This is a guest post from Bevan Woodward, a Transport Planner and Project Director for SkyPath Trust.

It seems that almost every day I read in the media of deaths or serious injuries on our roads. I’ve lost family members in three fatal motor vehicle crashes. I no longer cycle to work because I’ve had too many near misses with vehicles whizzing past.

But it’s not just me who’s feeling it, our national statistics make for grim reading. New Zealand’s road toll is double that of the UK on a per capita basis and four times the Netherlands (and they’re all riding funny bikes with no helmets)!

So what’s the difference between our countries; why does New Zealand have such a terrifyingly high death toll on our roads and most importantly, what are we doing about it?

Having considered and studied this matter for some time now, I believe the essence of the problem is quite simple: traffic speeds on our roads are often dangerously high and unfortunately no one’s doing anything much about it.

The countries that have world’s lowest road tolls (mostly the northern European nations), have traffic speeds much lower than ours, their urban streets are generally 30 km/h and their rural roads are 60 to 80 km/h. Only their motorways have 100 km/h or higher speed limits.

The experts tell us that speed is a key factor in road safety because speed not only increases the likelihood of crashing, but it determines the severity of every crash. Auckland Transport’s website states “Speed is the single biggest road safety issue in NZ today.“

Speed & Fatality % (NACTO)

So why aren’t we looking to make our traffic speeds comparable to the Northern European countries to reduce our dreadful road toll? I think there are two key reasons.

Firstly engineers and economists dominate transport planning in NZ and they are naturally inclined to think that speed is good. ‘Speed delivers efficiency’ is the mantra I hear so often. However this thinking doesn’t consider the unintended consequences of fast traffic: we have more crashes and deaths, intersections and bottlenecks are more prone to congestion, it’s unpleasant and unsafe for commuters and school children to walk or cycle, transport emissions increase, residential property values are reduced on busy roads, communities are severed, people feel more isolated, and on it goes until you find you’re living in a highly car dependant society with high rates of obesity, car ownership, traffic congestion and unreliable journey times – welcome to New Zealand!

The second, and probably even more significant reason, is that our politicians see safer traffic speeds as a potentially very unattractive proposition for voters. I can hear the talkback radio show hosts having a field day: “Kiwis are better than the average driver and we know how to handle speed. Who wants a nanny Government saying we have to slow down!”

Some people really like to drive at speed and can’t get their heads around the fact that it contributes to our dreadful death toll and all the other nasty outcomes I’ve listed above.

In short it’s a political hot potato, but that doesn’t mean we can’t handle it. We simply have to focus on the wide range of significant benefits of reduced traffic speeds, and not let the rhetoric get in the way of the facts.

It may not be an easy transition but the current approach is failing us. It’s time to make changes. If we have to, let’s send the road engineers and transport economists for a 10 day study tour of Sweden and the Netherlands so they can see how “safety first” traffic speeds can be both more efficient and ensure safer roads for all users – something I believe we all desperately need and want for New Zealand.

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  1. There seems to be something wrong with the mentality of a number of NZ drivers who don’t seem to be aware of the damage their speed can do to others.

    On Saturday I biked from Mt Eden to Te Atatatu, which included going through Mt Eden Village and most of the kms were on the NW cycleway. Where was the most dangerous part of the trip? – crossing the road, dismounted, on a pedestrian crossing on Carrington Road thanks to a driver who had the ‘Bikes don’t exist’ switch turned on.

    1. Your dismount at the lower Carrington Rd crossing would be one of the few. On my daily traverse of the road I almost always encounter blatant ignorance of the Road Code AND the prominent “CYCLISTS DISMOUNT” signs on both sides of the road. I know, two wrongs don’t make a right, but if a mounted cyclist chooses to swerve off the footpath onto a crossing, they can’t expect motorists to see them.

      1. On a designated cycle path in the cycle network, cyclists shouldn’t have to dismount.

        Stop, yes. Dismount, no. It’s an archaic law.

        Particularly as the mother duck at the front of a line of little kids on bikes catching up to me, if I stop, make eye contact, check the cars have stopped, and then proceed, any of the children following me should then be able to ride on across after me. It benefits no-one if each child has to stop, fumble off, clutter up the usually narrow footpath, walk at child’s pace across the road or rush past each other and make a collision with pedestrians coming the other way.

        Safety is my paramount concern at every decision I make. I am the one on the bike, and I can tell what is safer, not someone catching a glimpse of the situation from inside a metal box. The law about dismounting does not improve safety.

        Would you like to join me for a day cycling around with children? Seriously, I’d like to educate the public on this. I’m sure I can convince you.

        1. Heidi, the dismount law might be archaic but it’s still sensible – some of them don’t even bother to look let alone stop.

        2. Thanks for not flying off the handle for my response – you had been referring to the cyclists who “swerve off the footpath onto a crossing” and I”m not advocating that.

          However, I know from frequent experience, that requiring all the children cycling behind me to dismount and remount – with all the congestion on the footpath and wobbles that can involve – puts them at more danger than what I now do, which is read each situation differently, according to the traffic, the responses of the drivers, and where the children are at. The law doesn’t help me for safety at all.

          And, it is a sign of warped priority that the cars haven’t even been given a STOP sign. That crossing is part of the main cycle network. The cyclists should be given priority over cars.

    1. That’s probably because the biggest drop in Swedish road safety stats was during the 1970s; they were well ahead of most countries in rolling out road safety initiatives.

  2. It’s astonishing that the speed limit is still 50kph for minor urban roads. As the graph shows, reducing it to 40kph drastically cuts the risk of pedestrian death. It should be the norm in cities.

    1. Why don’t pedestrians exercise more care when crossing roads?
      Stop using cellphones and pay more attention to your surroundings.

      1. Citation needed.

        And seriously, what is wrong with you that you think a pedestrian deserves to die for a mistake like that.

