“Faster. Faster. Faster… OK, pull over, and we’ll discuss that. Back there, if you go at that speed in your test, you’ll fail. It’s a critical error. That road is where four of my students have failed their test for driving too slowly.”

Sitting in the back seat during the driving lessons this year was an educational experience for me.

“Back there” was a narrow residential road lined with parked cars, where to go at the speed necessary to get a license, these requirements of the road code could not be met:

Be careful when driving past parked vehicles. Pedestrians may walk out without warning.

Speed reduces peripheral vision, as shown in this graphic by the organisation 8 80:

This learner driver was being taught to focus more on the road ahead of him, and less on anything happening between the parked cars or on the footpath. Coupled with his inexperience, he was having to drive at a speed that could easily result in a nasty crash with a pedestrian.

Checking the AA’s Driving Test Ezy guide, I found:

If you over-emphasise safety by travelling more than 5 kph under the speed limit when unnecessary, you may cause other road users to become impatient with you. They may take an unnecessary risk in order to pass…

I knew this was a myth. Driving at faster speeds increases risk. If driving at slower speeds increases risk, there is insufficient research to show it. The US National Transportation Board looked at the available evidence in 2017 about speed variance (ie people driving at a wider range of speeds):

Although speed variance within a traffic flow exists and is often cited as a concern, the degree to which speed variance contributes to crash involvement is inconclusive. However, the link between speed and injury severity in a crash is consistent and direct.

In an evidence-based system, slower speeds should be supported rather than faster speeds. So I asked NZTA if it was legal for the examiners to follow a guide like this. They replied:

Travelling too slow is considered a critical error during the practical driving test. The test guide has more detail:

www.nzta.govt.nz/assets/Driver-Licences/docs/full-test-guide.pdf

The Driver License Test Guide states a critical error of driving too slowly is:

If ‘road and traffic conditions’ include parked cars hiding children, or people made invisible by reduced peripheral vision, that was certainly not how the instructor and examiners were interpreting it. I wondered how speeds that keep people safe could be compromised for someone else’s ‘convenience’.

In contrast to the Driver License Test Guide, the Road Code says:

[your speed is low enough to follow the safe speed guidelines.] There are no requirements to drive close to the speed limit.

The Road Code does give some tips for how to be considerate:

To my mind, there is a huge discrepancy between:

  • being allowed to drive at any speed under the limit, with tips for how to do so safely and considerately, and
  • receiving a critical error for travelling 10 km/hr below the speed limit.

These are simply not equivalent. So I asked NZTA, and they informed me:

the practical test guide and NZ Road Code are two separate documents. The test guide is information on the tasks you will be assessed on and what you need to do to pass the practical test. The Road Code provides recommendations on safe driving practices, this is general information to help you learn to drive and to ensure you drive with due care and consideration of other road users. The practical test guide then goes into further detail to explain, how in the context of the test, these recommendations should be put into practice.

How does the requirement to drive close to the speed limit give “further detail” to not having to drive close to the speed limit?

I pondered on the situation, and thought of the streets in my suburb, where there are children playing and climbing street trees, people walking, running, cycling and scootering, and elderly residents struggling around illegally parked cars. I thought about how absolutely wrong the 50 km/hr speed limit is. These are little dead end residential roads where 20 or 30 km/hr is suitable. And I wondered about what a young driver practising for the test would do here…

“Faster. Faster. Faster.”

I cringed when I thought about rural roads I knew where you’d be mad to drive near the speed limit. And I asked NZTA:

As successful driver applicants are required to drive within a narrow band around the posted speed limit, it is important that the posted speed limit is safe and appropriate. Are you able to tell me what percentage of NZ roads have posted speed limits that align with NZTA’s safe and appropriate speeds, according to whatever measure the NZTA does use?

NZTA’s reply consisted of facts that didn’t answer my question, so I asked again on the 19th October, and suspect at this stage that I won’t get a reply. According to the Ministry of Transport’s information to the Road Safety Strategy Speed Reference Group:

87% of NZ’s roads have speed limits that do not align with the safe and appropriate speed for the road

Remember, too, that the “safe and appropriate speeds” were set by NZTA before the current government’s interest in Vision Zero; they’re almost certainly too high. Driving 10 km/hr or more below the speed limit may in fact be far closer to a safe speed on most of our roads. Yet, to gain a driving license, learners must drive within a narrow band of speed around a limit that NZTA know is not safe, and not appropriate, on at least 87% of our roads.

NZTA say:

Drivers on a restricted licence are seven times more likely to be involved in a fatal or serious injury crash than other drivers. Data also shows that young restricted drivers are more at risk of having a serious crash in the first six to 12 months of driving solo on their restricted licence than at any other time in their lives. This increased risk is partly due to driving inexperience.

A society that values human life would find a way to mitigate this increased risk. Requiring and supporting lower speeds would be a way to scaffold learning to drive in a way that keeps a focus on developing good awareness of vulnerable road users and on what’s happening in the peripheral vision.

Younger people agree more than older people with the statement that ‘Fewer crashes would happen if drivers slowed down’. NZTA interpret this by saying,

It might be that advertising campaigns have been effective on the younger group and a generational acceptance of slower speeds is occurring.

Instead of building on youngsters’ higher awareness around speed, the Driver License Test Guide seems to be designed to make drivers override that awareness.

I believe the guide has contributed to a culture of speed and disregard for vulnerable road users. It has resulted in instructors training drivers to drive faster than is safe, and to ignore activity in their reduced peripheral vision at higher speeds. There is no basis for the guide to make driving too slowly a critical error.

The reason behind discouraging slower speeds is probably the arrogant cultural value that delaying traffic is worse than endangering lives. The new Government Policy Statement on Transport changes all this:

In the past, the design of both urban and rural roads has often prioritised the faster movement of vehicles over the safety of people, particularly vulnerable road users like people walking and cycling…

Reversing New Zealand’s current trauma trends requires a transport system that is designed for people, and one that considers their safety as the top priority…

GPS 2018 supports investment in initiatives to improve road user behaviour and community understanding of road safety… GPS 2018 supports policy development in key areas, including: ensuring safer and appropriate speeds…

Now this change needs to be reflected in driver training and licensing.

