Roads are safer but speed still kills
A new law will allow a 110kmh speed limit on some roads for the first time. This is a sensible move, but the public also needs to realise that the same law will require lower speed limits as well. Lower speed limits might not always prove so popular.
The law change is based on a new system designed to bring more consistency into the setting of speed limits. At present these are often a result of history rather than rational design. The idea is to bring rationality into what is a patchwork of speed limits, some of which are clearly not suited to actual road conditions.
This system, outlined in a new management guide last November, recognises that rationality is one thing and public opinion is another. In the end, authorities can’t set road limits that the bulk of the population don’t accept.
If drivers think the speed limit is daft then many will flout it, and the law will fall into disrepute.
The new system would allow higher speeds in areas such as parts of the motorways to the north and south of Auckland, on the Waikato expressway, and possibly on the new Kapiti expressway.
The harder choices will be in areas where driver behaviour doesn’t match the present speed limit and needs to come down for safety reasons.
These are the cases where the plan envisages ‘‘challenging conversations’’ between officials and the community.
In the trials on Waikato roads which have paved the way for the law change, for instance, the many tourists using the road near Hobbiton near Matamata had clearly created a problem.
Negotiations led to changes in signage and other road controls rather than a lowering of the speed limit.
Whether that will do the trick and increase safety remains to be seen.
Some rural drivers won’t welcome attempts to lower speed limits on roads where ‘‘we’ve always gone this fast’’ but where deaths and injury too often result. This is where the new system will meet its greatest test.
The easier case is where the local traffic has already slowed to below the speed limit and the lower limit will be easily accepted.
Certainly the various 80km areas on SH1 north of Wellington have been accepted, partly because of the clearly dangerous nature of the roads at the100 kmh limit.
At the other end of the scale is the case where roads need to be ‘‘engineered up’’ and where the investment criteria clearly justify spending the money.
The improvement of our roads has played an important part in the dramatic reduction of the road toll. This process clearly needs to continue, since the downward trend has hit some bumps in recent years.
But greater road safety means that while some speed limits will rise, some will have to fall.
Speed limits are under review.