        1. Mistake like what? Using a cellphone.
          Doing silly things has consequences. Deal with it.
          Crossing the road without paying attention is not going to end well.

        2. Indeed, pedestrians SHOULD exercise care when crossing roads. But they don’t always. There are a lot of things humans should do which they don’t, and indeed, we have to deal with this. The best way of dealing with human fallibility is by not setting up systems which are guaranteed to be fatally susceptible to it, or at least by heavily regulating such systems. Other countries have seen fit to modify their transport systems to suit human nature and are the better for it. Trying to modify human nature to suit the transport system is not going to end well, as a century of improperly-regulated road transport has taught us.

        3. Sure, it’s not going to end well, but should not ending well mean a few cuts and bruises, a broken arm, or death?

          Our environment should minimise the risk of incidents occuring and minimise the impact of incidents which do occur.

        4. Your comment is both ridiculous and laced with double standards.

          So if you use your cell phone whilst driving – You should die?

          One simple mistake should not cost someone their life, yes people should cross at pedestrian crossings, yes people should look where they are going … But how many people do you see running a red traffic light? Not signalling turns at intersections or roundabouts?

          I bike 1km each way to a train station as a commute, the amount of times I have to slam on my brakes to miss a car that doesn’t see me pulling out of a driveway, or failing to signal their turns …

      2. Pedestrians were being killed well before mobile phones so I think that might be a red herring.

        People make mistakes, in any other field we try and minimise the impact of these mistakes. Many pedestrians are children or elderly, who may be less aware or less able to react quickly.

        1. Let’s boil your statement down to is underlying logical strands.

          Activity X can cause harm to people who engage in Behaviour Y
          Activity X in itself has positives (i.e. speeding = quicker movement of goods and people = inherently good)
          Rather than address Behaviour Y, we prefer to modify Activity X in a way that reduces its positives but ensures the potential for harm with Behaviour Y is reduced

          Viagra can be harmful to people who use poppers
          Rather than stop them using poppers, we are going to modify the ingredients of viagra in a way that makes it ineffective

          It’s illogical. If Activity X is only harmful because of negligence in Behaviour Y, it is unethical to modify X rather than Y.

        2. Hard to see why there are speed limits at all using your logic, given the fault and consequences lie entirely with the person who has made the mistake.

          Taking viagra and poppers together is not a mistake, it is sheer stupidity. Why should someone’s day-to-day mistake have such drastic consequences.

          You missed out a bit in your logic – behaviour Y is also beneficial and is inherently hard to modify.

        3. “Activity X can cause harm to people who engage in Behaviour Y
          Activity X in itself has positives (i.e. speeding = quicker movement of goods and people = inherently good)
          Rather than address Behaviour Y, we prefer to modify Activity X in a way that reduces its positives but ensures the potential for harm with Behaviour Y is reduced”

          Presumably you also oppose existing regualtions on hunting in urban areas on the same basis?

          Also, higher vehicle speeds do not necessarily equate to faster overall travel. For example; if higher vehicle speeds discourage walking and cycling then they increase driving demand, which increases congestion.

        4. The rules and the infrastructure design should provide the most protection to the most vulnerable. So that’s the pedestrian. As a driver you should always drive defensively assuming that the 6 year old you spot walking home from school isn’t aware of your vehicle as they step onto the road without looking.

        5. You didn’t formally define which was activity X and which was Behaviour Y.

          Why should operating a motor vehicle take precedent over someone walking? People have been walking ever since we have been able to stand upright. Driving a car is a relatively recent human activity:

          Thus your logic should read as follows:
          Behaviour X(driving a car) can cause harm to people who engage in Activity Y (walking)
          Activity Y in itself has positives (i.e. exercise = better health = inherently good)
          Rather than address Behaviour X, we prefer to modify Activity Y in a way that reduces its positives but ensures the potential for harm with Behaviour X is reduced.

          It’s illogical. If Activity Y is only harmful because of negligence in Behaviour X, it is unethical to modify Y rather than X

        6. What a load of nonsense.
          Better make the speed limit 10km/h then.
          Bit of personal responsibility wouldn’t go astray.

        7. @ Vance: Personal responsibility is fine if it is only you that bears the consequences of a lapse. But leaving the safety of innocent 3rd parties up to the ‘personal responsibility’ of every Tom, Dick and Harry driver is like signing random death warrants. Whole industries can be closed down over lax safety standards. Why is road transport excused even minor changes such as lower speed-limits? One successful landmark legal case could bring the whole shonky regime crashing down.

        8. I completely agree. Where the risk of an incident is highest the speed limit should be 10 km/h or cars should be banned all together. We already do this on Vulcan Lane, Fort Street, and Elliot Street, for example. Conversely where the risk of an incident occurring and the risk of harm from an incident occurring is lowest we can set higher speed limits. Indeed the government is looking into this on our safest motorways and expressways.

        9. @sailor, if only. I’m 90% sure Eliott Street has a 50 km/h speed limit (unless that changed recently).

          IIRC it was changed to 10 km/h a few years ago but some angry councillors deemed that unacceptable and had it reverted back to 50.

      3. We put Armco alongside roads and build median barriers so evidently roads are being designed to allow motorists to make mistakes and survive. Why not pedestrians and cyclists? Do they not deserve the same care?

      4. Why don’t drivers (who don’t have right of way), exercise more care around pedestrians (who aren’t obligated to give way)

    2. 30kmh is the accepted residential and town centre speed in countries that have been successfully lowering their road deaths for a long time.