The NZTA is currently under review:

The laissez faire regime has been overturned – Transport Minister Phil Twyford says the review covers everything the agency is in charge of, including driver testing, licenses… It comes after agency chief executive Fergus Gammie publicly confessed a raft of public safety failures in recent weeks and months… It will consider if new laws are necessary and cover governance, leadership, operational policy and practice, regulatory intelligence, people capability and capacity, and the balance of education, engagement and enforcement.

Government: There are a number of ways drivers could be required to develop more awareness and care of vulnerable road users; this error around speed in the Driver License Test Guide being just one of several. Between the work being done by the Road Safety Strategy Reference Groups, and the review of the NZTA, I hope this change to the test guide can be accommodated.

NZTA: Change your Driver License Test Guide. Instruct examiners to change their testing protocol. And (because instructors teach to the test):

Allow learner drivers to drive at slower speeds, as per the Road Code, as per Vision Zero principles, and in line with the GPS, when they’re being tested for their licenses.

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134 comments

  1. Yes, my daughter was being instructed to go at 50kph down quiet, obstacle strewn residential streets, it is scary.

  2. Excellent post Heidi, we can’t afford to have another generation of drivers learning this sort of behaviour.

    “If you over-emphasise safety by travelling more than 5 kph under the speed limit when unnecessary, you may cause other road users to become impatient with you. They may take an unnecessary risk in order to pass…”

    This is kind of thinking ultimately blames someone stopped at a multi-lane pedestrian crossing for the person who overtakes them… The AA needs to remove the above comment from their website and culturally we need to accept that overtaking is rarely if ever safe in an urban environment.

    1. Yes, that’s the other aspect I didn’t have space to include. During a lesson, an instructor also said, “Ignore the lady” about a woman standing in the median strip. This was bad enough. But in discussing it afterwards, I realised that quite a few people think it’s ok to leave pedestrians standing in the middle of the road because “someone might overtake you”.

      No wonder pedestrians are being hit. We have a massive education job ahead of us.

      1. Was she on a pedestrian crossing? If she’s on a median strip then other drivers are not going to be expecting you to stop.The reason they’re worried about people overtaking you is because the people behind you can’t see the pedestrians you’ve inexplicably slowed for and might plow into them if they go around you.

        1. The road rules quite clearly require you to maintain a safe distance when following another vehicle.

          Any situation where a following driver either can’t slow down or choses not to and plows into a pedestrian while overtaking the car that has slowed down is completely unacceptable from the following driver.

          If you can’t be aware of that relatively simple set of hazards then you should not be driving a car.

          1. I find it mind boggling that people leave pedestrians stranded in the middle of the road. It’s one of the reasons I find Auckland to be one of the more hostile cities I’ve walked in. I do need to point out though that you should never stop for a waiting ped (or turning vehicle) if you’re on a mulit-lane road. This is because traffic can queue up behind you in one lane, while traffic remains free-flow in the other lane and that traffic cannot see the ped or vehicle that will pop out from right in front of you.

          2. Unfortunately it’s the law. Pedestrians give way to cars. In that context I would actually prefer people followed the rules, rather than break the ‘bad’ rules but introduce confusion and inconsistency when I’m standing in or near the road.

            If someone stops to let you cross I’d say it’s 50/50 the driver behind them would just pull into the oncoming lane to overtake anyway.

          3. Any person already crossing before you arrive in the location has the right to continue, as they are legitimate road users.

            The other issue is that there are insufficient pedestrian crossings. People shouldn’t have to be crossing a multilane street without a pedestrian crossing.

          4. I’m not sure if that applies to roads with medians… but anyway, if not the letter of the law, then the defacto rule followed by everyone.

            I’d still rather know that someone was going to do something ‘bad’, than not know what they or the next person will do at all.

          5. If medians – that unprotected space that cars regularly drive on – are considered an appropriate place to leave stranded pedestrians – then that’s something we need to campaign to change, I reckon. What kind of a ‘shared space’ is that?

          6. Well.

            It is hard to explain how far beyond the pale this discussion is for someone coming from Europe.

            Stopping on a simple dual lane street is usually OK, usually oncoming traffic prevents people from swerving around you. If they do, the pedestrian is going the other way anyway.

            On a 2×2 lane road this is a lot more annoying. Broadway in Newmarket comes to mind. There is no meridian on that street. If you stand on just a centre line you have cars driving 30 cm from you both in front and behind you, at speed. As a driver, do you ever get used to driving past people that close? Clipping a mirror of a car is one thing, clipping a pedestrian is another.

            Does the road code say anything about people who are already crossing the street?

          7. It does say “A driver must not operate a vehicle in a a condition or manner that could cause injury to any person or animal”. If the testing officers and police chose to interpret this well, it would prevent leaving a pedestrian stranded. It also says “you can’t always see what’s around the corner. You should be prepared for the need to slow down in case there are cyclists, horses, pedestrians…” and “To legally and safely make a left or right turn: … watch for pedestrians… Be prepared to stop.”

            I think the worst example of all this is a child who has ascertained that it is safe to cross, starts to cross, but then has to pause because a car comes around a corner. They then get stranded as more cars come. Pedestrians are legitimate road users. The general rule that someone turning needs to give way to someone not turning applies.

            But I think the law needs to be stronger than this, and I think our whole approach to median strips needs an overhaul.

        2. Isn’t part of the road code that you must be able to stop in half the distance available when following someone? (that used to be the case when I did my license too many years ago…)

  3. It’s always annoyed me when NZTA, ACC and the Police run advertising campaigns claiming the speed limit isn’t a target when the driver licensing test explicitly makes it a target. It’s just hypocritical of them.

    1. Yes, good point. The advertising campaigns are right. It’s the testing (and thus training) regimen which is in the wrong. Heidi, this is incredibly valuable to point this out…and so shocking that we have so systematised a requirement to drive badly and dangerously, or to not pass the test. I wonder how easy it would be to locate and compare the equivalent documents for other western countries (which on the whole have much better road safety statistics). I learned to drive in the UK and driving to the conditions was emphasised – expecting the unexpected, like children running out between parked cars and doors opening and so reducing speed in narrow streets with parked cars, to give oneself a chance to look for those things and to react. I can’t know if that was typical, but why wouldn’t it be?

  4. A lot of pressure to drive fast out there. In my online spheres, the comments around “slow drivers” suggest that slow driving is incompetent driving due to inability and/or lack of confidence to drive ”’normally” (fast).

