Slower speed limits frustrate local authorities and transport advocates

Part of the motorway network in the south where maximum speed limits will be reduced from 100 km/h to 80 km/h. Graphic / ODT, main photo, Gerard O’Brien

Transport advocates are calling on the government to be candid about its national highway speed limit scheme.

Southern mayors have also raised concerns about the use of speed limit reductions to reduce damage to roads and underinvestment in the network, driver training and speed enforcement.

National transport policy appears to prioritize urban concerns over the needs of rural communities, they said.

Transporting New Zealand chief executive Nick Leggett and Automobile Association Otago chairman Malcolm Budd have launched what they see as a national campaign to lower speed limits from 100km/h to 80km /h on national highways without median barriers.

This would affect the vast majority of state highways in Otago and Southland.

Leggett called on the government to be transparent with the public about its agenda.

Transporting New Zealand chief executive Nick Leggett said authorities were slowing down vehicles rather than installing median barriers.  Photo/Mark Mitchell, File
Transporting New Zealand chief executive Nick Leggett said authorities were slowing down vehicles rather than installing median barriers. Photo/Mark Mitchell, File

The Department for Transport said there are no current or planned proposals to reduce speed limits on roads without median barriers.

The New Zealand Transport Agency said the agency, ministry and government “have all been very vocal about the role of safe speeds in helping New Zealand achieve the 40% reduction in fatalities and serious injuries by 2030, set as an initial goal in the road to Strategy Zero”.

The agency is working on a series of speed limit reviews.

Most of Northland’s 880 km of national highways could have speed limits reduced from 100 km/h to 80 km/h.

These proposals have been described as “punitive”.

The speed limit on a 90 km stretch of State Highway 5 between Napier and Taupo is to be reduced from 100 km/h to 80 km/h next month.

Road users said this could lead to impatient drivers attempting risky overtaking manoeuvres.

A speed limit review is also underway on the SH2 section from Hutt Valley in Wellington to Featherston in Wairarapa.

However, the lowering of the speed limit on sections of SH6 between Nelson and Blenheim at the end of 2020 has been described as a success by the authorities.

The serious accident rate has been reduced.

Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks was wary of a one-size-fits-all mentality.

Tracy Hicks, Mayor of Gore.  Photo / Provided, File
Tracy Hicks, Mayor of Gore. Photo / Provided, File

“If there were to be some sort of general lowering of speed limits, I think that would be bad,” Hicks said.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said the South hasn’t done as well as other regions with national policies directing transportation funding to areas with the busiest traffic and where the emphasis is. was shifted to public transport and cycling.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said massive speed limit changes would not necessarily achieve safety goals.

Leggett said Otago and Southland were a “poor cousin” for receiving lower levels of road investment.

Budd said the money should be spent on road improvements and speed limit reductions should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

An adjusted philosophy for speed management is outlined in a 2018 Department of Transport document.

In it, officials point out their discomfort with the “misalignment” between speed limits and road conditions, in many cases.

Many people traveled too fast for the conditions, “because the posted speed limit does not reflect the level of risk”.

Department of Transport mobility and safety chief Robert Anderson said the department expected to make progress this year in tackling unsafe speeds.

A bend with an 85 mph speed warning sign near the Rangitaiki Plains end of State Highway 5 where the speed limit will increase from 100 mph to 80 mph.  Photo / Doug Laing
A bend with an 85 mph speed warning sign near the Rangitaiki Plains end of State Highway 5 where the speed limit will increase from 100 mph to 80 mph. Photo / Doug Laing

Key components of the program included moving to safer speed limits around schools.

A new regulatory system for speed management would be established, “improving the way road enforcement authorities plan and implement speed limit changes by introducing speed management plans”.

A spokesperson for the transport agency said it was reviewing speed limits on high-risk sections of New Zealand’s national road network and places where communities were demanding safer speed limits.

“When evidence gathered from these reviews shows that speed limits are neither safe nor appropriate, we offer new, safer speed limits.”

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