The increasing levels of death and destruction on our roads has been a major issue for us this year. One of our complaints with previous government’s singular focus on a handful of large, expensive and gold plated projects was that it sucked funding away from a lot of valuable, low cost safety improvements.

With a new government, that’s now set to change and Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter has announced the first improvements.

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter today announced a short term boost in road safety funding this summer and signalled a renewed focus from the Government on introducing safer speed limits.

Over summer the NZ Transport Agency will roll out an additional $22.5 million worth of low-cost safety improvements on rural State highways across Northland, Taranaki, Manawatū-Whanganui, Canterbury, Otago and Southland. The funding has been re-allocated from within the State highways budget.

“The number of people losing their lives on our roads has increased every year for the past five years. When things are this bad government has a responsibility to act,” said Ms Genter.

“The Boost Safety Programme is the first step. Improvements will include rumble strips, signage and safety barriers on rural roads where there is a real risk of death and serious injuries.

“Many deaths and injuries can be avoided on these roads by making some relatively simple changes. For example, we know rumble strips can reduce all crashes by around 25 percent and fatal run-off-road crashes by up to 42 percent.

“Despite what many people think, improving road safety is not just about getting people to drive better. It’s also about making our roads much safer, so that when people make mistakes lives aren’t lost. On too many of our roads a simple error, such as taking a corner too fast or being momentarily distracted, can be fatal.

“That is why the government will be investing more in safety barriers, rumble strips and targeted speed limit changes. Next year, the Government will further increase funding for road safety improvements as we revise the overall transport budget.

“I’ve also written to the NZ Transport Agency Board and all local councils to make it clear that setting more appropriate speed limits on high-risk stretches of road will be a priority for this government.

“The Government will hold a road safety summit early next year so that we can hear directly from councils about the barriers to and opportunities for improving road safety,” said Ms Genter.

The NZ Transport Agency will begin engagement with communities on the proposed safety improvements before Christmas, with work starting in February.

The map below shows where those improvements are going and there is more detail about what’s proposed here.

That’s a lot of roads that are going to be improved for what is a tiny portion of our transport budget. To put that spending in perspective, in the 2016/17 financial year the NZTA spent over $1.2 billion on ‘New and Improved Infrastructure’ on State Highways. This spending would represent just 1.8% of that. That $1.2b also doesn’t include an additional $630 million spent on State Highway ‘Maintenance, Operations and Renewals’.

Perhaps the previous government could have done with some rumble strips because clearly they were asleep at the wheel in ignoring low cost improvements like this. Speaking of them, here’s what National has to say about the announcement.

National’s transport spokesperson Judith Collins said the quality of the road was key to road safety not the speed limit.

“We also need to be aware that we’ve got trucks and cars travelling at speed and every time there is a slowdown, it slows everything down – so we just need to be a little bit realistic about it,” she said.

“The quality of the road is absolutely crucial and I’d like to see this government actually do something about that.”

Perhaps National could have done something about the road quality over the last 9 years.

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65 comments

  1. wow, Judith Collins thinks that people dying to allow traffic to flow faster is “a little bit realistic”

    And she doesn’t seem to understand that the quality of the road and speed limits are intrinsically linked. A speed limit is set that is appropriate to the quality of the road. Or does she not support 110km/h limits on those roads that are built to a very high quality?

    1. “A speed limit is set that is appropriate to the quality of the road”

      Not in New Zealand. Narrow, windy, unsealed roads suited to 30km/h or less have a speed limit of 100km/h.

      Hopefully the government fixes SH43 west of Taumarunui as well. In various places it has fallen away to the centreline, and all NZTA have done is block the lane off and walked away. They have zero funding to fix it, despite being a state highway.

      1. That’s precisely what Democrats were saying about Trump in 2015. When PM Collins privatises everything and shuts down Auckland’s rail system, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

  2. She might be worse that the Judy from Narcos, without even being a charge of a few cocaine laboratories, at least as far as we are aware.

  3. Completely agree with this and long overdue. Our road toll is a disgrace – in terms of deaths (not including injuries) is akin to several full Auckland to Wellington flights crashing per year. Extraordinary that this has not had the type of profile it deserves until now.