    Personally I know that I used to drive as I was socialised to, as a young male. Sitting at the speed limit or just above, taking corners as fast and tight as possible, etc.. stretching the legs of the car, and pushing the limits of the law was normal and desirable.

    Everyone is bored of the “speed is bad” message. I think it’s time for a “slow is good, patience is better” message

    1. Yes indeed, that social message from peers to drive like a rally driver is one issue. But I think the effect of that can only be multiplied because the testing agencies and thus driving instructors systemically support it. Whereas if the powers that be and the driving instructor gave a contrary message, then it would be diminished somewhat. For those minded to resist peer pressure, it must be easier if the law and authority of elders is on your side, rather than having two devils sitting on your shoulder, both egging you on.

      1. +1 And research has shown there is a huge latent demand for slower driving that will probably only be met by adjusting our speed limits.

  5. There is probably an argument that if you can’t handle a car at 55 – 60kmh on Ti Rakau Drive you probably need some more time getting comfortable with a car. However, there are much better ways of testing this than forcing people to drive close to the speed limit in narrow residential streets where there are a number of hazards present.

    I did my test under the old system where if you exceeded the speed limit at all you failed and there were no minimum speed requirements. My understanding was the new system required drivers to identify hazards, if so that appears completely contradictory to say you must maintain a ‘good’ speed after pointing out a number of hazards.

    1. 10km under the speed limit at 50kmh is 20% under the limit. You are also obliged not to impede traffic. Realistically, if you can’t do this then you probably shouldn’t be sitting a license test. If that means people need more time to get comfortable and confident behind the wheel and it makes them better drivers then so be it.

        1. Well, it may possibly be the ‘correct’ upper limit of traveling-velocity at times, but there is no single street where 50kmh is the correct rate of travel, along its entire length, at all times, regardless of weather, lighting, number of parked cars, traffic, pedestrians, sharp bends, etc…

        2. Such as Elliott Street, which is a shared space with no kerbs but has no maximum speed posted. I’ve seen couriers and others driving down it at 50 km/hr, which is lunacy, but, since there’s no speed restriction, they would have a watertight defence in the event of a collision.

          1. “They would have a watertight defence in the event of a collision” – would they? Aren’t you meant to drive to the conditions? If you go around a sharp corner at the speed limit and lose control I’m sure you don’t have a watertight defence.

          2. You’re meant to, but if a collision occurs, the driver or rider can say he was doing the legal speed limit for that street. The onus is then on the prosecutor to prove that the conditions *at the time* made 50k unsafe. Transfer of onus, whereas if a lower speed limit was posted in Elliott St, the onus would be on the motorist to explain his excessive speed.

          3. Yes, case in point was the woman hit on Meola Rd in September. The concussion means she has a gap in memory just prior to the crash. She had just crossed the road to her car, so she had definitely been in a visible position. There was no witness.

            The driver ‘didn’t see her’. No blame placed. Yet not seeing her was a result of either not paying attention or driving too fast for the conditions.

            How do you establish that the conditions “at the time” meant the speed chosen was unsafe if you were concussed (or worse)?

          4. Sadly there have been many cases in NZ were the ” i didnt see them” defence has proved sufficient for no blame to be placed. I lived for many years in German, land of the open speed limits in some peoples understanding, yet any crash the driver had to prove they were driving to the conditions. A colleague had to pay for damage to a tree when he was going less than 30kmph ( in the snow) and skidded off the road- he wasnt driving to the conditions and so was correctly fined.

      1. Perhaps we do need to think through what our obligations are, Buttwizard. First, we have an obligation to prevent unnecessary harm to our people. Secondly, we have an obligation to support our young people as they learn the skills necessary to take part in society.

        The obligation is on adult drivers to accept slower driving as normal. It’s safer. It results in fewer crashes and far less injury. It’s necessary while learners are becoming experienced. It’s necessary when people are ageing and not so quick in their reactions, as well as at many other stages of life. (The slowest I’ve ever seen my husband drive was when he had our first newborn in the car – and look at how our hospital system requires leaving the hospital the same day unless there’s a medical reason to stay!)

        Slower driving also brings considerable mode shift as more people feel comfortable with active travel.

        You’ve detailed well what the mindset problem is. But now could you think a little more deeply?

        1. The problem is the road code a is a grab-bag of rules and asking people to just ignore the ones you don’t like causes problems. Cyclists are vehicles, but vehicles are required to pull over if there are other road users stuck behind them. They’re also meant to ride single-file past parked cars and stop at red lights. I can recall many times people justify not doing this for their own reasons. But driving in a manner that annoys other road users is also a no-no. So you tell me.

          If roads need to be slowed, then change the speed limits (and I appreciate that is a focus of many here). But part of the Road Code’s functions is to give certainty about what other road users are doing. Encouraging departures from what’s in there isn’t solving problems, it’s compounding them.

          And yes; I do think people *should* be able to operate a vehicle at a posted speed in free-flowing traffic as part of driving. They need to be able to identify hazards and react at that speed and it’s not unreasonable to ask them to do that as part of an assessment. I know LTSA had pilot programmes around this instead of a single driving test, but they didn’t seem to move ahead for whatever reason.

          1. Have you read the post?
            The road code says you can travel at any speed you like that is lower than the limit.
            The road code also doesn’t require you to not “annoy” other drivers. The impatience of the driver behind you is not a factor you have to take into account.

            The road code does provide some guidance for being considerate – like pulling over to let people by. But taking you cycle example, the cyclist doesn’t have to pull over *immediately* to let cars past. They can pull to the left when it is practical and safe. When cycling in a busy environment this can take some time.

            And you seem to have missed the real point of the article: The posted speed limits are not safe speeds on most of our streets. The safe speed depends on the specific environment at the time (traffic, parked cars, people, cyclists, light, weather….). To drive at a safe speed may require driving at a speed much lower than the posted limit.

          2. “But driving in a manner that annoys other road users is also a no-no. So you tell
            me.”

            If two rules are in conflict, then obeying the one that is less likely to cause harm is the only proper moral choice.

          3. The road code also stops working if your driving mode share dips below 99.9%. It is almost completely dysfunctional for cyclists and pedestrians, so you have to make stuff up as you go.

