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.
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.