  4. From the last link given above, “The government will hold a road safety summit early next year as it looks to address the rising road toll, which is the worst it’s been in seven years.”

    I hope this is bad reporting. The road toll needs to be addressed, not just the rising road toll. I hope Labour stresses this. The rising road toll is a measure, perhaps, of what approaches failed to work and made things worse. But the road toll was unacceptable back in 2012, too, and a radical rethink is required.

  5. So….what is the point of NZTA’s $600m Safe Roads Alliance if they need the Transport Minister to step in and help them work out where to spend money?

    1. Activated Warning Signs are best value prevention measures in road safety. They turn uncontrolled high-speed intersections into uncontrolled moderate-speed intersections.

      Another best buy are speed cameras. I hope that this Government finally increase their numbers again. They were a huge part of reducing the road toll in the 1990s, but NZ more or less abandoned them.

      1. I don’t get activated speed signs for intersections. Unless you believe there is some appropriate time when the speed shouldn’t be limited then what is the point? Why not use a painted sign and make it permanent?

        1. I think they are a great idea, not so much for the exact speed limit they set but for the fact they provide a strong visual warning that there are vehicles approaching the intersection.

          Also if it is the dead of night and there are no vehicles anywhere near the intersection then why not allow cars to do 100?

        2. I think the answer is that putting up a temporary limit is easy, changing the limit permanently is a bureaucratic nightmare. When you drive to Napier there are 80km/hr signs on the stupidly dangerous road near the airport with ‘temporary’ written under them – I think this is because the council can create temporary speed limits (that can be in place forever) but not permanent ones.

        3. Because typically you have a road with a large number of vehicles intersecting a road with a small number of vehicles. If you can slow the major road _only at times there are vehicles seeking to enter it_ then you don’t need to slow it other times.

        4. Hmmm… no-one’s convinced me that mfwic’s not right.

          Jezza: If a strong visual warning is required, it should be given. More visible permanent signs may be needed everywhere.

          George and Jezza: An intersection means caution and lower speeds are required, whether other vehicles are there or not. This respects the privilege of being allowed to drive a car. At the intersection, there may still be cyclists, or pedestrians.

          Jimbo: Too true, and needs to change.

          1. “They’re not typically used in locations where there are vulnerable road users”. If that’s the case they can’t be used anywhere, since vulnerable users can be expected at any location on the rural road network.

            It is notable that it’s cars that get detected, so vulnerable users, who need most protection, in fact get least.

            I’m with mfwic on this!

          2. yeah the only place there are not ‘vunerable users’ (which i assume is code for non motorists) is the motorway network, and even there you have motorbikes and scooters. Plus the only intersections as such are on/offramps, so would you lower the speed as you pass every onramp?

          3. Does that sign give the approaching car’s speed? Or is it a mandatory speed limit? The red circle looks like the latter. For decades now, many curves on NZ roads have already been posted with yellow advisory speed signs which are extremely helpful for drivers who don’t know the road well. But typically, many drivers ignore them and drive significantly faster.

            If this illuminated sign is a mandatory local speed limit just applying to the upcoming curve then this represents a departure from the existing speed-enforcement regime that I am not aware of.

          4. Yes I’d be interested in the answers to those questions, Dave.

            Is it possible that these signs are locally effective for reducing vehicle – vehicle crashes, but contribute to overall speed increases elsewhere? They play into the mindset that travelling as fast as we can – except where special conditions exist – is the politically correct thing to do. This is a fallacy – we are responsible for good driving, including always being under the speed limit and always being at a safe speed. Our ethical commitment to others is that we don’t cause accidents, not that we don’t cause them delay.

            It reminds me of the “Pedestrians must give way to traffic” signs at pseudo crossings. They may be locally effective for reducing accidents there – in fact, I doubt this due to the ambiguity they bring – but they play into the mindset that drivers should just keep the traffic flowing and ignore pedestrians waiting to cross. And this mindset is what increases accidents elsewhere.

          5. Dave – I’m not sure how enforceable they are as I don’t think there is generally a sign on the other side of the intersection saying that you can return to 100 like there is after a school zone.

            I think they are good for certain rural intersections where a permanent speed reduction for through traffic risks being ignored, however I imagine intersection improvements, especially those that encourage through traffic to slow would always be best.

