Background: The aim was to identify organizational and clinical errors in the management of road traffic fatalities and to use this information to improve Victoria's trauma care system. Methods: A multidisciplinary committee evaluated the complete ambulance, hospital and autopsy records of 559 consecutive road traffic fatalities, who were alive on arrival of ambulance services, in five substantial time periods between 1992 and 1998. Patients who survived more than 30 days were excluded. Errors or inadequacies in each phase of management, including those contributing to death, were identified and an assessment was made of the potential preventability of death. Results: Findings between 1992 and 1998 were similar. In 1998, 1672 problems were identified in 110 deaths with 1024 (61 per cent) contributing to death. Eight hundred and forty-two (50 per cent) of the total problems occurred in the emergency department. There were frequent problems in initial patient reception and medical consultation, resuscitation, investigation and assessment (especially of the abdomen and head), and in transfer to the operating theatre or to a higher-level hospital. Victoria's combined preventable and potentially preventable death rate has been unchanged between 1992 and 1998 (34-38 per cent). Conclusion: The problems identified led to a Ministerial Taskforce on Trauma and Emergency Services in Victoria as a consequence of which a new trauma system is now being implemented.