  3. The problem with comparing NZ with other countries (so far as non-urban settings are concerned) is that we don’t have a viable alternative to driving (no real passenger train services) and that the roads we do drive on tend to not be as frequently of the high quality dual-carriageway variety.
    This means that someone driving from say Auckland to Ohakune/New Plymouth/Taupo/Rotorua etc does not really have an option but to drive. If you were to drop the speed limit down to 80km/h on these roads that would add an hour to journey times which quite frankly is unacceptable to the general public. The roads themselves aren’t necessarily incapable of handling that speed. Where the issue comes up is that we do have a lot of drivers that haven’t had enough training. We also have a high proportion of foreign drivers (be they tourists or immigrants) – certainly a lot more than most other countries have to deal with. Typically those foreign drivers won’t be accustomed to these types of roads and/or they have even less driver training than NZ drivers do in many cases.
    The police also rigorously enforce the speed limit on the open road (more than you see them doing on urban roads where pedestrians and cyclists tend to be) which is actually a detriment to road safety in some ways: 1) People spend more time looking at their speed than they do on the road. 2) Driver frustration increases significantly as they are unable to overtake a slow/inconsiderate driver without risking getting a ticket. 3) It is scientifically/mathematically known fact that reducing the TED (time exposed to danger) has a big impact on reducing the risk of a head-on collision. By forcing people to overtake at low Delta-V (1-5km/h velocity difference) means that they spend a very long time on the wrong side of the road (as slow/inconsiderate drivers invariably speed up from whatever dawdling pace they are at to close to or even above the speed limit when they hit a piece of road that overtaking can occur on). Overtaking with a higher Delta-V (10-20km/h) can halve or quarter the TED.
    4) Police pinging drivers on a motorway (statistically one of the safest pieces of road per VKT) does absolutely nothing for road safety and is purely a revenue gathering exercise. Instead the police should be focusing on actual dangerous driving (including excessive speed as well as things like failing to keep left, failing to indicate, dangerous lane changes, failing to wear seatbelts, using a cellphone while driving etc).
    They could also spend more of their time in urban settings catching red light runners and other poor driving behaviours which do lead to pedestrian and cyclist injuries/death.
    5) We could also look to spend more on rail to get more trucks off the road since we do seem to have more trucks per capita than most countries and truck accidents tend to be the most fatal of all (except motorcycle accidents – another area which needs more focus).

    1. New Zealand roads are not unique, any country with hills has roads similar to ours. Also the idea that NZ driver training is better than many other countries doesn’t really stack up.

      If all the signatories to the International driver licencing agreement were to start blocking people from countries that have inferior testing and training I would suggest that there would be many countries that we could no longer drive in.

    2. “If you were to drop the speed limit down to 80km/h on these roads that would add an hour to journey times”

      You need to check your maths. There is no way any of these trips take an hour longer if we drop open road (non-motorway/expressway) speed limits to 80 km/h.

      “The roads themselves aren’t necessarily incapable of handling that speed. Where the issue comes up is that we do have a lot of drivers that haven’t had enough training.”

      We have tried putting all of the blame on road users for years. All it achieves is an excuse for the government allowing 100s to die each year. Road design is absolutely to blame in this. Curves with poor advanced warning, environments that encourage speeds too fast for the road, pinch points which put vehicles too close at high speed, and fast approaches to intersections with poor visibility all contribute to carnage on the roads. Governments could fix all of these things, even without reducing speed limits, but saving 10 seconds is more appealing than 10 lives, apparently.

      1. @ Sailor boy – Ok those specific examples don’t quite come to an hour – but pretty close (Huntly-New Plymouth by taking out the Auckland-Huntly expressway section) would go from 2h41m to 3h21m for the 269km distance an increase of 40 minutes.
        Of course there are journeys that are further distance than this that would be well over 1 hour additional also.
        In terms of road safety what was previously a 4-4.5 hour drive from Auckland to Ohakune these days is more like 5.5-6 hours due to the traffic getting out of Auckland. Add another 40 minutes onto that and you’re approaching 7 hours of driving. That in itself is legal from a transport perspective but for people that aren’t used to long distance driving or after a day at work this would add to fatigue. That extra 40 minutes can really make a huge difference to safety.

        I do agree with your points about improvements to roads – the safer we can built them the better. My point is that they aren’t necessarily so bad that they need to be reduced to 80km/h. Gravel roads and other similar low quality roads should be limited to 80km/h.

        @ Jezza – Actually NZ roads overall are fairly unique. Most developed countries are less hilly and have a much greater proportion of straight/flat/wide roads often made with higher quality surfaces (bitumen or concrete rather than rough chip seal).
        NZ driver training is better than many countries (China, India, etc) but it is also worse than many in Europe in particular. I think that most countries should recognise those that have a certain minimum standard of driving. I do think that NZ would be ok in that case to drive overseas. I’m not saying we need to ban foreign drivers however we should take steps to educate them on driving in NZ.
        For tourists it could involve making them watch a 30minute safety video and answering a short quiz which would get them a 30 day (or similar) temporary driving permit – to be shown along with their drivers license. For those that plan on being here longer then something more substantial should be needed.

        1. We’ll have to agree to disagree on NZ roads being unique. Once you get off the motorways in the UK for example, which most people do the roads are often quite similar, but busier and narrower.

          I’m not sure that a 30 minute video and quiz would make much difference, from my observation the problems are with people who appear to simply be not capable drivers, a written test won’t solve this.

          One thing it would do is put NZ in violation of our international driver licencing obligations which would mean we would not be able to drive in any other country without passing a test. Given we are a small country I doubt other countries would bother putting in a special test so we would have to go through their entire driver licensing process.

        2. Jezza – the difference with the UK example is that you can get to within about 50km of just about any part of the UK on a dual carriageway (motorway/A-Roads) so you only have a short distance to travel on B-Roads. In NZ you could easily travel hundreds of km on what are effectively B-roads with no choice of getting on an A-Road. For NZ to be able to do the same then you would have to have SH1 be an expressway for it’s entire length as well as SH2, 3, 6 to get a big enough coverage. This simply won’t happen (we haven’t even got SH1 as a dual carriageway for half it’s North Island length!).

