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David Cliff, Chief Executive, Global Road Safety Partnership

Speed kills. It is globally recognised that even small reductions in mean vehicle travel speeds result in large reductions in trauma.

New regulatory framework to tackle unsafe speeds

Waka Kotahi and the Ministry of Transport have developed a new regulatory framework to tackle unsafe speeds by improving how road controlling authorities plan for, consult on and implement speed management changes. This framework underpins the Land Transport Rule: Setting of Speed Limits 2022.

The Speed Management Guide: Road to Zero edition supports road controlling authorities to use the new framework when developing their rule-mandated speed management plans, so they are consistent across the country. This guide offers Aotearoa an opportunity to substantially improve its road safety performance and become a global leader in road safety.

Road to Zero makes improved speed management fundamental to national road safety

Speed management is a fundamental component of the Road to Zero strategy. Speed determines both the likelihood of a crash occurring and severity of the outcome. A 5 percent decrease in average speed leads to about a 10 percent decrease in all injury crashes and a 20 percent decrease in fatal crashes.

In a crash, a human body can take only so much physical force before it is injured, and the chance of survival or avoiding serious injury decreases rapidly above certain impact speeds. For vulnerable road users such as people who are walking, using wheelchairs, cycling or motorcycling that speed is about 30km/h. And in a head-on crash involving two cars (such as might occur on a non-divided rural road), it’s about 70km/h.

The science is clear – reducing speed limits will prevent many road deaths and serious injuries.

Aotearoa can move from being an outlier to a global road safety leader

Aotearoa road safety performance is significantly worse than that of the world’s best-performing countries. Countries similar to Aotearoa in terms of geography, population and culture have embedded Vision Zero and Safe System principals into their road safety strategies, drastically reducing the number of road deaths and serious injuries. If roads in Aotearoa were as safe as Norway’s, about 260 of the 377 people killed on Aotearoa roads in 2018 would still be alive. If Aotearoa performed as well as Australia, 150 people would have made it home instead of dying in crashes. Victoria has a death rate less than half of the rate in Aotearoa. Aotearoa is very much an outlier.

An unsafe system is inherently inefficient

Regardless of why a crash occurs, impact speed always decides injury severity. Lowering, and rigorously enforcing speed limits has proven globally to be highly effective at reducing casualties.

Road crashes cost Aotearoa an estimated $4.6 billion in 2019. Yet some commentators claim the negative economic impact of safe speed limits to business is more important than saving lives and preventing serious injuries. This view contradicts contemporary understanding of the Safe System approach to road safety: a safe system is inherently more efficient.

Evidence also shows that reducing speed has positive impacts on the climate and economy with improved air quality due to increased fuel efficiency and reduced congestion, so more consistent travel times.

When speeds are safe, everyone wins. We must all drive at safe and appropriate speeds. Is saving a few minutes in travel time worth a life?