Yesterday we covered the government’s latest policy/delivery changes with a focus on light rail. But there was another important transport part of the announcement: The government will also intends to scale back its road safety plans.

The programmes that are being reprioritised include:

  • Significantly narrowing the speed reduction programme to focus on the most dangerous one per cent of state highways, and ensuring Waka Kotahi are consulting meaningfully with affected communities.

That means speed limits will reduce in the places where there are the highest numbers of deaths and injuries and where local communities support change. We will continue to make targeted reductions in the areas immediately around schools and marae and in small townships that a state highway runs through.

Every year, hundreds of people die needlessly on New Zealand’s roads and thousands more are seriously injured, altering the course of their lives. Concerningly, safety hasn’t been improving in recent years: last year, 378 people died on our roads, which is significantly higher than the all-time low of 253 in 2013.

Road deaths equate to over 7 for every 100,000 people. This is significantly higher than what has been able to be achieved in other countries: for our cousins over in Australia, the rate is less than 5 per 100,000 people and some of the Nordic countries have reduced rates to just over 2 per 100,000 people. If we met even just Australia’s result, that would mean about 140 people not dying in crashes each year. That would be an outcome any politician could be proud of.

Improving road safety has been a cornerstone of transport policy for decades – and for good reason: people deserve to be able to get home safely to their loved ones.

There’s a strong economic reason too, as crashes are estimated to cost the country close to $5 billion every year from things like lost productivity, quality of life, as well as direct medical, legal and vehicle costs.

In 2020, the government adopted the Road to Zero strategy and set a goal of reducing road deaths and serious injuries by 40% by 2030. These are the key ways they planned to do that:

How we plan to achieve the 40% target

Modelling suggests that just over half the target could be achieved through a combination of infrastructure improvements, such as:

  • median barriers and intersection treatments
  • speed limit changes in urban areas and on the highest risk parts of the road network, and
  • increased levels of enforcement, both by safety cameras and police officers.

These changes require substantial investment in road safety over the next decade.

Up to a further 25% could be achieved by lifting the safety performance of the vehicle fleet and mandating ABS for motorcycles.

The remaining 25% could be achieved by a combination of other interventions, such as improvements to driver licensing and increases to penalties for safety offences, as well as broader factors, such increased uptake of public transport and changes in vehicle technology.

Speed limit changes are on the list because they’re one of the fastest and cheapest changes that have been shown to make a difference. They tend to draw a lot of media attention, but when you look at public feedback, there is just as much support as opposition – that in itself is notable, given most people won’t submit in support of a proposal.

By limiting Waka Kotahi to only changing speed on about one per cent of highways – or about 246km – the government is really hamstringing them in being able to achieve the targets they’ve been set. In doing so, over the coming years, hundreds of people will unnecessarily die as a result.

It’s not like Waka Kotahi have been doing a great job of some of the other changes either, with little progress being made on median barriers in most places.

And it’s not just us perplexed at the announcement. This comment is from the AA in an interview on Radio NZ.

At the AA we were always in favour of targeting the speed reductions to the highest risk areas. But in terms of scale of it, this is a big U-turn by the government on what was planned before. Speed reductions was a major part their modelling of the Road to Zero target of a 40% reduction of deaths and serious injuries by 2030. So I guess our question is, if the speed reductions aren’t happening, what are we going to see instead to try and make our roads safer?


We haven’t been moving quickly enough up to this point, the government’s been struggling to deliver on a bunch of its Road to Zero goals. With the change in speed, it just means there’s more need for us to be upgrading and improving roads. We need to get our road policing enforcement levels back up, we need to be looking at the vehicle fleet and getting people into safer vehicles, so it puts more emphasis on doing those things and doing them quickly now with this change in direction on speed.

Likely there’s some political calculus involved, given it’s an election year. But this also seems like another case where the government is making a decision because it’s done a bad job at communicating why these changes are needed. Only this time, it’s a decision that will cost lives.

