Speed Limits for Urban Areas

Speed Limits for Urban Areas

Policy Status: 
Provisional Policy
Policy Statement: 

Urban streets should have lower speed limits and operating speeds than currently with more use made of 30 km/h and 40 km/h speed limits.

Policy Priority: 
A - High

Motor vehicle speed is a leading cause of traffic crashes and fatalities in New Zealand.  In 2008, 61 percent of drivers exceeded the urban speed limit and 85 percent of drivers are travelling 57 km/h, which is 14% over the 50 km/h limit (Ministry of Transport 2009 (1)).  In the same year, there were 830 crashes (around 16 a week) in which a driver was travelling in or around town at excessive speed for the conditions and in which someone was injured or killed (ibid). In 2008, speed contributed to 34 percent of New Zealand’s fatal crashes and 20 percent of serious injury crashes (Ministry of Transport 2010 (2)).  After two years, anti-speed campaigns have resulted in reductions of 14% to 26% in speed related crashes (Graham 1998).  So reducing speeds saves lives and road trauma.

In the national road safety strategy Road Safety to 2010, Land Transport NZ reported that New Zealand ranks relatively poorly for road safety compared with other developed countries, with 2.3 road deaths per 10,000 cars in 2001, slightly better than France with 2.9.  Road death rates for other European countries including the UK, Norway and Sweden are about half that of New Zealand.  New Zealand had 11.8 deaths per 100,000 population compared with 8.9 in Australia and 6.0 in the United Kingdom (LTSA 2003(1)).

The same document notes that in a collision with a car, pedestrian and cyclist fatalities increase rapidly as vehicle speeds increase, such that "death is virtually certain" if the impact occurs at or above 60 km/h as illustrated in Figure 1.  Conversely, if pedestrians or cyclists are hit by motor vehicles travelling at 30 km/h or less, the probability of death is less than 10%. 

Figure 1: Impact severity (probability of death) versus speed


The Safer Journeys strategy (Ministry of Transport 2010 (2)) states that:

"Pedestrians currently account for 10 percent of all road deaths and cyclists 3 percent.  However, in urban areas, pedestrians and cyclists account for 30 percent of all road deaths. The majority of crashes involving a cyclist or pedestrian and a motor vehicle occur on urban roads, particularly busy urban arterials where vehicle speeds tend to be higher.  The evidence shows that the most obvious way to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, especially in urban areas, is to reduce vehicle speeds. The faster a driver is going the harder it is for them to avoid hitting someone in their path. The speed at which a cyclist or pedestrian is hit determines how seriously they will be injured."

In New Zealand in 2006, 10% of fatal and serious crash casualties were pedestrians and 5% were cyclists (Land Transport NZ 2007(1)).  While 15% of fatal and serious crash casualties in New Zealand in 2006 were pedestrians and cyclists, this figure rises to 27% for Auckland City, 51% for Wellington City and 32% for Christchurch City (Land Transport NZ 2007(2, 3 and 4)).  Cyclist and pedestrian crashes are relatively high in the cities where most walking and cycling occurs.  

In comparison, Netherlands is the safest place to cycle streets in the world. Their philosophy is "Cyclists are not dangerous; cars and car drivers are: so car drivers should take the responsibility for avoiding collisions with cyclists. This implies that car drivers are almost always liable when a collision with a bicycle occurs and should adapt their speed when bicycles share the roads with cyclists".

NZTA Research Report 389 looked at cycle safety measures and found that the study fitted the five-step hierarchy of measures that the UK Institution of Highways and Transportation has proposed for cycle improvements:

  1. Reducing motor vehicle traffic volumes
  2. Reducing motor vehicle traffic speeds
  3. Installing intersection treatments and traffic management
  4. Reallocating road or corridor space (e.g. through on-road cycle lanes)
  5. Separating cycle facilities (e.g. through off-road cycle tracks).

Lowering operating speeds and speed limits on most urban streets will improve safety for all road users (not just cyclists) and encourage more people to cycle.  Reducing motor vehicle speeds will have two benefits for pedestrians and cyclists.  People struck by motor vehicles at lower speeds will be less likely to be killed or seriously injured, and also the chances of them being struck will be reduced as motorists have more chance to avoid hitting them, when travelling at lower speeds.