          6. To answer some of Dave’s, Heidi’s and jezza’s questions here is my comments.

            First I’ve driven past these dozens of times recently and I dislike them as a motorist, and I 100% agree with mfwic’s comments [not often I do that!] that if you want to slow traffic down make it a permanent reduction in speed not one of these variable ones.

            Anyway, back to the questions.

            It a speed limit sign, and shows the (lower) speed limit in the numbers, not the approaching vehicles speed.

            it is outlined in Red (a red circle) like other speed limit signs are – so its mandatory.

            They flash to warn you of the need for a lower speed limit as you approach. if there are [or soon will be] vehicles on the side roads.

            Police enforce the speed limit like it was any other signposted limit.
            I have seen them pull over a few people who break the lower speed limit.

            Having said all that I find as a driver approaching them, that at a moments notice – often as you are about to pass the sign – that the speed limit has effectively changed from 100 km/hr open road speed to the lower speed limit (70 km/hr), in effect requiring a braking effort to drop 30 km/hr speed to comply. This can cause a chain effect of braking from following drivers.

            And heavy trucks? Forget it, they just barrel through at their usual speed. To short a notice to slow down (or speed up again afterwards) so they usually just speed past.

            Similarly when driving up to one of these signs from a distance you can see they are active, then the speed limit can then suddenly revert at a moments notice back up to 100 km/hr when the sign turns off. (and can then just as quickly turn back on again before you pass the sign), so if you’re approaching one of these signs even if off, the wisest thing is to slow to 70 km/hr as if it was a permanent sign.

            Only thing is, because they show nothing [are off] when there is no speed reduction in effect, you don’t know they are there to suddenly wake up and start flashing at you unless you pay careful attention.

            To me if the intention is to slow traffic at intersections at peak danger times, make the sign driven by time and traffic, and always showing on [i.e. lit] but not this on for a 30 seconds, turned off for a bit, then back on for another 30 seconds we get now.

            That way, the speed limit is reduced permanently for a few hours a day, and becomes 100 km/hr at night or other low traffic times.

            But either way the sign need to remain lit 24 hours a day to show what the “effective” speed limit should be.

            Much safer for everyone that way.

            Because motorists in side roads, [for whom this is supposed to be a benefit] don’t know (and usually can’t tell) if the lower speed limit is being complied with or not by motorists on the main road approaching the intersection, so have to assume the worst i.e. they’re still going 100 km/hr. and if a truck is apporaching don’t assume it will slow down as they invariably won’t!

            So while a good idea it doesn’t really solve the problem in the way that they intend.

          7. Not quite sure why the reticence about these activated speed warning signs at intersections. To date they are working as intended – driver speeds drop significantly when the signs are activating. Which is the whole point – to reduce the risk of death or serious injury at intersections. As a low-cost intersection treatment, when a more expensive intersection upgrade is prohibitive, it seems like a simple but useful option in our toolkit.

          8. Glen,
            Basically, my problem with them is that they’re a Claytons safety measure, and are like making every bike path a Shared Path – whether that’s the most appropriate solution or not, even a safer outcome or not.

            These RIAWS are a halfway house between doing nothing and doing something better and safer – they aren’t the final solution. However NZTA seem to be treating them as if they are.

            They are being used to buy time alright, but only for NZTAs benefit – time to allow NZTA to focus spending on other [more expensive but not necessarily safer] things.

            While they do slow down most motorists, they won’t slow everyone down. Having followed trucks through these zones, a fair few of which don’t slow down at all when the signs activate.

            I’ve also been on the side road trying to get onto the main road, and they don’t make it much easier to judge the speeds of the oncoming traffic any more accurately to gauge if its safe to merge or not.

            Is there any evidence that these actually significantly reduce the incidence of death in serious injury?

            I agree they do give the impression of “doing something” to the average road user.

            But looking like “we’re doing something” when we’re mostly not is what we’ve collectively spent decades doing – but we need to start actually delivering on those “doing things better” promises.

      2. The last government installed a couple of dozen speed cameras, and a couple of dozen more are being installed during this summer season. I hope that the new government continues this.

        I think Rural Intersection Activated Warning Signs (RIAWS) are a cop out. If you are going to install them, you also need to install some treatments to reduce operating speed.