            For cyclists specifically: if you follow the road code, you die. So don’t do that.

            And even for drivers: conditions change over time. The speed limit will not exactly follow those conditions.

            For example: if there are no parked cars on my street you can drive 50km/h, no problem. But if there are cars parked on both sides, you have to slow down, especially with oncoming traffic. And the problem is exactly this: current testing does not allow for such variation.

      2. That’s the entire point of the article. it should be about impeding traffic it should be about driving safely. If there’s a storm and visibility is low going 10k under the speed limit is the responsible and sensible thing to do. On a normal sunny day with no dangers around you drive as close to the speed limit as it is safe to do.

        1. +1, you see this attitude so much. Absolute bellends driving at 90kmh on the motorway in fog so as to not go below the magic tolerance or tailgating a driver because they aren’t in the magic tolerance after slowing down on a windy road in the rain .

      3. “You are also obliged not to impede traffic.” → wrong. Well, maybe a little bit, but not as extreme as what you see here. That is the entire point of the post.

        Also observe the difference between eg. driving 50 on Ti Rakau Drive, and driving 50 on Mount Eden Road.

        40 to 50 is actually quite a narrow margin, you need a lot of experience to stay within that margin in hilly areas.

      4. When did won’t mean can’t?
        Just because someone chosses to drive at a slower speed because they judge it to be safer and more appropriate doiesn’t mean they aren’t capable of driving faster. Driving at or over the speed limit is not the only way to judge if someome is confident and capable nor would it be the best way.

  6. My niece failed her test last Friday for going to slow so I can confirm this problem is live and well.
    Everyone in the family was quite confused about how she failed now I can see why it’s a critical error for going slow.
    My niece has decided to deley doing her test again and her conference has really dropped

  7. Let’s hope this is addressed before it becomes ‘coffin enforced’. Do we really want a traumatized teenager telling us that their driving instructor was telling them to go faster when they hit that pedestrian.

  8. In case people didn’t notice, this is Heidi’s first non-guest post – she’s now a bona fide member of the GA team, whatever that means! Great to have you aboard Heidi.

    And what a great way to start, too! A deep dive into an overlooked issue, and highlighting contradictions in the different documents and rules.

    Ministry of Transport: “87% of NZ’s roads have speed limits that do not align with the safe and appropriate speed for the road”.

    AA’s Driving Test Ezy guide: “If you over-emphasise safety by travelling more than 5 kph under the speed limit when unnecessary” – that’s a shocker.

    1. Welcome aboard Heidi! Agree, as someone who did their test in the dying years of the old system I was completely unaware of this.

      When the new system came in a lot more people failed, which was seen as a good thing as it meant our testing was tougher. However, if this is the reason they are failing then it is not working, people should be failing because they can’t handle a car, can’t drive safely or can’t identify hazards.

      1. “People shopuld be failing because they…can’t identify hazards”
        Exactly, not because the test instructor “Can’t identify hazards” which is what appears to be happening.

  9. Yes my daughter had this exact same experience, didn’t fail the test but was reprimanded for going a bit more cautious going along Gavin St when there was a long line of cars, narrow remaining road width and I suspect people about probably all coming or going to a Turners Auction and / or car yard sale there.

  10. There’s a difference between urban roads and open roads/highways/motorways. Urban roads yes this does seem odd to not encourage safer driving.
    However on the open road etc it absolutely is the case that slow driving is a hazard (is ok if you pull over and allow others to pass but this rarely happens). If a driver is unable to drive the speed limit on most open roads competently then they should not have a license.

    1. The 87% of our roads that do not have safe and appropriate speed limits include rural open roads.

      It would be better if the test required slower speeds and a demonstration of safe technique in pulling over to let others pass.

      1. “Heidi NZTA needs to bring back the LSZ [limited speed zone] like they back in the 70’s and before where you had a place anywhere that had had a normal road speed going through it but f was say busy you slowed down for the conditions that may apply . I remember Ngunguru many years ago had a posting of 30 mph but as yu drove along the water front there were LSZ signs posted and most obeyed them then they seemed to disappear

    2. Not sure I buy that slower driving is hazardous on open roads either. There are two arguments I’ve seen commonly purporting this:

      1) Faster traffic may rear end the slower vehicle coming around a corner.

      This is bunk as if can’t stop within your sightline then you’re going too fast.

      2) Other vehicles overtaking creating a hazard.

      There is no right to travel at the speed limit, if a driver is impatient that they’ll risk lives to overtake them the problem is with that individual driver, NOT the person they were passing.

    3. “on the open road etc it absolutely is the case that slow driving is a hazard”

      Sure, 10-20km/h on a road where people frequently go 100km/h is slow, but the most extreme I see with any frequency is 70km/h on straight flat roads or 40-50km/h on really winding roads, both perfectly safe. On most of your roads driving at 100km/h is incredibly dangerous, appropriate speeds are more like 60-80 on most of the network, so those vehicles going slower aren’t the danger!

  11. The issue is if one is doing 10 kms below the limit, for example, all other traffic is entitled to do the limit and there in lies the markedly increased risk of overtaking and everything that goes with it.

    1. This is not supported by research, as I pointed out. Higher speeds present the risk.

      There may be some people who drive recklessly due to slow drivers. These reckless people are the problem. But the US Transportation Board’s findings suggest that they are at least balanced by the generally safer environment the lower speeds bring. This may also be through encouraging and enabling the many others who want to drive more slowly to do so.

      NZTA research even shows that people who THINK they drive more recklessly when speeds are lower (due to a police enforcement campaign or a lower speed area) actually don’t. The decisions they make when they’re feeling frustrated at the lower speeds are indeed safer decisions.

      1. I’m purely basing it on the real world on the roads in Auckland driving in them rather than academic theories. Tailgating is another issue relating to slow moving traffic that increases risk.

        1. There is no requirement to tailgate someone just because they are driving slowly, it is entirely the responsibility of the following driver.

          I don’t see people doing 40 in a 50 zone as a real safety issue. It is unlikely that you will be behind them for long in an urban area as either you or they will soon end up taking a different route or you will end up at a multi-lane road or intersection that will allow you to pass.

