One of the increasing features of road safety in recent years has been the introduction of the reduced tolerance for speeding down to 4km/h. It started a few years ago on long holiday weekends and is currently being trialled over December and January. Positively the Herald reports that the public seem to be supportive of the measure because at the end of the day it is about improving safety.

A summer crackdown on speeding which will lead to fines for drivers travelling more than 4km/h above the legal limit is strongly supported by the public, a Herald-DigiPoll survey shows.

Police have previously lowered the speed tolerance from 10km/h to 4km/h at long weekends and public holidays, but the lower threshold has been in force for all of December and runs until the end of January.

If the 62-day trial is successful, it could mark the end of the 10km/h speed tolerance.

The poll showed that two-thirds of respondents felt that the policy was fair because it was about safety. Just 29 per cent said that it was unfair and was about raising revenue.

Police Minister Anne Tolley said the high level of support for the lower speed tolerance was encouraging, and showed that New Zealanders were taking the message to slow down seriously.

“This is a special time of year when New Zealanders should be enjoying time with their families and friends and I don’t want anyone to have to suffer the trauma of being told that a loved one has been killed on our roads,” she said.

One of the reasons the public are likely much more acceptable of the measure than they would have been in the past is that we simply aren’t driving as fast as we used to.

Ministry of Transport data showed that the proportion of New Zealanders speeding on the open road had reduced since records began 17 years ago. In 1996, the mean car speed was 102km/h and 56 per cent of drivers travelled more than 100km/h. In 2012, the mean speed was 95.6km/h and just 25 per cent of drivers exceeded the 100km/h limit.

The change in drivers who drive over the speed limit is quite substantial. On the Ministry’s website they have the data (although only back to 2000) including the speeds on urban roads have also been coming down – although still over 50% of drivers are traveling above 50km/h. This surely has to be one of the big factors in the reducing road toll. It would be really interesting to see what would happen if we reduced the urban speed limit to 40km/h (or even 30km/h) like is happening in many places overseas.

Speeds on NZ Roads

They also have data for the speeds on roads in each region and while Aucklanders are now some of the slowest drivers on open roads, we are some of the fastest on urban roads despite the averages having come down. The graph below shows how Auckland compares to the figures above.

Speeds on Auckland Roads

You can see the results for all regions in the tables below.

Urban Speeds on NZ Roads - table

Open Road Speeds on NZ Roads - table

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  1. In the previous post it was noted that road fatalities closely followed Vehicle Kilometres Traveled, Although the available data was only back as far as 2001 this is before the 4km over rules were applied.
    I note that Clive Matthew-Wilson was on the radio yesterday saying that reduced fatalities were due to better vehicle design. Which one to believe?
    Each has a certain amount of logic but I can’t help thinking there is an amount of use of statistics to prove a particular commentators opinion.

    1. I think Dog and Lemon Guy is being simplistic in the extreme.

      If you look at the injury statistics you can dis-entangle the truth a little more.

      While deaths per VKT have dropped, Injury rates per VKT have not dropped nearly as much.
      This means that crashes are still happening, just that they are less “death causing”.

      There are several factors for this:

      1. Safer modern cars.
      To some degree – but note the average NZ Fleet age, like the NZ population, is growing older not younger.
      Its now something like 13 years average [and aging older],

      So there are a lot of older than 13 years old cars out there to make that average as high as it is, which means all the really modern stuff like ESC and airbags are not in these older cars. And in any case, the benefits of modern safety features are often overcome by drivers going faster/cornering faster etc, in the belief that the safety system will always work/protect them.
      Or not understanding the safety feature at all (e.g. confusing “4 wheel drive” as meaning “better braking” in all conditions).

      Thus negating the safety features. Anti-lock brakes is one such example – they did not lead to a longer term reduction in crashes, as drivers with ALB simply drove faster as they “knew” they could stop quicker than before. Thus negating the benefit of ALBs.
      So its not all down to safer cars.

      2. Better road design, so that driver errors are less likely to end up in a (death causing) accident, may still crash, but not kill anyone.

      3. Lower road speeds, Without a doubt, each 1km reduction in impact speed, increases survivability of a crash at any speed, but more so at open road speeds.

      4. Modern medical responses – fire crews, choppers, air medics etc.

      In the old days, the fire service cut them out, ambulances did a scoop and run to the nearest hospital and all hoped the patient lived.
      Nowadays, they have can nearly get a full trauma team at the accident quickly, who can triage the victims and get everyone to the best hospital (not just the nearest one), way sooner than by road ambulance. With in-flight care options.

      5. In Hospital care
      Previous medical treatments would have seen many borderline cases die in the ICU or on the table during an operation.
      Nowadays this still happens but much less often.
      As a result serious injuries don’t end up with a death – they may mean a very bad permanent injury or disability, but they are not dead and so “don’t count”.in the road toll of deaths.

      So, adding all those up you do get a reduced road toll.

      As to how low it can go and how much each of these factors can and should be improved is another discussion.

      1. Thanks Greg, for a good analysis of what is really going on. Even though fatalities are well down on previous years, the reality is that we still “tolerate” an awful lot of crashes (with associated trauma and costs). Few seem to see any need to reduce our excessive dependence on this inherently dangerous and damaging mode of transport.

  2. Matt do you have a breakdown of deaths and injuries within each of the above Regions to compare the impact of lower road speeds (Urban and Open roads) with rates?
    Be interested to know if these are related to some degree.