        1. A significant proportion of NZ crashes are still related to not wearing seatbelts. The cameras that get installed need to be able to pick out and fine people not wearing seatbelts. There are cameras with such technology installed where I currently reside.

          1. Seat belts are all very well but they do not stop crashes. They only lessen the effects of crashes. A proper road-safety strategy should lessen the incidence of crashes, and speed cameras have been shown to do this.

      3. There is no evidence that speed cameras had anything to do with reducing the road toll (just because they happened to be around at the same time… a time where improvements to car handling, car active and passive safety improved exponentially, and where many of the worst black spots had improvements made is measurable as the same thing happened overseas). Conversely speed cameras can actually make roads more dangerous (people suddenly braking, people focused on their speed rather than the road and vehicles around them, people afraid to safely overtake at a reasonable speed to minimise the time exposed to danger, etc). They are a revenue gathering tool for the government and little more which is why they are despised by the majority of the population.

        1. Many of us are thrilled at voluntary tax machines for criminals who endanger us.

          I’d love to see the research that you base your comments about safety improvements on.

          1. It is well known internationally that the main reason for the reduction in road deaths has been as a result of safer cars (despite increased amounts of traffic). Many other countries haven’t taken the Myopic approach of the NZ police and have focused on things other than speed as the route of all evil. Strangely enough they have had significant (and in many cases greater) falls in road deaths too.
            Here’s something for you to read over.
            http://www.iihs.org/iihs/sr/statusreport/article/50/1/1

          2. Most of those other countries have also embraced the use of lower speed limits in both urban and rural areas…

        2. My observation has been to the effect that people tend to brake when they see speed cameras, however if this results in those following having to brake in a risky manner, then those following aren’t using a safe following distance. That’s _not_ to say that people don’t brake unnecessarily when they see a camera, though.

          From the BMJ:
          Results: 14 observational studies met the inclusion criteria; no randomised controlled trials were found. Most studies were before-after studies without controls (n = 8). All but one of the studies showed effectiveness of cameras up to three years or less after their introduction; one study showed sustained longer term effects (4.6 years after introduction). Reductions in outcomes across studies ranged from 5% to 69% for collisions, 12% to 65% for injuries, and 17% to 71% for deaths in the immediate vicinity of camera sites. The reductions over wider geographical areas were of a similar order of magnitude.

          Conclusions: Existing research consistently shows that speed cameras are an effective intervention in reducing road traffic collisions and related casualties. The level of evidence is relatively poor, however, as most studies did not have satisfactory comparison groups or adequate control for potential confounders. Controlled introduction of speed cameras with careful data collection may offer improved evidence of their effectiveness in the future.

          A bit wishy washy for the conclusion. Was the first link from Googling: speed camera efficacy

    2. To answer your question, I think the point is we now have an Associate Minister who knows more about transport than any of the current board members of the NZTA which is made up of a bunch of professional directors and a couple of politicians.

  6. One thing to remember with road crash statistics is the medical system has greatly advanced from 40 years ago. You have a crash now you get a helicopter with a paramedic instead of a voluntary ambulance driver, you get to ED and get a team of advanced doctors instead of one second year doctor. All this means you chances of surviving the same damage are better. It is good to look at the yearly count of deaths AND serious injury as a measure. Our stats should be much better. This does not take into account safer vehicles. It shows more work is needed on safer roads.

    1. +1, the advent of rescue helicopters is often overlooked and has likely had a huge impact on the road toll as many accidents happen well away from cities where the hospitals with the most advanced emergency care are located.

      1. . . .meaning reduced credit to the so-called road-safety effort. The crashes still happen. You just stand a better chance of being scraped off the road and stitched back together again.

        What a hopeless transport system we continue to embrace.

        1. Agree, I think the approach the police took in the 90s towards road safety is given way more credit than it deserves for the prolonged fall in the road toll during this period.

          I do believe the rate of serious crashes also came down during this period, but this can also be explained by roading improvements and vehicle handling improvements.

    2. The ambulance, whether it be at the bottom of the cliff or as part of an aero-medical evacuation is no substitute for better design and build of transport infrastructure.