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  1. I love the cartoon. As another commentator said yesterday, there are now two major parties committed to doing nothing. The only competition seems to be who can do it the slowest.

    1. On the bright side – if Labour are to be re-elected, it will be with 99% certainty relying on Green and/or TPM support. Which means a lot of good policies will go back on the table insh’allah. A lot of people get confused by the “phony war” of electoral posturing.

      1. Not really, without the serious threat of Greens or TPM (and vice versa with ACT) working with National those parties will still only get the scraps from Labour as they have no way of bribing them. Obviously depends on the size of the vote which goes to Greens and TPM. If those can caplitise on the complete lack of vision from Labour then it might look a bit more interesting come election time..i’m afraid its BAU in NZ which leaves us further behind the rest of the world, and behind ourselves.

        1. At the moment, that is true. The Green party are not in government with the exception of two ministerial roles outside of cabinet.

          It is likely after the next election, if Labour are re-elected, then they will need the Greens.

        2. How much leverage does a party that will only ever negotiate with Labour actually have?

        3. ‘How much leverage does a party that will only ever negotiate with Labour actually have?’

          Case in point is Liht Rail, something that has been discussed over and over on this site.

          Greens – for LR
          NZF – against.

          Guess who flirted with both sides of the spectrum and guess who had the pulling power dpesite lower share of the electorate.

        4. How much leverage does ACT have? Answer: quite a lot, as David Seymour is currently eating Luxon’s lunch from the Right, and a NAct cabinet will have to throw a lot of bones to the headbangers in yellow, which bodes badly for beneficiaries, workers and Māori.

          You forget also that Labour have NEVER been in a position where they *had* to deal with the Greens before. They’ve always had centre parties (Peter Dunne, Winston Peters) as an alternative; or an absolute majority.

    2. MMP gives us a simple race to the centre. I think it is a great system that mostly gives us the right result. If the public don’t support a wholesale reduction in speed limits then the last thing we need is a government doing it anyway. We haven’t had a truly activist government since the Bolger/Richardson/Shipley debacle. I don’t miss that style of government.

      Higher speed limits are a small price to pay to avoid the stuff this crop of Nationals would try to unleash.

        1. Not actually the choice anyone gets to make. The Government can either give people what they actually want or clear their desks and let the next lot give the people what they want. If you want lower speed limits then you have to create support for them. Nobody has done that yet.

      1. Well said!
        Labour have the upper hand in any coalition. Would the Greens really rather an ACT/National coalition lead the country for the next 3 years and probably longer? Lets be clear, this is not a centrist National Govt like we had under SJK, it would be much more further right in policies – more akin to the current UK Torries.
        In any case, the speed limit is not the problem in NZ, it is the bad driving attitudes of most Kiwis.

        1. “In any case, the speed limit is not the problem in NZ, it is the bad driving attitudes of most Kiwis.”

          This is exactly the “we don’t need to do anything (about this)” claim that does not stand up to any science that needs to be combatted. Human beings will always make mistakes. Some will be tired, some will be drunk, some (much fewer than you think) will drive intentionally badly.

          Nobody ever managed to change HUMAN NATURE.

          Kiwis (at least a lot of them, I know I am broadly simplifying) are culturally similar to Europeans in their regards to social mores, laws etc. Yet our road safety stats are MASSIVELY worse than, say, England.

          It’s not Kiwi driving skills, attitudes etc. It is the fact that our whole system is at every turn not prioritising safety enough. And changes to our speeds are one of the fastest, cheapest ways of dealing with this.

          Instead we keep having 100kph by default on so many roads (not just state highways) that in Europe would barely be considered safe for 60-70kph.

          We claim that Kiwis are different. Guess what: When the car hits the car, or car hits the tree, we are just humans. We die at speed.

        2. Max has hit the nail on the head – people are focusing on what the “causes” of crashes are (and how to combat them) while forgetting that speed affects the CONSEQUENCES of virtually every crash (not to mention also contributing the likelihood of many of them happening in the first place). This belief that we just need to “fix the drivers and fix the roads” really ignores the reality of what you can reasonably do quickly with a limited transport budget, limited enforcement/education budget, and the inherent limitations of humans.

