pollution.