      In a previous life I was working a project with Ambulance and the callsign with the least number of responses per annum was Haast (~35), I asked why it wasn’t replaced by a helicopter based service and was told that approximately half of those calls occurred when a helicopter wouldn’t have been able to fly, primarily due to weather conditions.

      This package is a step in a better direction of addressing the recent imbalance in funding.

      1. Yes, we were all trained in helicopter emergency procedures when I worked offshore. But it was in a storm that someone broke his back, so no helicopter could come. The ship took three days to get back to shore.

        Helicopters are nice-to-haves, not a part of transport planning. (Not that anyone here is suggesting they are.)

  7. Kudos. The associate minister just acknowledged the problem, accepted responsibility for doing something about it, explained why the focus on behaviour change alone is flawed and listed a handful of evidence-based and good value interventions that will be used, whilst also giving some direction to the NZTA and local councils. And made clear it’s just the beginning.

  8. That the associate Minister made this announcement is a little strange. This is a fairly major announcement and the Transport Minister should be making it, not the associate who has limited portfolio responsibility.

    Regarding the announcement itself I feel it has mixed potential. Rumble strips are a fairly cheap method to increase alertness and I think they will be the most effective of the improvements. Safety barriers are a bit meh as they tend to be used to stop people flying off cliffs. The expense results in short barriers put in the most dangerous situations but drivers have an amazing ability to fly off the road at the most innocuous places where barriers aren’t. As for signage you may as well not bother – poor drivers don’t read road signs and they won’t make one iota of difference.

    Here is what needs to happen to reduce the road toll:
    – 15kmph speed tolerance so drivers aren’t constantly locked to their dashboard
    – Stiff fines of $500+ for exceeding the 15kmph threshold
    – Increase in police in non-marked cars with a focus on poor driving rather than speed
    – Campaign to get drivers to pull over where suitable if 4 or more cars are following them regardless of speed (and nobody in front).
    – Removal of speed camera’s placed in revenue gathering spots (which would be most of them)

    The sole focus on speed has resulted in people being killed and maimed. We need to realise our mistake and focus on bad road positioning, inconsiderate and inattentive driving. Only then will we reduce the road toll.

    1. “Safety barriers are a bit meh as they tend to be used to stop people flying off cliffs.” Seems like a good idea to me. Give someone whiplash instead of almost certain death.

      “As for signage you may as well not bother – poor drivers don’t read road signs and they won’t make one iota of difference.” Except that actual research by people using data shows that your reckons aren’t true.

      “Here is what needs to happen to reduce the road toll:
      – 15kmph speed tolerance so drivers aren’t constantly locked to their dashboard” If you can’t keep your speed under a speed limit with 0 km/h of tolerance you shouldn’t be driving. The only justification for a non-zero tolerance is speedo error.
      “– Stiff fines of $500+ for exceeding the 15kmph threshold” Try 1.5 km/h
      “– Increase in police in non-marked cars with a focus on poor driving rather than speed” +1, this needs to include failing to let vehicles pass, tailgating, too fast for the conditions (but under speed limit), and cell phone use.
      “– Campaign to get drivers to pull over where suitable if 4 or more cars are following them regardless of speed (and nobody in front).” See above.
      “– Removal of speed camera’s placed in revenue gathering spots (which would be most of them)” That would be zero of them. THey are all in areas with higher than average crashes with higher than average crashes due to speed.

      “The sole focus on speed has resulted in people being killed and maimed. We need to realise our mistake and focus on bad road positioning, inconsiderate and inattentive driving. Only then will we reduce the road toll.” +1, speed is the biggest factor, it is not the only one.

      1. ““– Stiff fines of $500+ for exceeding the 15kmph threshold” Try 1.5 km/h”

        I’m yet to see a speedo that can give a clear accurate measure to the km/h, let alone 0.5 of one. Even digital ones often have quite lengthy refreshes. At some point you’re just being heavy-handed.

      2. A speed camera located for ‘revenue gathering’ would by definition be located where it would catch the most people braking the speed limit.
        You don’t gather revenue from people not speeding!

        Also there is already a 15kmh tolerance: drive at 85km/h.

        1. What is needed to make speed cameras more effective is more realistic speed limits.
          It is arguably more dangerous to do 90 on a low quality winding rural road than it is to do 110 on a new expressway/motorway.
          But you will never get a speed camera fine doing the former.