      2. Quite a few things that are considered success stories were introduced against the wishes of the public, for example many pedestrianised street in existence. For some things you really need to show, not tell. It is inherently impossible to get public support for this sort of stuff. How would you even begin to explain how a pedestrianised street works to someone who has never seen one?

        There also are those things where only a part of the public is opposed. Are there really that many people who oppose speed limit reductions on your average NZ backwater rural road?

        And also enjoy democracy while it lasts. It is increasingly leaving young people behind. It reminds me of the Catholic Church in Belgium in the 1990’s, which is now in the process of, let’s charitably call it, selling off stranded assets.

        I don’t know if anyone is researching this in NZ but don’t be surprised if the next generation just doesn’t think democracy is a valuable thing anymore.

        1. Democracy isn’t worth much when Governments get elected then ignore what people want. We had those governments in the 1980s.
          Labour is lucky to have Hipkins who is a centrist. He will keep on taking out the trash until they have policies that are electable. The very best thing he could do now is copy Helen Clark by knocking the Greens in order to get more votes from the centre. The Greens are never going to support National so he can take them for granted and fight for the ground that actually wins elections.

        2. “Democracy isn’t worth much when Governments get elected then ignore what people want. ”

          Of if they talk several years, letting the opposition and anger build up, and then they don’t even act anyway.

          Any disruptive / controversial policy should be done early in a election term. By the end, half of the opponents will either not care anymore, or be convinced it was good.

          Instead Labour seems to constantly fall into the trap of setting up new study groups, or letting their bureaucracies prepare a few years for something… and then does nothing. CGT. Auckland Harbour Bridge. Light Rail.

          They are simply bad at delivering. National has no such compunctions I think. If you believe National will win, you better buy some stocks in motorway building companies (oh, and since Labour has a lot of motorway fans too, that investment is even nicely hedged – we will be building new motorways and state highways right until they flood, then we will rebuild them a few meters higher until they flood again, ad absurdum).

        3. Max why say that, driver training in the Nordic countries is a lot more difficult, a lot longer and a lot more expensive than driver training in NZ. Driving conditions for half the year are a lot worse than they are in NZ. For a developed country our driving standards awful, we drive a lot more like Eastern Europeans/Russians than Scandinavians.

        4. @miffy “knocking the Greens in order to get more votes from the centre.”

          If only climate action was not a concern of voters these days..

  2. There has obviously been a change of heart within the AA,the old guard were defending 100 k,with motorists lives. Just when the tide seemed to be turning on this,the Govt has quite literally sacrificed more motorists lives on this.
    It seems political expediency is more important, than lives saved,a business that adopted this approach would be castigated.l wonder whether this decision can be challenged in the courts?

    1. “l wonder whether this decision can be challenged in the courts?”

      Both Auckland Transport and Waka Kotahi have within the last 12 month been challenged in the courts about their lack of action on climate change, despite that being clearly IN the policies up to the highest transport levels, and despite it having even more human life impact than this decision. In both cases the courts ruled that *legally*, those policies are just about worth to line a cat litter tray.

      In this case, it is the govt themselves reversing policy. And while this contradicts their adopted road safety policy, so what. Cat litter tray material. I’m not a lawyer, but based on those recent case I think there’s no chance in heck that a court case would have any use.

      Best possible scenario for road safety at this point is that a Labour Greens govt reverses these cuts with some guff next year about “our finances are looking better again, it was just a temporary pause”.

      Second-“best” scenario is that a National govt is shamed by escalating road safety deaths into doing something more (though they will probably go for the “make roads safer WITHOUT reducing speeds” approach, which is literally (not hyperbolic) 10x times the cost.

