No speed up for NZ

There is a per­fect storm of rea­sons why we don’t de­serve and won’t get a higher open road speed limit in New Zealand, says DAVE MOORE.

South Waikato News - - SPORT / TE PAPA HA¯KINAKINA -

It might have have seemed a good idea at the time for New Zealand to tag along with re­cent lob­by­ing in Bri­tain to have mo­tor­way lim­its raised from 115kmh to 130kmh. If noth­ing else, last year’s road toll spike and the fact that this year’s is trend­ing even more poorly, are rea­sons to back-off on the idea.

I’ve lis­tened to scores of ra­dio talk-back callers who pro­fess to hav­ing above av­er­age driv­ing skills and own­ing a ‘‘safe’’ mod­ern car, who feel that they’re more than ca­pa­ble of con­duct­ing a car at 110 or 120kmh on our roads. It ap­pears we also have lob­by­ists and pun­dits who feel the same.

Th­ese peo­ple may well have such skills and even the ap­pro­pri­ate hard­ware, but they ob­vi­ously haven’t no­ticed the be­hav­iour pat­terns of other road users and the stan­dard and age of the cars they drive. They also may not have twigged that for statis­ti­cians and suf­fer­ing fam­i­lies, it takes only a seem­ingly in­no­cent SUV or peo­ple-mover full of mates to turn a rel­a­tively ‘‘safe’’ hol­i­day week­end into a tragic one.

Our posted speed lim­its are there for the sim­ple rea­son that his­tor­i­cally we don’t de­serve them to be any higher. A rise in our open road speed limit to 110kmh or per­haps 120kmh means that most of the traf­fic around us will be clus­tered at 117kmh and 127kmh in­stead of the pre­vi­ous 107kmh, depend­ing on whether we re­mem­ber if the au­thor­i­ties are ap­ply­ing a 4kmh or 8kmh tol­er­ance that week­end ( Re­mem­ber, they didn’t RE­ALLY mean a 1kmh tol­er­ance).

From com­pletely un­sci­en­tific ob­ser­va­tion and anec­dote, I’d say we’re al­ready un­re­li­able when it comes to keep­ing to pre­scribed lim­its in sub­ur­bia and such dis­re­gard for ad­vised speeds makes our com­mu­ni­ties risky places for peo­ple, and chil­dren in par­tic­u­lar, to walk and cy­cle.

It’s ob­vi­ous that driv­ing just ‘‘ a bit’’ faster dramatically in­creases stop­ping dis­tances, re­duc­ing the chance of be­ing able to stop in time in case of an emer­gency.

But brakes dif­fer from one car to an­other, you say. Well yes, they do, but where do you think you’ll be safer, wan­der­ing in front of a car in Bri­tain, where cars av­er­age six years or so, or do­ing the same in front of a New Zealand car, av­er­age age 14 years and closing on 15?

And would you feel safe if those av­er­age, of­ten shagged­out Kiwi cars were also af­forded the abil­ity overnight to be driven 10 to 20 per cent more quickly than they ever have legally be­fore?

Even on di­vided high­ways, it would be in­ad­vis­able, as lane dis­ci­pline and in­di­ca­tor use, on- and off-ramp be­hav­iour and lev­els of con­cen­tra­tion are patently of a very low stan­dard here.

The sim­ple truth is that even though there are good driv­ers with mod­ern cars who in an ideal world – say over­seas, in more civilised driv­ing na­tions with a half de­cent road toll – could cruise safely at higher three-digit speeds with rel­a­tive im­punity, they can’t and shouldn’t in New Zealand. That’s be­cause you sim­ply can’t trust peo­ple around you to do what they should, or for their cars to re­act the way a mod­ern one can.

The same peo­ple who can’t fig­ure out how to in­di­cate at round­abouts, can’t work out what lane they should be in at in­ter­sec­tions, and don’t un­der­stand sim­ple things like traf­fic lights, are likely to be use­less at plac­ing them­selves cor­rectly on the open road and un­likely to re­sist tak­ing ad­van­tage of their new­found speed free­dom even when road and weather con­di­tions sug­gest they shouldn’t.

Even those skilled driv­ers with posh cars who ap­pear to be at the vanguard of the higher speed limit cam­paign need some re­train­ing. If they are un­able to note the ap­palling driv­ing stan­dards of what ap­pears to be the ma­jor­ity of driv­ers around them and the num­ber of knack­ered cars and trucks used day to day in New Zealand, then they au­to­mat­i­cally dis­qual­ify them­selves from driv­ing any more quickly on public roads than they al­ready do.

Speed: Our road toll sug­gests we can’t even cope with the lim­its we cur­rently have and no-one is re­ally sure what would hap­pen af­ter a 10 per cent hike.

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