    2. Agreed, it is odd that Transport Minister Twyford has had so little to say about transport since he has been in office. To me it would have made much more sense to give the whole transport portfolio to Julie Ann Genter who knows what she’s doing, and leave Phil to get on with housing. That way, we might have had a better chance of halting the scrapping of Wgtn’s trolleybuses which seemed to catch Phil napping.

      1. To be fair to Phil Twyford,

        The whole GWRC needs a huge kick up the bum over their entire regional transport planning.

        Scrapping of the Trolley buses is just a symptom of the bigger problem.

        Sorting out that mess is not in the MoTs [or Twyford’s] portfolios.

        That’s the job of the Local Government portfolio holder.

    3. a 15mph tolerance would probably be ok if speed limits were set with this in mind, but in most case the tolerance is effectively 0mph or even negative. out speed limits are LIMITS not targets. They are the maximum speed you “safely” travel.
      Your reasoning “so drivers aren’t constantly locked to their dashboard” is therefore flawed, because in many cases you shouldn’t be driving the speed limit but going slower, thus creating a tolerance/buffer.

    4. Julie-Anne is the Minister responsible for road safety, so it is pretty logical for her to take the lead on road safety related announcements. I think Phil’s main focus will be on the link between his two portfolios, transport and housing, especially as they apply to Auckland.

      I do wonder about all these people who grumble how hard it is to constantly keep an eye on the speedo because of a smaller speed tolerance. My thinking has always been: fine, you can have your 10kmh tolerance; we’ll just reduce all the posted speed limits by 10kmh…

  9. Imagine if two-lane highways didn’t exist and I came along and said I had just come up with an idea where we would allow two flows of opposing traffic to each travel at 100+km/h in two narrow lanes separated only by a 4 inch dashed white paint line. Imagine if my only justification for this new idea was that it would save some money. People should be outraged about it.

    1. Yes that’s exactly right. Great way to look at it. No chance they’d be built. Similarly if the motorbike was invented today, equally no chance they’d be street legal; racetrack only for sure. Both these things are far too lethal.

      But both began with much much slower speeds. Obviously opposing traffic lanes were fine for horse and cart, and even the first pootling cars. It’s frankly crazy that vehicle speed and power has been allowed to improve so much without similar and appropriate changes being made to the environment in which they operate. But of course the cost to do that is so great, and is collectively paid for….

      1. So basically the speed limit on all roads that don’t have some kind of barrier or at least some kind of separation should be lowered to 50? and in urban areas 30?
        We could quite possibly quarter the road toll overnight?
        When can we start?

    2. It is interesting that, under the new speed management guidelines process, the calculated “Safe and Acceptable Speed” for most 100km/h two-lane rural roads is at most 80 km/h…

      1. … hence our road toll. The road toll will be lowered as soon as we all realise that we need to set lower limits, drive below them, put no pressure on anyone to go faster, and treat driving as the privilege it is. Then we can start the more complex job of making the road environment safer. But the arrogant culture of “I’m a good driver at higher speeds” and “My time is valuable” and “Business will suffer if we lower speeds” has acted to warp brains into normalising a too-fast speed for each particular road environment.

  10. Road safety and traffic flow could be improved and crash rates at high risk intersections could be reduced by greater use of building roundabouts.

    Roundabouts are a much safer form of controlling an intersection, as by their design they force traffic to slow down and allow conflicting movements to be made safely.

    Roundabouts also move more vehicles through them, more quickly than traffic lights and should be used where ever possible, particularly in Auckland where traffic lights are a significant contributing factor to congested roads – traffic lights (and onramp signals) stop the traffic flow, whereas roundabouts keep the traffic flow slowly but steadily moving, and safely.

    A ‘Roundabouts First’ policy should be brought out by the Government to support this.

    Pedestrians can be more safely and better catered for with zebra style pedestrian crossings, which are a better option as they give pedestrians priority and the traffic only has to stop when there is actually pedestrians wanting to cross, meaning eliminating the all-too-common delay where an impatient pedestrian presses the button to cross at an intersection controlled by traffic lights, then crosses before getting the light to cross when no traffic is coming and then causing a needless delay to traffic when the light does change.

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