  3. Disappointing decision from the government. Speed reviews are a much needed tool which will make a difference in reducing the road toll and the enormous social costs that surmount from serious crashes.
    I don’t believe this has anything to do with the Cost of Living. They have bowed down to populism in election year in order to retain as many of their 2020 voters as possible.

    However, the opposition (National and ACT) are still not worth considering, as they have vehemently opposed speed limit reductions, claiming they are “blanket” when in fact they are not, they are targeted.

    1. Hilariously, if the limit changes were more “targeted” they’d be timed, very short sections of highway, adaptive etc. Then they’d be “too confusing” and “revenue generating”.

  4. I’m finding it difficult to understand the “and where local communities support change”.

    Terrible, consultation always shows support and criticism, no matter what the consultation is.
    State highway speed limits aren’t something that should require or need consultation to change.

    1. Insane really, most of these things should be science based. Why is it all so political

      What do other countries do for consultation?

        1. The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 has some words to say regarding safety in design. A few “political” prosecutions regarding unsafe setting of speed limits by PCBUs (and politicians, given the influence which they wield, may reasonable fall into the definition of a PCBU) would focus the minds of other politicians. Pour encouragé les autres.

        2. The moment the Health and Safety at Work Act starts to be used as a defacto constitution will be the start of a movement to get rid of that Act. It was passed because a greedy dangerous company sent men into a gaseous mine. It wasn’t passed to be used as a framework for setting speed limits. Laws exist because people generally accept them. People don’t accept rules just because they were codified into a law.

    2. I agree. In fact, I would advocate for a complete removal of all consultation on individual speed limits. I would like to see consultation by each Road Controlling Authority only on the high-level concepts and criteria they intend to use in assessing speed limits but then just get on with it.
      Setting speed limits should be a hard science not a social science. Expert road safety engineers can’t be taught anything and the physics of safe and appropriate speed limits by self-serving locals who just want to go faster on their roads.

      1. Agree. The NZTA (Waka Kotahi) and relevant authorities (such as Auckland Transport) only receive funding for their directives from the government or respective councils. They are the ones making the decisions in the end because they employ personnel with the expertise to carry out proper risk assessments and administrative changes for risk reduction. Politicians generally do not have that expertise.

      2. Translex, that’s precisely what the new Setting Speed Limits Rule enables – local/regional councils now consult on a district-wide Speed Management Plan every three years and then just get on and implement the new limits. Already happening with many Councils and, despite what diktat the Govt might be imposing on the 10% of the country’s network that are state highways, local Councils will just continue to get on and change the speed limits on their local roads and streets…

    3. “and where local communities support change”.

      It’s code for “If you complain you can stop this. We don’t have a spine”.

  5. Labour are clearly banking on just copying National in terms of limited policy and just hoping people prefer Hipkins to Luxon.

    Visionary stuff out here in 2023! The Future is now!

  6. Labour is responding to what the ‘average voter’ wants. Our representatives reflect the electorate. That’s democracy.

    The ‘road toll’ doesn’t cause much angst these days. We regard the deaths of hundreds of people every year as merely incidental.

    However the thousands who die every year from air pollution are ignored altogether. We are poisoning ourselves and those around us and we don’t even care.

    1. If you are concerned about NOx, then you need to campaign for the removal of speed tables and all other traffic calming measures.
      Also the comparison to other countries is manipulated data. The population density of Australia helps keep the road kill lower.

      1. Build hundreds of low traffic neighbourhoods to eliminate rat-running, delivering targeted emissions reductions where they count. Not all public space should be a free-flowing motor sewer.

  7. I believe he’s talking about the ‘Interim State Highway Speed Management Plan’, which – coincidently – will have an updated shared ‘in early 2023’ after consultation last year.

    The draft PDF says “This ISMP focuses on high-risk locations as well as those where we have a higher level of public support” – so no change there.

    The 1% would only cover work that will be delivered in 2023-2024. There’ll be a new plan for future years, which you would assume sits outside the 1% number – because it won’t matter until after the election – the “2024-27 State Highway Speed Management Plan”.