        3. You’re right but my point was that British drivers for example (as do drivers in most other countries) still drive on these types of road, they are not a new experience for people arriving in NZ.

        4. ” Ok those specific examples don’t quite come to an hour – but pretty close (Huntly-New Plymouth by taking out the Auckland-Huntly expressway section) would go from 2h41m to 3h21m for the 269km distance an increase of 40 minutes.”

          You cannot travel from Huntly to New Plymouth in 2h41m. On much of SH39 and SH3 it is not possible to travel at 100km/h so the difference is actually significantly less than you imagined.

          “I do agree with your points about improvements to roads – the safer we can built them the better. My point is that they aren’t necessarily so bad that they need to be reduced to 80km/h. Gravel roads and other similar low quality roads should be limited to 80km/h.”

          It is fortunate that these things aren’t based on the reckons of people with no experience or data to back up their reckons. Experts in the field have shown that the evidence clearly supports lower speed limits on much of the rural road network, and almost all of the urban network too.

 Unfortunately I can’t find the origonal paper online.

        5. What speed is safe then? Might as well go back to horse and cart and keep it below 40km/h if we want to be safe!
          The thing is that that the speed limit on many roads has been 100km/h for decades and yet despite safety improvements to those roads (better alignments, clearing obstacles from the sides, barriers in places) not too mention vast improvements to cars handling abilities and car’s active and passive safety systems you want to lower the speed limits on the open road??

          The research you linked to is a bunch of pencil pushing bureaucrats with their lackeys who roll out this same old diatribe every few years (no doubt costing hundred’s of thousands of dollars) which is then taken with a huge pinch of salt and dismissed as it should be for being ridiculous.

          If people don’t want to drive at 100km/h then they can drive slower (of course making sure that they pull over to allow others to pass and don’t hinder the flow of traffic by speeding up at passing lanes). Personal risk comes into the equation. Otherwise as mentioned we should all go back to horse and carts.

        6. The original research you’re referring to is NZTA Research Rpt 563 –

          And we’ve got pretty clear evidence about the effect of changing rural speed limits in NZ because we’ve done it twice before – down in 1973 and back up in 1985. Not surprisingly, the road toll went down and up as well; here’s some recent research I did analysing this –

          A safe system doesn’t just focus on improving road and driver standards (or blaming either for all our problems), because you can’t ever fix either of them 100% and certainly not overnight. Better vehicle standards will only get you so far as well, so you are left with safer speeds as a very important tool in your arsenal for the times when the other parts of the system don’t live up to expectations.

        7. people just ignore the speed limits anyway unless they think there is a police officer there to ticket them. New Zealand has a lot of people that quite frankly dont have the temprament, co ordination or dexterity to operate a 1 tonne machine at 100km/h.

        8. Thanks for that Glen. Turns out it wasn’t the report I was thinking of.

          AklDude, those ‘pencil pushing bureaucrats’ save lives. The safe speed can be assessed and the new Speed Management Guide shows how a framework to do so can be established.

        9. When are the new Speed Management Guide recommendations going to be implemented? It basically says only urban streets with separated cycle lanes be allowed to go over 40km/h.

        10. If NZ is “unique” in not being able to justify even more expenditure on motorways than it already does, then it is foolish to expect that we should be able to achieve similar journey-times as countries with more infrastructure. So it may take longer to do a journey. Get used to it! It would be nice to have high-speed rail also, but we don’t.

          And if the happy day arrives when politicians finally start to value life more than speed and if x more lives can be saved by lower speed-limits and adding an hour or two on to journey-times then GREAT!!! Road transport will have finally been dragged into the same safety-regime that other transport modes find themselves under.

          When a hazard is identified on the rail network, the first action taken is usually to slap a speed restriction on it, regardless of what this will do to schedules, journey-times or delivery-times. If the funding to remove that hazard can be justified then it will be removed but the speed restriction will remain in place until it is. Otherwise the restriction will remain indefinitely. Safety comes first.

          Unfortunately the incredibly lax regime on the roads in regard to speeds and hazards completely undermines the efforts made by the likes of rail to be safe. A death on rail usually means a protracted inquiry, possible manslaughter charges and enforced systemic changes to prevent a recurrence. A death on the road usually elicits little more than a shrug of official shoulders and tacit acceptance of the road-toll as a fact of life.

          If you must get somewhere quickly in NZ then flying is currently the best and safest option for most journeys. For the likes of Auckland-Ohakune, the train SHOULD provide a safe alternative to driving, but this option has been gutted out and seriously needs re-building. What will help the case for reinstating passenger rail is SLOWER journeys on roads, brought about either by congestion or by meaningful enforcement of safety. Raising road speeds, spending large sums on new motorways and spending nothing on rail is a clear indication that our heads remain stuck in the sand and nothing will change.

        11. I agree with you about investing in rail and getting passenger services back where appropriate.

          As for your comment on speed vs lives, I will simply say that “time is life”

          Here is a quote from well know author Alan Lakein: “Time equals life; therefore, waste your time and waste of your life, or master your time and master your life.”

          If every person of driving age in NZ (3,700,000) on average made 1 long distance trip (4+ hours) each month (or 2x medium distance trips – remember this is on average as many people drive long distance multiple times a week and some only occasionally each year) then adding 1 hour to that journey in each direction (or 30 minutes for the medium trips) would make the amount of additional driving done each month become 7,400,000 hours. Multiply that by 12 months and you get 88,800,000 hours (3,700,000 days or 10,136 years).
          Divide that by 82 years average life expectancy and you get 123.
          So the question become if you lowered the speed limit to 90km/h would you save 123 lives each year by that one factor alone? ( I would think not).
          That of course is not even taking into account that time wasted that isn’t being productive working or spent at home with family and friends.