      2. Waspman is right though, you have a very, very awkward compromise between avoiding hitting people, and having other drivers doing stupid things around you. Tailgating happens regularly. Once someone overtook me at speed on the slip lane when turning right from Queen Street to K road (*). You also occasionally find yourself at the pointy end of outright aggression. A lot of normal driving manoeuvres (eg. entering a right turn lane) become very awkward when people start swerving around you at any weird moment.

        (*) why did I drive there? Long story, dysfunctional PT network, don’t get me started. These are 2 streets where driving 50 is a really stupid and dangerous idea.

        1. I know for sure in the open road impeding traffic flow has been the direct cause of even level headed people losing the plot and carnage occurring.

          Hence and I guess the emphasis on marooning on or near the limit

          1. I’m not sure anyone who gets frustrated by a slow vehicle and takes on a dangerous overtaking maneuver could be considered level headed.

          2. The open road is quite a different environment than urban. The crazy thing is that we have the same attitude in urban environments, often combined with relatively high speed limits.

            Most passing lanes have a sign 400m before. A useful thing we can teach people is to check your speed at that sign. Then try not to exceed that speed on the passing lane. Speeding up on a passing lane may be legal (and perhaps easy to do accidentally) but still you’re an inconsiderate moron if you do so.

            Conversely, driving a little bit slower on a passing lane is an easy way to lose the impatient behind you.

            At high speeds (say, 80km/h) the loss of time is quite small, you can stay behind for an entire hour and you still lose less than 15 minutes even if you could otherwise go at 100 all that time. Overtaking at that speed… just don’t.

            Finally note that many rural roads are thoroughly unfit for 100 km/h, even though many people like to drive 100 or more.

          3. Also, what many people forget is that if you do overtake on the open road, it is far safer to overtake a car travelling at 70 km/hr than a car travelling at 95 km/hr. The distances and speeds required are far less.

      3. The speed differential is more of a concern on highways and motorways than urban areas. Urban areas can result in frustrated drivers, but the amount of poor choices as a result of this is usually constrained to verbal abuse. Highways, particularly rural, introduce risks around frustrated drivers making poor overtaking choices – this is where significant incidents occur. Personally on rural roads, if I wish to travel at a slower speed I will pull over to let people pass me, but I it is incredibly rare for me to see others show a similar courtesy. I do this not just to be courteous, but to reduce the danger that can occur around and may impact me by a following driver doing something stupid.
        I firmly believe that New Zealanders need to become more tolerant and courteous as drivers, it is a poor reflection on the country that there are so many of us that have such bad attitudes. Unfortunately I have no idea how we could achieve this change of attitude.

    2. You kind of imply that stupid overtaking is the fault of the slow driver, not the overtaker. As long as the slow driver is keeping left, it is always the overtaker’s fault. It is perfectly legal to drive a vehicle at speeds significantly less than the speed limit – such as a push bike.

      1. That comes with caveats, like being aware of traffic behind you and not impeding the flow of traffic. Unless you are a cop, you do not have the right to decide how fast everyone else travels by impeding them.

        1. Agree, everyone has a responsibility to be aware of other road users. I think we could significantly improve our roads with better spots for vehicles to safely pull out of the main traffic flow.

          However, it is not easy to enforce and it is certainly not an excuse for dangerous overtaking maneuvers.

        2. Actually you do have the right to travel at the speed that you deem safe.
          If someone tailgates me or drives dangerously behind me, I slow down. This makes the environment safer. Anything stupid that that driver does will cause less damage if it happens at a lower speed.

          1. So if for example 50 in a 200 is all you feel comfortable with, should you even be on the road in control of a motor vehicle?

          2. That’s OK, Waspman. People make mistakes all the time. That’s something we can design for, and be accommodating of… 🙂

          3. I drive at the speed I think is safe for the conditions (for everyone using the road corridor, not just for the driving god behind the wheel).

            I drive below the limits in congested traffic, suburban streets, bad weather, winding roads, dirt roads, narrow roads. around cyclists, pedestrians, parked cars and intersections…
            …and I drive on the speed limit when the conditions permit.

            But if someone tailgates me, I slow down ……. for safety:
            – A nose-tail accident is then less likely because I can avoid any hard braking in responding to road issues ahead of us.
            – The lower speed reduces the severity of any accident the tailgating driver decides to cause because the energy invokved in an accident is proportional to the square of the speed (ie: the energy at 70km/hr is 1/4 the energy at 100km/hr).
            – If the tailgating vehicle chooses to overtake, the overtake takes less time and road distance – therefor safer for me, for them and for cars coming the other way.

          4. Waspman and Buttwizard probably just assesses themselves as above average drivers and so never have to slow down below the speed limit.

            Of course, 70% of people regard themselves as above average when asked so…

          5. Logan, that is exactly the sort of stupid behaviour that causes accidents. Who are you to decide if someone is driving dangerously behind you? Do you have any qualifications other than the same DL the driver behind has?
            Driving too slow is as dangerous as driving too fast. Its proven fact.

          6. “Who are you to decide if someone is driving dangerously behind you?”
            Logan is the potential victim, he perceives the driver’s behavior as dangerous to himself and slows down to reduce the risk.

            “Do you have any qualifications other than the same DL the driver behind has?”
            Why does this matter? We don’t need different qualifications to have different subjective values on anything else? Lots of people consider swimming at Piha dangerous, I don’t force them to swim because I think it’s safe for me to do so. I let them pick how to remain safe and then work around them. Logan isn’t deliberately impeding the driver behind. He is recognizing that their dangerous driving is a threat to his safety and he is self mitigating appropriately.

            “Driving too slow is as dangerous as driving too fast. Its proven fact.”
            I work in road safety. This is not a proven fact. NZTA don’t accept this, AT don’t accept this, ACC don’t accept this, no territorial authority I have ever worked with has accepted this. If it is proven, then show us the proof and I’ll make sure you get an invite to be the key speaker at upcoming road safety events and probably a nice income from selling your research.

          7. Sue, I recommend you take a defensive driving course. In these courses we are indeed taught to notice, predict and mitigate for other people’s dangerous driving.

            I gave a link to the US Transportation Board’s findings that speed variance – this means lower speed driving amongst higher speed driving – does not contribute to crash involvement. If you’re going to refute it, you need to provide research that furthers the discussion, bringing in subsequent and better evidence.

