Implementing slower speed limits

The single biggest road safety issue in New Zealand today is speed - drivers travelling too fast for the conditions.

In 2008, excess or inappropriate speed was a factor in:

* 34 percent of all road deaths (127 deaths)
* 17 percent of all reported injuries from road crashes (2629 injuries).

As well as road safety, reducing speeds has many benefits for our communities, including encouraging more walking and cycling. It is a cost-effective and popular option that many NZ towns and cities are adopting.

Even a small reduction in speed has huge safety benefits.

  • A 5% reduction in average speed delivers reductions of 25% in deaths, 15% in serious injuries and 8% in minor injuries.
  • A cyclist or pedestrian is likely to survive being struck by a vehicle whose speed is below 20 to 30 km/h.

Many towns and cities in Europe have reduced traffic speeds on residential streets to 40 or 30 km/h. Their rural roads often have limits of 60 or 70 km/h in what would be 100 km/h areas in New Zealand, creating safer cycling conditions.

NZTA’s traffic speed management experts say that our speeds must come down. They explain that setting speed limits is a trade-off between mobility and safety, but there has been too much emphasis on mobility and not enough on safety.

NZTA guidance on setting speed limits

NZTA's two methods for setting speed limits can be found here.

The first is calculated with a formula based on roadside development, and usually results in higher limits.

The second, provided by Section 3.2(5) of the Setting of Speed Limits Rule, is for the road controlling authority to use its discretion to determine a ‘safe and appropriate’ limit. This option is important to cycle advocacy, but many transport planners are unaware of it and think they cannot reduce a speed limit because they are bound by the formula. In fact, the key is to provide a road environment that encourages lower travel speeds (e.g. by traffic management devices).

Think about which roads in your area would be safer with slower traffic, and ask your local authority (or NZTA for State Highways) to review the speed limits. Offer to take councillors on an experiential bike ride, and gently keep the pressure on them. Change will take time, but speeds are coming down.

NZTA Traffic Notes

Traffic notes provide traffic safety information and guidance which may apply to all types of roads. They are intended for people/organisations that control, design, build or manage roads in New Zealand. See notes 15, 37 and 43.
15: Use of temporary speed limits for temporary hazards and special events (PDF, 32 KB | 3 pages)
37: 40km/h variable speed limits in school zones (PDF, 87 KB | 9 pages)
43: Speed limits less than 50 km/h (PDF, 23 KB | 3 pages)

Other NZTA Resources
Speed: How to use speed limits safely (Factsheet 33)
How communities can get involved in the setting of speed limits

ACC advice on speed reduction

"Drive to the Conditions" is one of ACC's main road safety campaigns, focusing on inappropriate motor vehicle speed.

Another very useful resource is "Down with Speed" (1.1MB pdf), prepared by ACC & LTSA in 2000:

Excess and inappropriate speed on our roads is the single biggest road safety issue in New Zealand today. And yet the seriousness of speeding is still lost on many people. Hundreds of New Zealanders are killed or injured each year, but many people openly admit to enjoying driving fast on the open road; a view which sadly seems to reflect a widespread tolerance of speeding as an acceptable social behaviour.
ACC is concerned about the deadly attitude to speeding that New Zealanders are taking to our roads. ACC wants to dispel some myths, and provide new information about speeding which New Zealanders simply can't afford to ignore.

Fewer New Zealanders would be killed and injured if we all slowed down. The speed we drive on our roads is a major public safety and health issue in New Zealand. 162 deaths, 539 reported serious injuries, and 1,896 reported minor injuries on the road were attributed to speeding in 1998. This is likely to be an underestimate of the impact of speed-related crashes and injuries. If we reduced average speed on New Zealand's rural roads by just 4 km/h - that is, from 102 to 98 km/h - it is estimated that 52 fatalities, 133 serious injuries, and 257 minor injuries would be saved.

MoT Research on Speed

Speed Crash Facts

The MoT undertakes annual surveys of vehicle free speeds at ~130 urban and rural sites throughout NZ. While mean speeds have generally been trending down (esp. in rural areas), typically ~60% of motorists still exceed the urban 50km/h urban speed limit.

