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Open-road and urban speed limits should be lowered

12 August 2005

Open-road and urban speed limits should be lowered

The 100kmh speed limit is too fast for most of New Zealand’s roads – including sections of State Highway 1 - and should be lowered on sub-standard roads until safety barriers can be installed.

That’s one of the conclusions of TRAFINZ (the Local Authority Traffic Institute of New Zealand) President Andy Foster following the institute’s annual conference in Wellington this week.

Mr Foster, also a Wellington City Councillor, says the 50kmh urban speed limit is also “far too fast” in residential streets – and he says the conference strongly supported plans to introduce blanket 40kmh speed limits in many urban and suburban streets around the country.

Mr Foster says this week’s three-day conference has been an outstanding success – and that participants, both local and from overseas, yesterday agreed a communiqué based on the following ‘shared vision’ – “No-one will be killed or seriously injured on New Zealand’s roads”.

Mr Foster says the vision might sound like an impossible dream – “but it is an ethical statement to work towards over time. There are many things – such more appropriate speed limits – that can be introduced quickly and easily to significantly reduce road deaths and injuries.”

The vision is similar to the philosophy adopted in the UK and European countries where there is commitment, from politicians and the general community, to the elimination of death and injury on the roads.

Mr Foster says the conference communiqué agreed there should be renewed local, regional and national commitment to the work required at least to meet the Road Safety Strategy 2010 target of no more than 300 deaths and 4500 hospitalisations a year by 2010.

“The decline in our road toll has stopped, after big improvements since the 1980s, on the back of initiatives including strong enforcement, targeting of alcohol, excessive speed, and seat belt wearing, the graduated driver licensing system and an ongoing improvement in the vehicle fleet.

“However road crashes remain the number-one cause of involuntary death in the first five decades of life. We know there are a whole range of things we can do, if only we show some moral fortitude. The alternative is essentially saying we are happy to unnecessarily kill and injure each other, and even ourselves. That doesn’t strike as a morally defensible position.”

“The need to lower the open-road speed limit is really something that will only be possible if the whole New Zealand community – that includes politicians and the so-called man in the street – agree to take responsibility for the fact that New Zealand’s road toll is devastatingly high.

“The 100kmh limit is fine on many of our roads, but only until you or somebody else makes a mistake. You can be the best driver in the world, but it is not much protection when somebody coming the other way gets it wrong and there’s only a bit of paint separating you. The reality is that we are human and we will make mistakes. Currently we have a blame-the-driver culture, when the system is sub-standard.

“The lowering of speed limits to, for example, 80kmh would be unpopular in large sections of the community – and among many politicians. I’m sure the suggestion of a wire barrier along large undivided sections of State Highway 1 would also be unpopular.

“Many motorists might only visualise the nightmare of being stuck behind a truck or caravan for mile after mile. But the solution would be many more sections of overtaking lanes – they are relatively cheap to build. You could do hundreds of kilometres for the price of a tiny section of motorway.”

With the election fast approaching, Mr Foster says there is now an opportunity for politicians to take the road toll, and road safety in general, seriously. “We are looking for indications from the political parties that they will not just talk about New Zealand's unacceptable road toll, but work with us to do something about it.

“Last year 436 people died on our roads. 2500 were recorded as seriously injured. What people may not realise is that the annual cost of death and injury on our roads is about $3.6 billion. That is more than the cost of congestion, which seems to get all the focus.”

Mr Foster says he is impressed by a consensus at the conference that New Zealand’s minimum driving age of 15 is too low. “We are heartened by all the calls to review the driving age and the conditions under which young drivers are allowed on the road. However what needs to happen is the follow-through – so that deaths on the road are not merely a talking point after bad accidents.

Local speakers and participants at the conference have included Harry Duynhoven, Minister of Transport Safety, ACC Minister Ruth Dyson and MPs Rodney Hide, Maurice Williamson, Peter Brown and Mike Ward, Police Commissioner Rob Robinson, Secretary of Transport Robin Dunlop, ACC CEO Garry Wilson, Transit NZ CEO Rick van Barneveld and Land Transport NZ CEO Wayne Donnelly.

International speakers included Dr Ian Johnston, the prominent psychologist and Director of Monash University's Accident Research Centre, Assistant Commissioner Bob Hastings and Chief Superintendent John Hartley - two of Australia’s top police officers and leading forces in the field of innovative traffic enforcement, and Tony Bliss, formerly of the LTSA, and now the World Bank’s Senior Road Safety Specialist.

Communiqué issued by the 57th TRAFINZ conference
(7-10 August 2005)

The individuals and organisations that made up TRAFINZ 2005 believe there is a need for a shared vision for road safety in New Zealand.

This vision will, in line with leading world practice, inspire action and provide:

- Guidance and direction for achieving the results we want for road safety both now and over the next 20 years

- The impetus, and local, regional and national commitment and innovation required to meet the Road Safety 2010 targets of no more than 300 deaths and 4500 hospitalisations annually by 2010.

- The means to empower and motivate community action in support of road safety

- The foundation on which to build a strong and sustainable safety culture

This vision is:

“No one will be killed or seriously injured on New Zealand’s roads”.

This vision needs to be nurtured and supported and we need to find a way to establish an organisation which will become the guardian of this vision. We will work on this as partners in road safety, over the next six months. We will come back to the next conference having established this organisation and provide an interim report on progress towards the vision.


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