Engineering solutions, education and law enforcement should be used to reduce motor vehicle speeds especially around schools, dense residential areas, home zones and in town centres.

All councils have "road classification systems" whereby main roads are classified as arterial roads, less important roads with some traffic-carrying functions (including bus routes) are called collectors (or similar) and the vast majority of roads are classified as "local" roads.  On these roads, traffic movement is subservient to the road's role of providing access.  On local streets in urban areas, walking, cycling and other neighbourhood uses of the street should be facilitated.  Streets take up too much space to be devoted entirely to motor vehicles.

In its guideline for the setting of speed limits, Land Transport NZ observes "the objective of speed limits is to balance the interests of mobility and safety" (LTSA 2003(2)).  The rule requires that the limit should be "safe, appropriate and credible for the level of roadside development and the category of road".  This rule, nevertheless, makes it hard for councils to reduce speed limits in urban areas below 50 km/h.

The British equivalent system for the setting of speed limits supports implementation of 20 mph (32 km/h) urban speeds (UK DfT):

"Urban roads by their nature are complex, in needing to provide for safe travel on foot, bicycle and by motorised traffic.  Lower speeds benefit all urban road users and reducing inappropriate speeds is therefore an important factor in improving urban safety.  Also, it is on urban roads that the majority of casualties occur, including over 90% of pedestrian and pedal cyclists casualties.

20 mph zones are predominantly used in urban areas - both town centres and residential areas - and in the vicinity of schools.  It is generally recommended that they be imposed over an area consisting of several roads.  The purpose of this type of area wide traffic management is to create conditions in which drivers naturally drive at around 20 mph because of the general nature of the location, or as a result of traffic calming measures being put in place."

CAN believes that:

  • The default urban local road speed limit of 50 km/h is generally too high.
  • Lower speed limits of 30 km/h in town centres and 30-40 km/h in local streets would save lives and encourage walking and cycling.
  • Complementary traffic calming engineering measures should be introduced to reduce motor vehicle speeds where necessary.
  • Road user education should be implemented with a "share the road" emphasis.


Internet references last accessed on 8 July 2010.

  1. Ministry of Transport 2009.  Report on Road Safety Progress Since 2000http://www.transport.govt.nz/saferjourneys/roadsafetyprogresssince2000/
  2. Ministry of Transport 2010.  Safer Journeys: New Zealand's Road Safety Strategy 2010-2020.  http://www.transport.govt.nz/saferjourneys/
  3. P. Graham. Research in Road Safety Advertising: The Speed Campaign Road Safety Research Policing Education Conference Proceedings (November 1998).
  4. LTSA 2003(1). Road Safety to 2010, New Zealand Road Safety Strategy, Land Transport Safety Authority (now NZ Transport Agency), Wellington, NZ. http://www.transport.govt.nz/ourwork/land/landsafety/roadsafetyto2010strategy/
  5. NZTA 2010(1). Road Death Statistics. http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/road-deaths/toll.html
  6. Land Transport NZ 2007(2). Road Safety Issues - Auckland City, Land Transport NZ, Wellington, NZ. http://www.landtransport.govt.nz/performance/2007/docs/safety-auckland-city.pdf
  7. Land Transport NZ 2007(3). Road Safety Issues - Wellington City, Land Transport NZ, Wellington, NZ. http://www.landtransport.govt.nz/performance/2007/docs/safety-wellington-city.pdf
  8. Land Transport NZ 2007-4. Road Safety Issues - Christchurch City, Land Transport NZ, Wellington, NZ. http://www.landtransport.govt.nz/performance/2007/docs/safety-christchurch-city.pdf
  9. LTSA 2003(2). Land Transport Rule, Setting of speed limits, Land Transport Safety Authority (now NZ Transport Agency), Wellington, NZ. http://www.landtransport.govt.nz/roads/speed-limits/docs/slnz-final-march03.pdf
  10. UK DOT. Update of Circular Roads 1/93, Setting Local Speed Limits, UK Department for Transport 2006. http://www.dft.gov.uk/consultations/archive/2005/cirssl/updateofcircularroads193sett1175?page=7#a1017
  11. "Dutch have safest cycling streets", 2009, http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/04/dutch-have-safest-cycling-streets.php
  12. ACC/LTSA 2000 "Down with speed" http://www.can.org.nz/library/down-with-speed-0
  13. Research Report 389, "Rising to the cycle safety challenge", 2010 Dr. Shane Turner, BECA Infrastructure, NZTA Research Issue 08, June 2010, www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/research/reports/389