        12. Really AKLDUDE? I would just prefer my Dad hadn’t been left without a Mum when he was 4, and hadn’t lost his sister when he was a teenager.

          If journeys take longer, guess what? People don’t do so many of them. People cut down their driving. They don’t just waste their lives.

          And quite frankly, to equate the loss of a life with the sum of a whole lot of bits of time that people are choosing to spend driving, is deeply offensive. I know that’s not what you were meaning, you were just being clever with time calculations.

          The pain, misery, relationship stress and desperate measures like alcoholism that result from tragic lives lost is not something to calculate so coldly.

          Let’s design for humans.

        13. That’s a dumb argument. there are plenty of ways to minimise your time spent in a car, if that particular activity is considered such a wasted use of time that it equates to being dead which is what you seem to be saying.

          For example, try structuring your life so that you don’t need to travel as much. Or if you do have to travel, then go by plane and save hours over even the fastest of car-journeys.

          Of course, time spent in a car is not usually that bad and many people consider driving for several hours while listening to their favourite music as time productively spent. Heck, many people spend time just “going for a drive” with no other goal in mind. I prefer to travel by bicycle myself, which of course is even slower, but I don’t consider the time as ‘wasted’ – except where too much high-speed traffic spoils the experience!

          I guess it all depends on how you define “productive” and “wasted” time.

        14. To be honest I doubt we need to lower the speed limit to 80 across the country, but there are parts of the State Highway network that would benefit from it along with many council roads.

          In fairness this has already begun to happen with areas such as the Dome Valley north of Auckland being 80kmh and SH2 being 90kmh for a long stretch at its northern end. This coupled with better passing lanes and more barriers in key places would likely have the greatest benefit.

          In the US speed limits change continuously over a relatively short distance.

        15. AKLDUDE, you continue to over-inflate the expected difference in travel times; this is a classic myth that people continue to think when comparing maximum speed limits. Note the key word is “maximum” because, due to things like towns, curves, intersections, other traffic, etc, no-one ever gets to travel at the maximum posted speed limit all the time. If you had (say) a 200km journey you would be lucky typically if you could even manage 50km at maximum speed. 1km travelled at 100kmh vs 90kmh is 4 seconds difference in time. So over 50km that’s 200 seconds difference – 3 to 4 minutes in what would be a 2-3 hour journey – whoop-dee do…

        16. @ AKLdude:”(Huntly-New Plymouth by taking out the Auckland-Huntly expressway section) would go from 2h41m to 3h21m for the 269km distance an increase of 40 minutes.”
          You are assuming that a typical driver would average 100km/hr on the trip between Huntly and Ohakune? Last time I did that trip the road goes through towns where the speed limit is less than 100km/hr and goes over hills and around corners.
          A more realistic average would be 90km/hr or less with a 100km/hr speed limit.
          You are also assuming you don’t encounter any trucks or other slow moving vehicles or that you don’t encounter any road works or face any other delays.
          The difference in travel time is likely then to be less than 30mins

          Once the expressway from huntly past Hamilton to Cambridge is finished then the amount of time on 80km/hr roads would be further reduced.

          Also roads that are upgraded with safety improvements (such as the work being done between Ohaupo and Te Awamutu) could be moved from 80km/h back up to 100km/h.
          If being able to increase the speed limit is a result of safety improvements then this will increase their BCR’s which should hopefully see more roads get a similar treatment.

    3. “Police pinging drivers on a motorway (statistically one of the safest pieces of road per VKT) does absolutely nothing for road safety and is purely a revenue gathering exercise.”

      Your argument assumes road safety is the only legitimate concern of the Police in upholding the law, presumably driver or passenger injury prevention. In fact there are a number of concerns, such as consideration of other road users.

      Every week there are accidents reported in the news where a motorway is fully or partially closed due to a serious accident. The Police cannot ban driving altogether, but enforcing rules such as speed limits (and signalling, following distances, unsafe loads, etc.) plays an important part in reducing the disruption caused by accidents as well as keeping road users safe.

  4. Thanks Bevan for your post, and I wish we could return those family members to you. I grew up in a family devastated by two fatal accidents before I was born, and know that the knock-on effects not only affected grandparents and parents at the time, but are still affecting the fifth generation in some ways. The social cost of road accidents is huge.

    I attended a good meeting about traffic safety and street design here in Pt Chev, soon after SALT disbanded, and the visiting expert asked the meeting who would be prepared to lower the open road speed limit to 50 km/hr if it meant there were no more deaths. Only the presenter and I raised our hands, and that sad realisation of where people’s attitudes sit has stuck with me.

    Accident rates dropped when the open road speed limit was lowered due to the oil price rises in the 70’s, and went up again when it was raised again.

    78% of pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries are happening on roads like Auckland: roads where the speed limits are 50 km/h or less. Trouble is, as Bridget Burdett points out (thanks to Peter Nunns for putting me onto her work), NZ engineers are not designing safer roads for pedestrians and cyclists, because the data is not available to them. The studies have not been done.

    Looking at international literature about pedestrian safety, the two stand-out design strategies to improve pedestrian safety are lowering speed limits and raising pedestrian crossings. AT has been refusing to lower speed limits. This is one area we need to pile the pressure on.

    The good people at AT have started to use NMU (non-motorised user) audits to help in the design of roads. Sometimes – I have no idea yet how often or what triggers it. Any time we have an opportunity to ask for one of these audits to be done, we should.

  5. NZTA’s own stats indicate that speed is the primary cause of 75% of all traffic offences

    One might thing that increased focus on the other illegal activities (not indicating, failing to stop, failing to give way, going through red lights) might be a wiser choice. But that’s me, coming from an evidence-based policy perspective.

    Speed, in and of itself, is not harmful. What is harmful is the actual accident itself, which is what we should punish. That’s what distinguishes speeding from smoking or drinking, which are inherently harmful.