    No km distances are shown throughout, but I’ll eat my hat if what much of what they consulted on – and now plan to deliver – also equals around 1% of the network. Just eyeballing the maps in the PDF, I don’t think you’d have to jettison much to equal 250-500km (~1% according to this post).

    What I hope has happened here, is Labour have remembered how to do politics good – largely, if not completely, delivering on what Waka Kotahi had already planned to achieve, but spun in a way that makes it less threatening.

    1. Comment of the day Isaac! Yes, this is what it looks like to me too. But why was the ISMP so wimpy in the first place? Did government tell them to do it like that, or were WK deliberating low-balling it? And what were the hundreds of pages of discussion of “safe and appropriate speeds” all about then?

  8. Simeon brown “We need to have a roading network which allows us to get around, helps us decongest our cities, and also, buses run on roads so we need to have a roading system that can work.”

    1. Simeon Brown (holding mirror up so you can see your own face):
      “Extremely vague statement that you can see your own very specific opinion in, stated confidently.”

    2. Buses need dedicated bus lanes. The buses from Te Atatu Road need to queue in the T2/T3 on ramp to access SH16 heading into the city in peak traffic. The T2/T3 restrictions are ignored and the lane is clogged by single occupant vehicles. I imagine this scenario occurs all over. Last year the police would occasionally turn up and give warnings but then everyone goes back to ME FIRST mentality, sigh.

      1. Yes I rode in from Tat this morning, one bus was trying to leave the Peninsula city bound. I rode the whole length of the causeway at my slow pace. NW was chocker with cars and I only saw one bus pass in that time ( around 15 mins) If buses cannot get onto the bus lanes do bus lanes really exist?

        1. Yes, welcome to March madness. Stories of several isthmus buses going past full before you can get picked up too.

  9. Christopher Luxon has COVID and so the entire opposition appear to be in isolation, not commenting on this policy statement. what the government is able to do approaching an election is largely dependent on voter response to policies – the government cannot do what the opposition would undo if elected. “War (on road deaths) is too important to be left to the politicians”.

    1. “the government cannot do what the opposition would undo if elected”

      This govt isn’t even trying to make a case for what it proposed in the past. And in any culling, you not only show what you worry what the voters don’t like, you also show what you yourself are lukewarm on.

  10. My personal “utopia” is that where there are no private vehicles, where trams, trains, electric buses, electric bikes, non electric bikes and walking are the only necessary means of transport. Like a city in Europe, or a city in Asia, or a coastal city of the Americas. Auckland has two coasts, coast to coast is literally a smelly walk via some nice parks. But our natural advantage lets us be worse citizens than most, as it simply rains or blows when the city gets to too dirty. But we should be respecting our privilege, it should not be a political issue; we are on an extinction timeline and it would be so easy to save us all with polite conversation.

  11. What good commonsense stuff,particularly on speed limits,it’s not speed that is the problem,it is & always will be idiot drivers,sub standard roads & Police focused on Revenue gathering rather than sorting out the idiots

    1. It’s not always idiotic driving causing crashes. It’s the simple fact that even competent drivers are not immune from human error. The consequence is determined by a number of things, traveling speed (and resulting deceleration) plays a huge part in how severe a crash is.

    2. In my experience, a venn diagram of the people angriest about the speed limit changes, and the idiots on the road, is nearly a circle.

    3. this is an interesting take when evidence from overseas, where these speed limit reductions have been implemented, shows that it actually works.

