Roads are safer but speed still kills

South Waikato News - - Your Paper, Your Place - STUFF.CO.NZ ED­I­TO­RIAL

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.

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