CAN's Vision:

Cycling is used as a means of transport by most people for some trips each month.

CAN's Objectives:

  • 80% of people cycle for some trips each month by 2020
  • 20% of all trips are by cycle by 2020
  • 90% of those who cycle are satisfied with their cycling experience by 2020
  • Rates of fatality and injury for cycling are below that for cars (currently 5 per 100 million km) by 2020
  • Cycling is perceived as positive by 90% of the general population by 2020





Groups audience: 
Image icon Figure 1.jpg61.06 KB
Image icon Table 1.jpg32.87 KB


This is the latest version of Speed Limits for Urban Areas policy and was sent to Andrew and Sridhar on 13th July for any final comments. There were some changes to the internet links after that was sent, so it is current up to 23rd July.

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Absolutely! This change will have a huge impact on the biking community!

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I always seem to benefit from these type of threads. building pest inspection

finally got round to have a look at this. We have covered almost everything. I have some new materials that we can add as follows:

"The Dutch philosophy is: Cyclists are not dangerous; cars and car drivers are: so car drivers should take the responsibility for avoiding collisions with cyclists. This implies that car drivers are almost always liable when a collision with a bicycle occurs and should adapt their speed when bicycles share the roads with cyclists."

We should also add the graph this report has given to highlight how reduced urban speed limits can reduce number of cyclists killed.


Otherwise, I think it is ready to more on to the next stage.


Hi Sridhar

Thank you for that, we seem to finally get onto policy matters -

I support Sridhar's addition. And that the policy is ready for next stage.

Do you know of any online community or forum where they discuss about this extensively? basement waterproofing bergen county

Not too many people would actually think about this the way you just did. kitchen remodeling buffalo ny

I totally agree with you that this act is for the benefit of all cyclists. It will make our roads safer for everyone.

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Hi Graeme

I've added your table jpg into a table in the article. I've left the jpg there - delete the one you don't want.


Thanks Anne - had some fun getting the formating right after deleting the jpg, sort of looks OK now.

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I'm reluctant to put this comment forward, as I have come very much late in the piece, and so the people that have worked so hard at this policy may prefer to file these comments rather than consider changing anything...So if you've had this discussion already - apologies ...

I'm raising a question about the first bullet point re: "CAN believes:  The default urban speed limit of 50 km/h is generally too high and that speed limits should be 30 km/h for town centres and most urban local streets."

When I think of many urban places in Wellington central and some in greater Wellington I agree wholeheartedly with this and would love to see this change and I would cycle in these places more if it was lowered.  But having spent quite a bit of time lately in provincial NZ, I can think of loads of egs where 30km/h simply wouldn't match the environment.  To me what determines whether a speed should be 50 vs 30 is to do with degree of there being multiple hazards. So where there are schools, intersections, services, dense commercial or retail areas etc, 30 km/h is common sense and would certainly protect cyclists & peds.  But thinking of streets where its a straight road with little traffic, no intersections and few hazards, of which there are quite a few out of the big cities then I can't see how this would match the environment.  I think the result would be non-compliance, and frustration from motorists (I would be one).  Problem is, if its about 'multiple hazards' would it be too complex to govern/work out?  Or has 'level of development' (guiding principle so far) been complex enough anyway (and not all that effective in places) so maybe it could work if 'hazards' was seen to be broad enough? 

I'm raising this because it doesn't feel entirely realistic given some 50 km/h road environments in parts of the country and not sure how realistic it is in terms of being practical in a comprehensive way and whether it would get widespread public support.In saying that though, it could be that advocating for blanket reduction in 50 k areas is the best position to take to get change.