          8. Driving too slowly is indeed recognised as a road accident issue. That is why many countries impose minimum speed limits and will fine drivers for traveling too slowly.
            The problem is not the speed itself. Clearly kinetic energy is at work and the faster the mass of movement, the bigger the disaster. However you will be dead in a 50km head on just as you will be in a 100km crash.
            The real problem is the distraction of going slowly. People think they are safe and the mind wanders. Also it creates impatience and that results in risky overtaking. Anyone who has travelled north of Auckland in the holiday season will know exactly what I mean.
            There is science behind this, the accident rate in low speed limit countries like NZ is higher than in high speed limit countries like Germany. That can not be dismissed as coincidence.
            Road speeds in NZ are low and perfectly safe. The trouble in NZ is that people all think they are great drivers and they are not. We must be the only country in the world that needs a barrier on a bridge because we cannot stay in a lane indicated by a big green light every 10m.
            I have done a defensive driving course Heidi and I think they should be part of the standard DL test.

          9. Sue – if SH1 north of Puhoi were in Germany it would have an 80kmh speed limit, that is why they have a road toll lower than ours.

            The Harbour Bridge is part of the motorway network, the majority of the worlds motorways have a median barrier, including the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

            Which countries have minimum speed limits on regular roads? I’m only aware of this on motorways and other grade separated roads in other countries. In NZ you can also be fined for not maintaining the flow of traffic on a motorway.

          10. Whilst speed limits on continental European motorways and expressways are higher then here in New Zealand default speed limits on undivided two lane roads are generaĺy lower at 90kph (or even 80kph in France). Rural roads without centre lines marked may have default speed limits as low as 70kph. Also continental European countries are much more aggressive in posting lower then default speed limits. In most of Europe much of our SH1 north of Auckland would be posted at below 100kph. It is a simplistic fallacy to judge motoring speeds just on allowed Autobahn speeds. Speeds are further reduced in European towns by the liberal placement of uncontroĺled pedestrian crossings.

          11. Compare and contrast. From https://www.drivingtests.co.nz/resources/what-is-a-defensive-driving-course/

            The first two topics listed as covered in a defensive driving course are:
            – Understanding human factors in driving
            – Perceiving hazards before they become a problem

            Sue: “Who are you to decide if someone is driving dangerously behind you?”

            I have another suggestion for you, Sue. Research peripheral vision, so that you understand why the debunked theory about keeping more awake at a higher speed hasn’t been borne out by the statistics of crash involvement. Peripheral vision loss means that higher speeds require more attention, but loss of attention actually happens at all speeds. At lower speeds, the outcome is far less severe.

            The overwhelming evidence is that higher speeds lead to far more death and serious injury. At a certain point, arguing for higher speeds becomes callous hatred of our people.

  12. This is such an important topic, and I’ve been very glad Heidi for your reasoned attempts to shift paradigms around driving and safety. I’m even gladder to see you become a GA contributor!

    My eight year old kid has been one of those pedestrians between a car-cluttered residential road and he recently got hit by a driver going the 50k speed limit. He’s physically okay; his bike took the impact and he landed away from traffic, but understandably he’s been traumatized about crossing the road now. On one hand, he’s now convinced about zebra crossings exclusively, on the other hand what in the hell?!

    And there’s no guarantee that drivers stop at the nearest zebra crossing either; he and I have both witnessed drivers zoom past while we stand ready to cross. And there’s so much victim-blaming among the drivers commenting on local social media it’s a bit scary. They just don’t care if their entire identify is associated with such dangerous and inconsiderate attitudes towards the pedestrians that inconvenience them.

    I reported the “near-miss” to AT and got a vague response that they would investigate the safety of the road. Am not holding my breath but at least I hope they add it to their incident database, so that when some knob asks “what’s the evidence it’s unsafe there” they can see that a driver nearly killed kid there. No idea how many kids need to be almost-killed to consider lowering the speed limits or changing the road design. Attitudes around the relative importance of driver convenience really need to change.

    1. Thanks Norma, and I’m so sorry to hear about your son. The loss in confidence is a common story I’m hearing and a fundamental impediment to access.

      I keep thinking about Lance Wiggs’ open letter to Shane Ellison on the need to go into the community daily to find the problems and fix them. We’re not even seeing the problems reported by the public dealt with.

      https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2018/06/15/guest-post-a-letter-to-shane-ellison-ceo-of-auckland-transport/

  13. I failed my first restricted because I was speeding through a residential side road. There were parked cars on the side and the road was curvy. I passed the second time, even though I took about five minutes to turn right onto a busy arterial road, and many cars behind me honked.

    Drivers need to be more aware about what speeds are appropriate for the conditions. On the harbour bridge the speed limit may be 80km/h but if slippery and visibility is low then it’s madness to drive at 80km/h.

    Similarly I see too many people doing 75km/h down the fast lane of SH20 to the airport on a clear fine day – this also creates a risk as people are fed up with that and start undertaking.

    1. The people doing 75 km/hr in the fast lane are breaking the law which requires them to keep left and let others pass. But if they are doing 75 km/hr in the left lane, I have no problem with that (although it is annoying when they try to merge at 60 km/hr).

      1. I think motorways are a little different as they a purpose built high volume, high speed roads, and they all have alternative routes. If you can’t maintain a decent speed on a motorway you should probably be using the alternative routes instead.

    2. I’m pretty sure undertaking is legal over here. On motorways you see it all the time.

      That de facto means you also don’t really keep left. Making undertaking an offence (as it is in Europe) implies you have to give way to slower drivers going back to the left. This is what makes keeping left (well, keeping right in Europe) feasible at all. You either have both “keep left” and “no undertaking”, or you don’t.

      Or maybe everyone is ignoring the road code. You see this noticeable less often on rural expressways. It doesn’t really matter, keeping left in the status quo, forget about it. You can’t.

      (Well, today I saw a car where the front indicators appeared to be hooked up to the same wires as the headlights. Hmmmmm. Don’t look around too much)

  14. Well, well, well.

    One of the most prominent norms in our driver culture over here is Thou Shalt Not Impede Traffic. In any way.

    – You shall not stop for pedestrians. Or, why won’t anyone stop for pedestrians stranded in the middle of the street.