    1. Cripes, that was garbled. An entire paragraph went missing.

      In summary, speed is primary cause of 75% of all recorded traffic offences. Apologies for my incoherence.

    2. Speed does not cause crashes, speed isn’t even the major factor but speed does make crashes worse when something else causes a crash to happen.

    3. Sorry, I still don’t understand, but I think you mean: Speed is the primary case of 75% of all recorded traffic offences, therefore it’s the low hanging fruit. Reduce the speed limit first, then look at all other remaining causes next.

      Certainly that’s what logic says. Is that what you’re saying too?

      1. I think what he is saying is that policing focuses too much on speed to the detriment of safety when it could be putting more effort into those other illegal activities which also cause accidents.

        Many countries have faster speed limits than us yet have lower road fatalities per capita so obviously it doesn’t just come down to speed.

        1. It doesn’t just come down to speed. But given a particular road, accident rates can be reduced by lowering the speed.

        2. Those countries with faster speed limits and lower per-capita road tolls than we have generally have a much higher proportion of their travel on motorway-type roads. We cannot afford this (just as, unfortunately, we cannot afford high-speed rail), so we just have to accept lower speed limits on most of our roads.

          Lower speeds are a major key to safety, even if nothing else changes. All accidents become more likely and more severe the higher the speeds involved. No exceptions. ‘Good’ drivers keep to the limit (or below it if conditions warrant) without needing enforcement. But because so many Kiwis trivialise speeding or treat it as a sport, then speed-enforcement becomes necessary. Behave like an idiot and you will be treated as one.

        3. It is the probably the failure to slow down and drive below the limit when the conditions warrant that is a major cause of accidents.
          Driving on a dry, straight, clear section of motorway at 101km/hr is not particularly likely to result in an accident but is breaking the speed limit.
          Driving at 99km/hr on a winding, hilly stretch of rural road on a wet night is not breaking the speed limit but would be highly risky for an accident to happen.

          The problem for the police is that it is very hard to target the motorist in the latter example so naturally they concentrate their resources on situations that are more akin to the former.

  6. Bevan, I’m going to come out and say that I disagree with your premise, that the reason is speed. My premise is that we have more accidents because we have roads that mix two modes of traffic – one high mass and one low mass. Newton’s Second Law: mass x velocity = momentum, is in play here, always. People die, on bikes and on foot, because they are hit by cars (10-20 times the mass) or hit by trucks (maybe 400 times the mass). Yes, speed has an effect, but the biggest effect is the mass, and therefore the killing power.

    There is only one safe way and that is to have bike lanes completely separated from car lanes. Obviously, this is what they have in the Netherlands. People fall off their bikes all the time in Holland as they do here, but the consequences are less. Colliding with another cyclist or a pedestrian is not a big deal if you are a cyclist or pedestrian yourself. Scratched head, sore elbows, skinned knees – nothing fatal. But hit by a car or truck, helmets don’t matter a fig if your bike goes under the wheels of a 44 tonne 18 wheel monster.

    The sheer stubborn-mindedness and (in my opinion) idiocy of people who cycle the Hutt Road (a motorway in all but name) bears belief. Recent notable death: a police officer, cycling, who was the Police’s special Cycle Awareness officer, lost his life when run over by a truck on the Petone turnoff from the Hutt Road.

    Another reason why deaths are lower in Europe may be the style of trucks. I think it has been mentioned here before, but in London they are going to enforce that all trucks – ALL trucks – are to be special new cycle-visibility-awareness trucks, within something like 3 years. This should make a massive difference – overall, fatalities will come down.

    I know you’re not talking about just cars and bikes, but cars and cars – but again, the design of our roads is poor, because we are a small country and can’t afford 4 lanes everywhere. We have a lack of passing lanes – leads to driver frustration – and this leads to bad / risky overtaking, and thereby, head-on collisions with opposing traffic and thereby: death. I just drove about 700km in the weekend and yet the number of passing lanes was… very few. Some stretches of road, no passing lanes for almost 100km straight. Even our new road design is poor – we are still building “Expressway” roads with wire-segregated central medians, instead of “Parkway” roads with two completely separate streams. Much, much safer.

    1. I’m pretty sure the Netherlands has plenty of streets that do not have cycle lanes. These generally have lower speed limits.

      Agree regarding passing lanes, we have a very all-or-nothing approach with dual carriageway at the moment, it’s either a motorway standard expressways or nothing at all.

      1. Exactly. Contrary to popular belief, most of the cycling in the Netherlands is NOT done on separated cycleways; they’re only on the main arterial roads. In the local street network you just cycle on the street because (a) there’s less traffic and (b) it’s only doing 30kmh.

        BTW, the Hutt Road really isn’t a problem for cycling between Wgtn and Lower Hutt (and most other motorways/expressways) because it has a nice wide shoulder. Most of the serious rural cycle crashes/fatalities in NZ have occurred where there is little/no shoulder.

        Trucks with better view-shafts will certainly help, but the other key is to introduce side-under-run protection on them as well. At least 25-30% of NZ truck crashes could have reduced severity with these (including 4 of the last 7 truck fatals).

      2. SH3 improvements from Hamilton to Ohaupo are a good example of the in between measures and expected to save a life a year. We need far more of these.

    2. Speed matters too, but you’re right, Guy M, this is important.

      Finland was not rich when it built its entirely separated cycle network for Helsinki. It was still recovering from a nasty set of wars.

      It just takes a mindset change, a willingness to design for people, an attitude that prevention is better than mopping up and blame.

    3. The sheer stubborn-mindedness and (in my opinion) idiocy of people who cycle the Hutt Road (a motorway in all but name) bears belief.”

      How dare those people try and get to work.