Hi. I'm a new member of CAN with an interest in policy. I am beginning to bring myself up to speed on the various discussion groups. My apologies for perhaps re-litigating matters.

It is a given that faster speeds cause greater human damage/loss of life. However, a policy that seeks to restrict urban speed limits to 30kph is perhaps more aspirational than  realistic. I accept that in city centres and more dense urban areas that a 30kph limit maybe justified. I'm not so convinced that in suburban areas that 30kph is necessary. I do much of my cycling out of peak hours in Wellington and the suburban  traffic volumes don't warrant a reduction to 30kph. Indeed I believe such a rule would be flouted.  

I believe there is merit in considering what I shall term "activity related speed restrictions". The most obvious is that found near many schools where a speed restriction is imposed when pupils are coming and going from school.This could also be considered on main arterial routes used by cyclists and pedestrains during peak hours. 

In terms of cyclist safety of greater importance is separating cyclists and motorists more effectively. The restriction of parking during peak times and converting parking spaces to cycleways would go a long way to reduce accidents. I understand Wellington plans to introduce this shortly on Thorndon Quay.

Finally driver and cyclist education is a fundamental necessity. (I would place this ahead of speed) The NZTA is currently reviewing driver training.The opportunity exists to get a greater emphasis placed on the driver's competence in identifying and avoiding risks.  

Hi, I'm a newbie so please forgive me if I transgress in any way.

I have been encouraged to contribute to this policy debate.   I do so as an urban cycle commuter. 

I agree with the policy direction of lowering speed limits in urban areas.  The rationale and evidence supporting this objective appear to be sound.  Lower speed produces fewer, and less significant, injuries in collisions.  And injury reduction leads to safer cycling which may encourage more cycling.  However, the degree of speed reduction is a problem, in my view. 

I agree with the commentator who argued that aiming for a reduction to 30kph is idealistic rather than realistic.  That's asking for a reduction of 20kph and I don't think the general public would wear it.  I think a more realistic goal is to aim for a general reduction to 40kph on urban streets, with 50kph on arterial roads.  There is no reason, in my view, why speed cannot be lowered to 30kph or 20kph around schools and other 'special case' areas, whilst urban streets generally are at 40kph. 

I see a problem with having different speeds on different streets, unless the differences are very, very clear.  The problem is that it's confusing for drivers to know what the speed limit is on any particular street.  So, it seems to me that a clear demarkation of arterial road, urban streets, and special speed areas (ie below 40kph) will be needed and perhaps this should be part of the policy.  

As a general comment, I think that lowering speed limits  is only part of a solution for safer cycling.  More courteous driving would make a huge difference.  When I've cycled and walked in cities in the USA, UK and Europe, I've felt a lot safer than I do here in NZ.  Perhaps that's due to differences in legislation, in policing, or just in social norms, but whatever it is, drivers don't take the liberties with cyclists that drivers here do.  I'd like to see more severe and unavoidable penalties here in NZ for drivers involved in collisions with cyclists and pedestrians.  That might make people stick to road rules and speed limits, too.



Hi all

Thanks for your comments, I've edited the policy to include these points.  Remember that this policy is on speed, which is a previously agreed focus area.  ideas like greater physical separation are fantastic, but will take longer and cost more to implement.  Speed reductions, enforcement and complementary traffic calming engineering measures are quicker to implement.  Remember the IHT 5 step hierarchy - 1. reduce volumes 2. reduce speeds 3. intersections 4. reallocate road space 5. separate cycle facilties (in order of effectiveness). 