    4. Wow, basically a bingo card of every crap reckon about how to “fix” road safety – maybe listen the road safety experts instead…
      * Most crashes are not caused by “idiot drivers”, they involve ordinary NZ drivers like you and I who happen to make a human mistake and don’t get away with it for once. That will always happen because no-one is a perfect driver. At that point, the relative speed of the vehicles involved becomes rather important…
      * We have nearly 100,000km of roads in NZ – only about 5% of them even have traffic volumes more than 5000 vehs a day. So we won’t be finding the money to afford (or justify) fixing all the “substandard roads” any time soon – lower speeds are a cost-effective way to reduce the harm on the lower-volume roads now.
      * Speeding ticket fines go to the Govt general funds – the Police don’t see the money so they’re not at all focused on “revenue gathering”. They’d simply rather not be spending time scraping people off the road because they thought they could go a bit faster.
      * Regardless of who or what is at fault when it comes to crash causation, speed affects the consequences of virtually every crash, which is the whole aim of reducing deaths and serious injuries. I don’t want you to die just because you (or the other driver) made a silly mistake while driving…

  12. From 1987 to 2013, deaths declined consistently from 795 to 253. Since then it has risen to 378, with a notable pause during covid.
    Also since 2013, the number of licensed vehicles has increased from 3.5M to 4.5M, and number of light vehicles per 1000 people has increased from 730 to 830, implying busier roads.
    I’d put the previous decrease in road toll largely down to improvements in vehicle crashworthiness, and the recent increase to the larger number of cars driving on largely the same roads.
    Reducing the number of vehicles on the road should be a safety goal for the government (as well as for carbon). I think substantially increasing the guzzler taxes for new and used vehicle imports would be the best way to do this.

    1. Reducing the amount of traffic on the road (the “exposure” part of the crash prediction equation) is definitely one way to reduce road casualties. You’ll find that between 1987 and 2013, the reduction in deaths/injuries could also be attributed to a lot of other safety measures, including blackspot treatments, graduated driver licensing, introduction of speed cameras, random breath testing, and so on. Ironically, most of these measures were introduced after the peak deaths of 1987, 2 years after the open road speed limit had been raised back to 100kmh – and yet, lower speed limits is the one measure that has barely been used since then…

  13. Road to zero is dead or seriously injured

    When the PM decides speed limits, we no longer need roading authorities.

    That should free up a lot of WK funding. Most of it.

  14. ” If we met even just Australia’s result, that would mean about 140 people not dying in crashes each year. ‘

    No it wont . Australia is affected by its very large metropolises (2 @ 5 mill ,3.4 mill) and state capitals around Auckland size (Adelaide, Perth) …..not sure why they are so dated

    so its 54 for 2018 in Auckland region, our only’ very large metropolis’. Australia has 16 mill plus people in cities just like or much larger than us. ( Melbourne is much better and Brisbane not so good for road deaths per capita)

    Doing a rough deaths per capita would give around 180 NZ wide

    Problem solved ? Of course it isnt but neither is using ‘cultural cringe ‘ type of stats from other countries that suggest we can replicate them with some magical thinking

  15. Thank god her supporters on this forum arent in charge or power. Otherwise we might as well leave our cars and get on horseback to travel to places. Pointless speed reductions have no place in this country to slow people down.

    1. What’s the rush to get everywhere Rob? Might as well have no speed limit then – 100km/h is arbitrary anyway.

    2. My commute moves at an average speed of 25kph, whether I’m on my bike or in my car. My kingdom for a horse!

    1. Flying is by far the safest mode per capita and per km.

      Convert all those arterials to runways and aprons.

      We won’t sell the airport, we’ll *become* the airport

  16. I think your maths is slightly out Matt – there are only about 11,000km of state highways in NZ, so 1% will only result in 110km of lower speed limits – you’d barely notice that. But I’m not sure they’ve thought through this anyway; I suspect that the “1% most dangerous highways” actually have enough traffic on them to warrant doing decent infrastructure improvements like safety barriers and intersection upgrades instead of lower speed limits. It’s actually the low-volume highways where reduced speeds are going to be the most cost-effective option there.
    Still, pragmatically I’d like to think that this is an exercise where the perception of change will shut up the naysayers this year and then (assuming Labour/Green can win this year’s election) they can get back to rolling out the speed limit changes that actually need to happen from next year. And meanwhile many Councils will just continue to carry on and reduce their local street speed limits like they’re already doing…

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