      “Even our new road design is poor – we are still building “Expressway” roads with wire-segregated central medians, instead of “Parkway” roads with two completely separate streams. Much, much safer.”

      No; much, much less safe. Central barriers are the preferred solution for mitigating head on crash risk around the entire world, with good reason. Parkways have fewer crashes, central barrier expressways have fewer deaths and serious injuries.

    4. “There is only one safe way and that is to have bike lanes completely separated from car lanes.”

      While I do agree with part of your statement – separate motor vehicles from bikes! (at least on main roads), the rest of your premise is in my view very flawed. Because it wont help with the deaths of car drivers, which still make up a huge chunk. Yes, pedestrians and cyclists are over-represented, and should be assisted first – but not only. I drive too, I would be stupid to concentrate on pedestrians and cyclists only.

      My partner does drive a lot. What does a protected cycle lane help her if she gets hit by a truck in her car? Are we going to build protected car lanes? What about intersections, where neither cycles NOR cars will be helped if we ignore speed? Protected cycle lanes or parkways or crash barriers dont help at an intersection – unless we build grade-separated fly-overs for every little intersection?

      I am being a bit facetious, but you will see where I am going?

      Speed reduction isn’t just about physical violence of impact. By that time things have already failed multiple ways, and you are simply trying to reduce severity of harm. Reducing speeds reduced the number of INCIDENTS of crashes. By giving more time to react. By reducing the braking distance. By making lower sight distances (typical in urban areas) safe.

      There are not many “silver bullet” solutions around. In road safety, there IS a silver bullet. Its called slower speeds.

      1. “there IS a silver bullet. Its called slower speeds”

        The statistics agree. Slower speeds mean fewer accidents, fewer deaths. To care about minor efficiencies gained by higher speed, when the health and social costs of accidents lasts generations is, well, I’ll just say short-sighted, but you’ll know that I really mean a whole lot of other words.

        “Yes, pedestrians and cyclists are over-represented, and should be assisted first – but not only.”

        One thing to remember is that the car occupant serious injury and death numbers have been dropping for the last 10 years, thanks to safer road design to mitigate the “human factor” in car accidents. The pedestrian serious injury and death numbers have not been dropping, due to the lack of data available on how to improve road design for pedestrians. Slower speeds are needed of course. But so is proper analysis and design.

        It’s not a question of slower speeds or separating cyclists from traffic or better design for pedestrians. We need all of them.

    5. Guy M: it’s not true that the biggest effect is mass. The energy dissipated in a crash is proportional to mass but proportional to the square of the speed, so increases in speed are much more significant than increases in mass.

      Fully agree that we should folow London’s safer truck designs. Why we blithely accept the continued existence of potentially (if not actually) fatal truck blind spots is beyond me.

      But your Petone example makes no sense – I’m pretty sure that the crash in which the police officer was killed was on a 50km/h roundabout after he’d left the Hutt Road, not on the Hutt Rd itself. I’m more concerned about the stubborn-mindedness and idiocy (your words) of people who criticise others for going harmlessly about their legitimate business, and don’t get their facts right!

  7. 1) The energy in a crash is proportional to the square of the speed. A crash at 100kmh has 100^2/80^2 +56% more energy than at 80. That’s why lower speeds are effective

    2) NZ has very few speed cameras. Where I live there are cameras about every 2-5km on the main roads

    3) In NZ the green traffic signal goes straight to yellow. Where I live the green light at intersections flashes for about 3 seconds before going yellow. This provides a far greater warning period to drivers that the signals are going to change and reduces the dilemma zone (should I stop or go through the intersection?)

    4) In NZ most main roads are undivided. Where I live 90%+ main roads are median divided.

    5) In NZ speed humps are never put on the main legs of a priority give way or stop junction that has 1×1 traffic lanes. Where I live it is default practice for the main road traffic to be slowed down by speed humps at a priority junction,

    6) In NZ traffic signals allow filtering traffic turns. Also pedestrians really dont really have full crossing protection and have to deal with turning traffic. Where I live all traffic signal phases are approach based and there is therefore no traffic to fliter trough when turning right (this does require wider intersections for the same capacity). Also pedestrians have exclusive fully protected pedestrian crossing phasing without having to worry about cars potentially filtering through their movement.

    7) In NZ cyclists are forced to cycle on main roads. Where I live all main road cycleways are off-road.

    8) In NZ parking is allowed on the main roads. Where i live there is no parking on the main roads. This substantially improves visibility.

    1. > In NZ traffic signals allow filtering traffic turns

      Thankfully, not in Auckland.

      Agree with pretty much all of the rest.

      1. Plenty of intersections in Auckland allow filtered right turns, when I drive there must be at least 3 I go through and by bus there are 2.

      2. The point kiwi_overseas makes is that in NZ, it is considered perfectly acceptable to give pedestrians a ‘cross’ signal while allowing turning traffic to drive through it. This is like giving conflicting traffic movements a green light at the same time. K-E-R-ASH!

        The country he is referring to, whichever that is, makes sure all traffic is stopped before the pedestrian ‘cross’ light comes up. Obvious and sensible, but not in NZ.

        1. I’m not sure that would be top of my priority list as a pedestrian. In the case where there is just one ped crossing and they have already made it halfway across there is little reason to hold cars any longer.

          Just as I will often cross even if traffic has a green light if there are actually no cars coming.

        2. Jezza, this is just another example of the many ways in which human safety is compromised by the needs and wants of motor traffic. Sure, it is annoying for drivers to have to wait at pedestrian lights when no-one is crossing, just as it is at regular lights when no other vehicles are coming. But a cost of the privilege of being allowed to operate a dangerous, unguarded piece of machinery in a public environment is the discipline of having to wait at red lights.

          Better by far to ban cars outright from city centres which is what some countries are starting to do. Then pedestrian priority and safety are assured, and motorists (who are also pedestrians at other times) just have to get used to it.