After some more discussion, I'll edit the policy again and update all the references.  Personally, I find trying to write a policy online very cumbersome - using EndNote cite while you write and formatting options in Word are SO much easier and neater.  That's a whole other discussion, though

In the changes made this week:

  • Paragraph 1 has been reformatted so all the sentences line through correctly.  Some of the english in this paragraph still needs examining to make it read properly.
  • The embedded comment [Comment - such information is misleading as it is not exposure-based, meaning taking into account the amount of walking and cycling occurring in those places.  Suggest deleting in favour of simpler quote above] that was just above Table 1 has been headed.  So Table 1 plus the two embedded comments above it have been deleted plus the reference to Table 1 in a sentence that came after the sentence that starts "Cyclist and pedestrian crashes are relatively high....."
  • The paragraph discussing the Netherlands philosophy has been relocated under the paragraph discussing NZ cycling crash statistics as I feel it fits better there and contributes to the flow of the document.
  • Have put NZTA in front of the the words Research Report 389.
  • Reformatted the 5 step list of improvement hierarchy.
  • Inserted the words "local road" into the first bullet point of what CAN believes.
  • Deleted the embedded comment [To be updated after confirmation of above changes] as that is now in progress with the embedded comment [still to be completed - only checked to Ref . 5] added to the line stating when the Internet references last checked.
  • Deleted the out of date hyperlink for Ref. 3 as that is no longer available and an alternative internet source could not be located.
  • Reference 4 and 5 hyperlinks were updated to point to correct locations.
For when to comment and when to amend, see the guidelines at: http://can.org.nz/can-policies

For a policy that is Provisional and available to the public, embedded comments are generally not appropriate and should be avoided as it raises questions as why is it a Provisional Policy and how come it got that far etc.  

Which is now why I have deleted my embedded comment about the Internet references.


If we want this done within 50 years maybe we should try changing tact slightly.

Why not ask for a 10km decrease in all "local" streets at the same time as agreeing there should be a 10km increase on "motorway" style roads that have a constant 2.5m+ dedicated cycleway in both directions? 

Also a 30kmh zone within 500m? of all school buildings which educate anyone under the age of 10 would be a hard policy for anyone who wanted to have a political future to argue with.

People dont want to make tough choices - we need to make it aparrent that all we want to do is save lives, not score points, inconvenince people or make ourselfs feel powerful.


What do y'all think?


Agree! However, I don't think getting speed reduced to 30 kmph around schools should be so difficult if we market it saying "at least we are not making it as draconian as US where you can't get anywere with 20 m of a stationary school bus".

When it comes to school zone speeds, parents with school going kids need to be involved. A neighbour of mine petitioned to have speed reduced around Khandallah primary and got a good response from other parents. The fact that the council didn't do anything after that is a different story, but that shows a latent demand for reduced speed around schools.

This is not too much to ask. Let's just follow the rules. SEO Tampa

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I think any ideas to help maintain a safe speed and avoid any potential accidents is a great thing for a community. It helps build trust between it's memebers and drivers. It's nice to see more awareness given to cyclists, we are travelers too and deserve to be treated fairly on the roads. car detailing

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On average, urban cycling has a speed of 19-26 km/h or 12-16 mph. A lot of factors such as distance, stop signs, red lights, intersections, and traffic may affect your average daily commute duration. digital cryptography

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Speed limits is one of the most important rule in the road and drivers must strictly follow this for their safety and for the safety of everyone. One day when I was driving. I saw a car that is on the other side of the road that was driving so fast and there is a man who is opening the doors in his store that was side swept. 

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Under California law, the maximum speed limit in urban areas is 55 MPH. All other speed limits are called prima facie limits, which are considered by law to be safe and prudent under normal conditions | Lenexa Tree Trimming Team

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For cars and motorbikes the open road speed limit is 100km/h if the conditions are good. Other vehicles have restricted limits, though | junk removal olathe

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The maximum recommended speed limit for any shared street Tree Trimming Lenexa or alley is 10 mph, nd the maximum recommended speed limit for any minor street is 20 mph. The maximum recommended speed limits are based primarily on speeds that minimize risk to pedestrians and cyclists. 

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The evidence shows that the most obvious way to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, especially in urban areas, is to reduce vehicle speeds. Cincinnati SEO company

This should have been implemented strictly to avoid accidents.

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The aim of this study was to evaluate how this speed limit reduction has influenced the injury severity for cyclists | commercial movers

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The optimal speed limit on access roads in residential areas is likely to be lower than 50 km/h. Criteria for setting speed limits.



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