Speed and the National Road Safety Strategy

To enhance a Council's chance of obtaining funding for initiatives to improve the speed environment for cyclists, it is important to align funding requests with initiatives outlined in the strategy recently released by the Ministry of Transport (March 2010), Safer Journeys: New Zealand's road safety strategy 2010-2020.  Available on-line, pages 38-39 have important information relating to walking and cycling, while pages 19-23 discuss Safer Speeds.

The Safer Journeys Vision for walking and cycling is:
"By 2020 we will have a safe road environment that encourages more people to walk and cycle, where vehicles travel at safe speeds and there is a culture of sharing the road. We will aim to achieve a significant reduction in the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed and seriously injured while at the same time encouraging people to use these modes through safer roading infrastructure."

Issues for pedestrians and cyclists in relation to speed are outlined in Safer Journeys as follows.
"In each year over the period 2004 to 2008, an average of nearly 300 cyclists were hospitalised and 10 were killed from crashes involving a vehicle. Cyclists were found to have primary responsibility in only 25 percent of all cyclist-vehicle crashes in which they were injured or killed.

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 arterial 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" (Safer Journeys, Page 38).

A pedestrian or cyclist is likely to be killed or seriously injured by a car travelling over 40 km/h.
Probability of Death for a pedestrian or cyclist struck by a car at different impact speeds is as follows:
10% at 30km/h; 30% at 40km/h; 50% at 45km/h
(Safer Journeys, Page 19).

Safer Journeys focus is on a Safe System approach, which has four key areas: creating safe roads, safe speeds, safe vehicles and safe road use. Directly related to creating a better speed environment are the two key areas of:
• Safe roads - that are predictable and forgiving of mistakes. They are self-explaining in that their design encourages safe travel speeds.
• Safe speeds - travel speeds suit the function and level of safety of the road. People understand and comply with the speed limits and drive to the conditions...."
(Safer Journeys, Page 10).

Safer Journeys lists as specific possible actions in relation to creating a better speed environment under "Safer Speeds"

  • Increase the use of cameras for routine speed control (speed and red light) to allow Police to focus on higher risk drivers
  • Rebalance penalties for speed with higher demerits and lower fines and investigate adding demerits and reducing fines for speed camera offences
  • Investigate the use of point-to-point speed cameras
  • Create more speed zones on high risk rural roads to help make roads more self explaining,and to establish the criteria for what roads with different speed limits should look like (eg 80 km/h, 90 km/h, 100 km/h)
  • Increase the adoption of lower speed limits in urban areas
  • Develop a GPS-based speed management system across the network, and develop trials and initial applications for ISA and other emerging Intelligent Transport Systems
  • Improve data on speed-related crashes

Under SAFE WALKING AND CYCLING the action listed specifically related to speed is, "Increase coverage of temporary lower speed limits around schools":

"If backed with strong enforcement, this initiative would significantly improve safety around schools. Variable speed signs help to educate road users to consider the needs of school children and their vulnerability. A variable speed limit of 40 km/h is introduced before and after school, and at other busy times.

A number of these temporary lower speed limits have already been established and are supported by stronger enforcement. The Police start enforcing the speed limit once a driver goes more than 5 km/h over the limit, rather than the 10 km/h discretion which they usually apply. Initial results suggest this method has been effective in bringing down mean speeds and reducing the incidence of speeding around schools.

This initiative will be closely linked to existing locally-driven programmes such as school travel plans and neighbourhood accessibility plans. We will review the effectiveness of these and consider how to further roll them out where they can be most successful" (Safer Journeys, Page 39).

In summary "A Safe System would protect pedestrians and cyclists by providing safer roading infrastructure, by encouraging the uptake of vehicles that inflict less harm on vulnerable users in a crash, and by managing speeds to reduce serious injury risk." (Safer Journeys, Page 10).

New Zealand case studies

can be found here.

For more information, see also the paper "Reduced Traffic Speeds in NZ - Benefits and Barriers" by Bevan Woodward (2009 NZ Cycling Conference, New Plymouth)

Further details about the state of play in NZ can be found in "Implementing Lower Speeds in New Zealand" by Glen Koorey (2011 IPENZ Transportation Conference, Auckland)


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