    – You shall not slow down when driving 20 cm from parked cars. I live on an 8.5m street. Observe that cars are just under 2 m wide. You can fit 4 cars in that space: a parked car, a car travelling 45 km/h one way, a car travelling 55 km/h the other way (well, it’s downhill), and another parked car. There are clipped mirrors all the time.

    – If you’re behind a cyclist you have a very awkward problem. You often cannot safely overtake him. But slowing down to — gaaaasp — 15km/h is a mortal sin. So what do you do?

    – The swerving around cars turning left. Oh my god, the swerving. Sometimes I could swear that SUV was going to tip over.

    And so on. This norm has to die out, soon.

    1. It also has horrible design implications.

      The whole “shall not impede other traffic” thinking brought us rural-sized flush medians in urban and residential streets.

      It ensures that supermarkets and retail centres and other places with lots of car parks get extra lanes in advance of driveways lanes so drivers can decelerate out of faster traffic without holding it up (while also widening the street, so walking to or past said site is more problematic, and taking up space for trees and bike lanes, and giving more cues to speed through the wide road etc…).

  15. Personally I would love to see retests every 5 years both theory and skills. Price you know what you’re doing!

    That one can sit their license decades before and never consult a rule book again, which frequently changes, or be assessed for competency is not acceptable.

    1. I think there’s merit to this idea. And I think the test should involve having to cycle, scooter, or be taken in a trishaw around some of our busy urban streets and our rural open roads. That would really open most people’s eyes to the need for safer driving and lower speeds. Plus there should be a direct requirement to demonstrate awareness of vulnerable road users. If there is at present it’s not coming through to the actual test environment.

      There are a number of factors preventing young people from getting licences. One is the requirement to drive faster than they feel safe. I’m putting together a list of people who don’t have licences because of this factor. The list has grown this morning as a response to this post. Some have directly told me that they have given up on a licence because the level of aggression or assertiveness they have to adopt to get a licence isn’t something they’re prepared to do. Most – but not all – are women, so in addition to the skew towards more aggressive drivers getting licences, there’s also a gender bias in transport access.

      Another is the cost. There’s a widely held belief that some of the test providers are failing drivers for revenue reasons. I have no idea if this is true, but I hope it is investigated at some stage. I personally think there’s merit in a formal training process which doesn’t put people forward for testing until they are ready, and I believe the cost of training our drivers should be covered by all drivers.

      These are problems of access to transport, and need to be addressed.

      1. (aside) How about we also train bus drivers by putting heavy shopping bags in their hands and getting them to take bus trips? Would educate them about pulling out before pax with luggage are seated. Most drivers are great and wait for laden passengers, but the few exceptions have nearly sent me and others sprawling.

        1. Bus drivers are generally well aware of that. But they are also penalised (by work pressure, if not necessarily by a specific fixed rule) for not making tight timetables. So they have a strong incentive to “get going”.

          And – another thing I was not aware of – in NZ we pay the PT companies per kilometres delivered. Not per time driven. So again there’s an incentive to go fast.

  16. Having recently spent time in the countryside of Queensland, and Victoria a noticeable difference between rural highways there, and our own was the Australian authorities are much more assertive in posting lower speed limits then the default 100kph then we are. Speed limits on the same road constantly change in accordance with the level of hazard on each section. Also authorities there, use no overtaking road markings much more liberally then here in New Zealand.
    Most of the kilometres of our rural highways are unsuited to travel at 100kph at an acceptable level of safety. Our unacceptable rural road death statistics attest to this. It is irresponsible and irrational to only locally lower a highway speed limit because too many people have already died. Assesment needs to change from reactive to proactive. Every section of road should be routinely assessed against a prescriptive hazard assesment to set appropriate speed limits. It is absurd that that the challenging minor roads either side of SH2 through Maramarua are legal for 100kph whereas only the actual State Highway is posted for a lower speed limit.

    1. It is interesting the different approach taking in Australia on stretches of highway you can easily go from 110 to 90 and back to 100 within a km or so (at least in Queensland), I’d be interested to see if that actually changes behaviour (absent enforcement).

  17. Testing in NZ is not very good or thorough. It does a bad job of testing skill, and thinking processes. Getting people to drive at speed is about the only stress test available. If you can’t show competence driving at 100km/hr on a tight windy country road then you need more practice.
    If you believe there are too many risks or dangers approaching, call them out as you see them and explain why you are positioning the car where you are or changing gear or lane or slowing. This is a requirement for testing in some places overseas.
    If there are no risks, then there is no reason not to be tested driving at the speed limit.
    Driving unjustifiably slower than the speed limit and impeding other drivers leads to frustration and risky behaviour.

  18. Really good post and discussion.
    This needs to be taken to NZTA.
    The training outcomes should be:
    1) Identify correctly a safe speed to drive on any street, with regard to conditions and hazards.
    2) Be able to drive your vehicle safely at speed, on a street that it is safe to do so.
    These should be demonstrated in a test, on a route selected to present a range of safe speeds, and to include some lengths of streets where it is safe to travel at 45-50 km/h in urban conditions, and 95-100 km/h in high-speed road conditions. Although the latter could be difficult in some parts of the country where there may be no safe high-speed roads within reach of the Test centre (my wife passed her test in Scotland, where the only “roundabout” was a turning head built around a large boulder in the middle).

  19. They should go back to the old methods. When my grandfather got his license they asked him if he could drive and he said yes. Then he thought quickly and told them he could drive a truck too so they gave him both.

    1. Yes. And the horrendous traffic deaths at the time affirmed why we don’t do that anymore. We had twice as many people dying on the roads in the 1970s and half the population.

      This prompted the Dutch and other Northern Europeans to completely revise their attitude to speed and road design. It prompted the entire English speaking world to go “yeah but what are you gonna do? Slow the cars so less people die?! *guffaws of laughter*””

  20. The current road code is extremely unsafe for pedestrians.

    For example:
    Cars turning into side streets should give way to crossing pedestrian. (currently it is the other way around.)

    Cars going out out or turning into driveway should be also give way to approaching pedestrians. (currently most driver just speed out from driveway without looking at people.)

    1. You are correct except that your second point is already law. Pedestrians (and bikes on shared paths or bike lanes) already have legal right of way. But many drivers either don’t know or don’t care.

      1. That is what I remembered too.

        However I often find pedestrians will yield anyway if I turn into a driveway. Analogous to the rule on crossings. Additionally many driveways are built like full streets (kerbs, turning radius etc.). It is all very confusing.