      1. No real correlation there in deaths I can see, although they only show the last 7 years.deaths per region on the page. there is a PDF you can download that goes back to 1980 whe nthey started keeping regional records.
        Waikato region seems to have plateaued recently at 65 deaths per year (which is now 50% higher than Aucklands rate).
        Auckland and Northland are trending down still.

        So I suggest a lot of work on Waikato roads is needed to sort that flat-line situation out.

  3. I would bet that the drop in fatalities is due to most cars now having abs and airbags as well as a drop in drunk driving. Most speeding related incidents are people far exceeding the limit or driving too fast for corners or conditions, not people doing 110 on straight highways on a sunny day.

  4. One of the great tragedies of New Zealand culture is our seemingly inability to operate what is in effect a simple piece of machinery. It should be perfectly safe to drive cars on our motorways at speeds up to 180 kph. Modern cars are built to go much faster and if you are on a motorway all you are required to do is drive in a straight line and keep a safe stopping distance from the car in front. HOW HARD CAN THAT BE?
    Yes we have a lot of kms of open roads but these all have corners that are engineered with fantastic cambers and well sign posted in advance. If you are in the South Island most of the open roads are also straight. The problems NZ drivers seem to have problems with are following simple safety rules like stopping for red lights and lane control. Why do people overtake when they can not see the road in front of them? Why do people run red lights when its a good chance something is coming the other way? Perhaps we all suffer some sort of messiah complex where we think we can not be killed?
    Part of the problem with road injuries is because of the slow speeds Kiwis travel. People get frustrated and risk overtaking in stupid places. If only we could all co-ordinate the simple tasks of holding a steering wheel, applying your foot to one of three peddles, and occasionally changing gears we could be trusted to drive faster and then maybe people wouldn’t make such dumb overtaking decisions.

    1. Hang on – part of the problem is slow travel speeds, yet we apparently overtake with no visibility and run red lights. Seems to me the problem is the latter behaviour, rather than the former

    2. Phil most of the problem is that our roads are built as single lane each way with no barrier between opposing lanes (in part to allow overtaking).

      This single lane nature means that you cannot overtake someone easily simply by changing lanes like you’d in Europe in the UK,
      e.g. slow drivers stay in the slow lane, and faster drivers overtake from behind by moving to the faster lane until they are past the slower car/truck/tractor whatever and pull back in.
      In NZ you have to enter the opposing lane to do any overtaking except on Motorway or passing lanes.

      It also means that if you make a driver error you have nothing stopping any accident turning into a head-on with consequences if a vehicle is coming the other way as you crash.

      I know that people assume if two cars hit at 100K the resulting crash is as if one vehicle hit something at 200k, but due to conservation of energy *and* mass, this is not the case.
      [Go check the Mythbusters episode out where they did exactly this if you don’t agree].

      But even so, a head on means that a 1 car accident becomes a 2 car accident at least – doubling the risk of injuries or death.

      In addition most of our car fleet comes from Japan or Australia, they are engineered to be able to protect occupants for a 100-110k crash not a 160k+ crash like a BMW or Merc probably would be.

      We need better separation of opposing lanes and more dual carriageways and less single lanes plus passing lanes on key roads, **along** with better driver education to deal with this issue.

      1. Basic physics will tell you that too. 2 cars travelling headon at 100k have 2 times as much energy as asingle car at 100 and a stationary object, a single car at200 and a stationary object, the factor is 4.

  5. If people would only obey the simplest of road rules (dont overtake when you can not see a clear road ahead) there would not be a problem. As I said, tragiclly Kiwi’s are shit drivers 🙁

    1. This is not just a New Zealand problem. Throughout the world there is an inherent mismatch between the skill-levels required to operate motor vehicles safely, and the ability of the average driver to achieve these. Human nature is such that there will always be errors of judgement, moments of inattentiveness, impatience, risk-taking and recklessness. Some drivers are better than others – perhaps 10% are extremely safe, 10% are hopelessly dangerous and 80% occupy the middle-ground. However no-one is immune from lapses which, combined with high-speed motor vehicles, can easily turn to disaster. The inevitable tendency for humans to err does not sit well with a mode of transport which places heavy reliance on error-free driving.

      By contrast, railway operation recognises that operator error is a factor, so has engineered-in overriding safety-systems and stringent operating rules to minimise risk due to the “human element”. Maybe one day, automated intelligent road-vehicles will eliminate road-danger, but in the meantime, speed limits and other areas of enforcement remain essential to preserving even a modicum of safety on the roads.

      In the meantine, if people want to travel safely at 180Km/h, it is necessary first to remove the risk of steering errors by some means of automatic guidance. Then remove the need for continuous monitoring of following distance by physically linking vehicles together. Then remove the risk of collision between such groups of vehicles by employing fail-safe signalling systems. Finally add a level of professionalism and accountability which will ensure that operator-lapses are rare, minimised in their ability to compromise safety, and are dealt with effectively and firmly. Hey presto. We have just re-invented the railway!

  6. I am all for no tolerance if all speedometers were 100% accurate. It is hard to drive at a constant rate with no fluctuation and for me who has concerns that my speedometer is not accurate means I shall have to adopt a much lower speed to comply which will mean I become an annoying slow driver. In London I was hauled over by police because I was driving too slowly and holding them up! I was told this was ‘dangerous’ so one can never win.

    Having a ticket for a couple of kilometers over 50 is frustrating when I am pretty sure my speedometer showed I was under the limit but I cannot prove that no tolerance means no tolerance.

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