        3. Dave – there is one near Panmure on my walk to the train that is like that. However, it annoys me as a pedestrian waiting to cross perpendicular as it lengthens the phase meaning my wait is longer. Not ideal when the station is only 100m away and the train is getting closer!

          I think the way it is done here where there is often a red arrow at the beginning of the pedestrian phase is good. This means the pedestrian(s) get out onto the crossing so they are more obvious and also it stops cars trying to sneak through before someone crosses from the other side.

          If I was to make one improvement it would be to have pedestrian crossings on every single free left turn in the country.

        4. @ Jezza – “If I was to make one improvement it would be to have pedestrian crossings on every single free left turn in the country.”

          Agree. This would be a big improvement and would send a much-needed message to society about pedestrian priority.

        5. It is a priority for me. I live in an apartment at the top of Nelson Street. I cross at the corner of Nelson and Union and the m-way offramp each morning sometime around 8:30, with two pre-schoolers in a stroller. The little green man shines for 8 seconds. Cars are often still running the red light at 4 seconds. And then other cars regularly try to push their way through the pedestrians as soon as the red arrow is extinguished. I’m honked at, at least once a week, for crossing five or six lanes with haste and still being too slow.

  8. We better slow the trains down as well because there has been a lot of people killed by trains since the new EMU’s were introduced.

    1. In the case of trains, there are other things we can do such as remove or bridge-over level-crossings. High speeds are safe in suitable environments which is why railways are generally very safe. Where the environment is not suitable for higher speeds then we impose limits, and yes, that happens widely on the railways too.

  9. I can’t help but feel some strong leadership to put in place best-practice decisions and clearly explain the rationale would go a long way to improving road safety.

    Just a couple of days ago there was a double fatality on SH1 just north of the end of northern motorway in Christchurch. Reduced speed limits and median barriers would have almost certainly prevented it. I’m always a bit horrified when I return home to Christchurch and drive that stretch of road. 100km/h limit, intersections, driveways to rural properties. It is just a matter of time before something goes wrong.

    Cut the limit to 80 km/h so all vehicles are travelling at the same speed. Put in the median barrier to prevent dangerous overtaking on the single carriageway. Much safer almost overnight for minimal cost. It just takes some leadership to put in place and make it clear that the changes would mean an insignificant difference in a total journey time north of Christchurch, and anybody who whinges about it is uninformed.

    …and I know there are many other cases that are similar to my Christchurch example. The question in my mind is where is the line between lack of leadership and negligence?


    I’m afraid the Vances of this world are going to continue to terrorise the roads until cars are fully automated. It can’t come quickly enough. When an automated car detects a pedestrian blundering onto the road, or OMG a bicycle, it will be programmed to avoid a colission, meaning it would slow down, stop, or would you be leave it leave more that a 10 cm gap when passing. Vance meanwhile would have an ‘accident’ and blame the other road users.

    Also note: on open roads school kids, mounted horses, herded sheep, pregnant women with prams, old people in 7 kph mobility scooters and even bicycles ARE LEGAL TRAFFIC. Vance.

    In my view, civilisation would mean: the most vulnerable are given way to. Im afraid we are still stuck in a survival of the fittest culture, where the powerful (SUVs, mongrel utes) bully their way though the world.
    Bring on the automated cars!

  11. The data used in the analysis of road injuries/deaths is partly clouding the real cause of the accidents – and then potentially misguiding the creation of policy intended to reduce them.

    When an accident occurs and police attend – causal factors are recorded – this a standard template used in every instance – and includes ‘tick box’ categories – with ‘speed’ being one of them along with environmental conditions, vehicle conditions, influence of alcohol etc

    Speed gets recorded everytime a vehicle occupant is injured – without the moving vehicle there cannot be an impact – and is often recorded as causal even if it was judged to be less than the speed limit of the road.

    The UK – which we often compare to for driving stats – has similar recording of road accidents – but theirs include different categories for related causes to the incident.

    as a result, ‘failure to look’ occurs most frequently in the stats$21385461.htm

    ‘exessive speed’ is way down in 17th place – yet if you drive in the UK youll note that the traffic flow usually

    i also note that they record ‘aggressive driving’ – which nz police do not in the their stats

    1. The report you link to also says that “failure to judge another’s path or speed” and “judged to be in a hurry” are top factors in accident causes.

      Whatever, the faster the speed (yours or the other guy’s) the bigger the mess.

    2. The issue is not whether or not speed is a primary causal factor, but rather the impact speed has on the outcome. At lower speeds you have more time to react enabling you to avoid an accident if you or someone else makes a mistake. if a collision is unavoidable the lower speed means there is less likely to be a fatal outcome.

      Similarly we have drink driving laws not because the presence of alcohol in your system causes you to crash, but because of the affect alcohol has on your judgment meaning you are more likely to make mistakes which then lead to an accident.

  12. Pedantic point – but the vertical axis in the graph should be likelihood not risk. Risk is likelihood x consequence, in this case the consequence being death which is particularly bad.

  13. Very interesting discussion. I am, primarily, a silent reader on these matters but thought I’d contribute to this. My observation is that it is driver training that, in New Zealand, has fallen far behind other countries. In many, it is standard, if not mandatory, for all driver training to be undertaken by qualified driving instructors. Here, in NZ, we seem to make do with minimum if any professional instruction relying instead on family members or friends to impart their wisdom and bad habits. Yes, I am aware of the increased cost that professional instruction brings but it leads, in the end, to better drivers and safer roads.

  14. What most of you have missed is that the head on collision is the most dangerous, due to two vehicles impacting. We could drastically reduce deaths by putting in a divider. And on most of New Zealands crap roads, you could put centre barriers everywhere there is a yellow line. Take a look at NZTAs new website CAS. When you get on a divided highway, the accident rate plummets.

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