  21. Nick R: ‘pedestrians give way to cars’ .
    This is a myth. The road rules say plenty about how motorists interact with motorists. They say plenty about how motorists interact with pedestrians *at marked crossings.* They say nothing about how motorists interact with pedestrians away from marked crossings. There is no general rule of the road that says that a pedestrian must yield to a motorist absent some more detailed rule. Away from a marked crossing a pedestrian is entitled to cross a road at the time and place of their choice just as much as a motorist is entitled to drive along it. (The Australian road rules have a relevant general rule that a pedestrian must not enter a road in a way that ‘creates a traffic hazard’. That would cover not stepping in front of a vehicle without enough braking distance. But I don’t think there’s any counterpart of that in NZ. Happy to stand corrected if anyone can find one )

    1. You are 100% correct. Pedestrians may also loiter on a footpath where a driveway crosses and there is absolutely nothing an entering or exiting driver can do.

    2. As someone who spends about an hour a day walking around Auckland roads and streets, I can say there is very much a general rule that pedestrians must always give way to cars and cars never give way to pedestrians, except at a formalised zerbra or signalised crossing.

      So this might not be a legal rule you can find in a handbook, but it is very much the rule regardless!

  22. The way we test for drivers right now is probably a waste of time. We should either abolish licensing altogether or increase the standards much much higher – like a pilot in a plane. I believe in 2017 not a single person died in a commercial aircraft in the world. Given the billions of kms travelled in a plane and huge number of people flying that is impressive. Unfortunately, we can’t say that about our city let alone the world when it comes to cars. It seems we do the licensing to say that we do something, but looking at the number of deaths and injuries on the road, it seems we are wasting our time.

    1. Commercial Aviation worldwide is intensively regulated with a corresponding intense enforcement regime. An absolute contrast to our previous government’s approach to safety. The indefensible mantras of “industry self regulation” “government priority to allocate resources to educate instead of to enforcement ” “personal responsibility” and “less nanny state” have all resulted in New Zealand of totally indefensible industrial and road safety outcomes. Pike River was a result of this way of government thinking. Air travel is safe only because of internationally agreed and applied focussed “Nanny State” regulation regime with non compromising enforcement.

      1. “internationally agreed and applied focussed “Nanny State” regulation regime with non compromising enforcement” – sound great. How do we get that implemented for driving a car?

        1. No 1. An appropriate driving test regime that focuses on safety alone, and is not distracted by objectives of maintaining the speed of vehicular flow.
          No 2. Having authorities that constantly proactively review allowed operating parameters as a result of sound engineering, and societal studies, and reactively on the basis incident reporting and analysis.
          No 3. Reletively free of political interference, quickly adjust the legal allowed operating parameters, such as speed and alcohol limits, according to any findings above.
          No 4, Internationally standardise regimes to reflect best safe practice.
          No 5, Effective enforcement. Unfortunately ultimately our law is not as it is written, but as it is enforced. The law says clearly that going faster then 50kph in a 50kph zone is an offence, but current enforcement practice allows up to a 10kph (20%) so the defacto speed limit becomes 60kph. Receiving a speed camera offence notice in the post is incredibly effective education for most people and is self funding.

  23. When I did my driving test in the 1990s, it included driving down Parnell Road. My driving instructor was quite clear to keep to 30km/hr as it is a narrow and busy road with people opening their doors or running across the road without looking, so traveling faster would be considered driving unsafely. I followed his teaching and passed. This was back when it was government operated testing stations rather than the AA.

  24. Thank-you for this summing up of information Heidi! How very contrary it all is… My youngest daughter is very nervous about learning to drive and now knowing about how she will be tested it maks me feel very uneasy.

    1. Thanks Ruth. It would be interesting to see how the instructors would respond to a directive from the parents that the student must be allowed to drive slowly at all stages, and taught how to let other cars pass. You could quote the road code. You could also explain that in good educational pedagogy, students are scaffolded if there is any danger while learning. In the case of learning to drive, it is paramount that speed is only gradually increased in line with the student’s ability to respond to any unexpected activity in the line of the car. One measure of them having that ability is that they are comfortable.

      Also, and I probably should have said this earlier: We’ve used a couple of different instructors. Each of them good. The ability of the instructor I described above was quite, exceptionally, good. I didn’t like the speed comment or the ignoring the pedestrian comment, but he had an amazing ability to switch constantly between giving advance, immediate, or restrospective advice. Instructors do a really good job. They just need a better framework to work in.

    1. Hmm. It is one of those articles which manages to be very long without saying anything.

      Conveniently they also don’t mention the speeds of the drivers getting pinged. ‘Holding up’ a queue of 10 or 15 cars? Congratulations, you just described 95% of the traffic on any moderately busy highway.

      And, Rotorua? Lots of tourists there, I wonder if that is coincidence. In many cases the speeds we consider normal here are considered crazy in other countries.

      1. The police weren’t too far out on a limb there: “If you need to drive slow for any reason, let people pass safely and be mindful of who is behind you.”

        “Slow drivers were not a risk in themselves… The risk is around impatient drivers passing when it is not safe to do so… They need to appreciate that it is not worth the risk and the risks they take lead to minimal journey time savings.”

        What’s needed is for the narrative to be turned around, so that people refer to fast drivers as the incompetent drivers. The good thing is that AT has committed to changing the narrative:

        “Develop, with AC, a fresh road safety narrative and approach – built around Safe System and Vision Zero, its human centred and holistic injury reduction approach and its connection with sustainable outcomes, emphasising the aspirations and outcomes AT and AC and its regional partners wish to see in place for Auckland. Deliver this to the Auckland community in concert with the regional partnership.”

        Great, eh? Committed to in full and without question. Except that its timeframe was 2018, and of course it didn’t happen because the board didn’t adopt Vision Zero. Shit out of luck. So more people die… would love to know why the board placed risk to their organisation above risk to our people. Surely there’s risk to their reputation as they preside over all this death?

  25. “The Road Code provides recommendations on safe driving practices, this is general information to help you learn to drive and to ensure you drive with due care and consideration of other road users.”

    ??

    When did the Road Code get downgraded from the manadatory rulebook everyone must follow to merely general information to help you learn to drive?

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