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Auckland Transport

Myths and misconceptions about speed Myths and misconceptions about speed

The setting of speed limits on our roads can be an emotive issue but there is only one objective – and that is to make our roads safer for motorists and pedestrians.

There are many myths and misconceptions about the speed at which we drive – here are a few for you to consider:

"Speed isn't a problem, bad drivers are."

Even the most skilled drivers make mistakes, and most drivers understand New Zealand's roads can be challenging. Good speed management gives drivers the cues they need to judge the safe and appropriate speed for the road they're on.

"Defining a vulnerable road user."

A vulnerable road user is anyone not in a vehicle. People walking, people on motorised twowheelers (motorcycles, mopeds and light mopeds) and people cycling are referred to as vulnerable road users because of their ‘unprotected’ state.

"Going a few kilometres faster or slower doesn't make any difference to safety."

Actually, it does. Speed is the difference between a correctable mistake and a fatal error. Every extra km/h increases the likelihood of someone being killed or injured in a crash. Regardless of what causes a crash, speed always plays a part.

"Slowing down will make it take ages to get anywhere."

Not necessarily. Research has shown driving at a speed appropriate for the road is likely to only result in a very small increase in travel time. Other factors, such as lights, traffic, and intersections have a much greater effect on travel time.

Infographic detailing the potential impact on journey times if speed limit is lowered

Trips reducing the maximum speed from 100km/h to 80km/h on a 10km length of road showed travel time increases ranged from 30 to 48 seconds.  For local trips reducing the maximum speed from 50km/h to 40km/h showed travel time increases ranged from 11 to 42 seconds difference.

If the maximum speed limit around a typical town is 50km/h, your average journey speed is between 26km/h and 33km/h. Safe and appropriate speeds actually result in significant fuel savings.

"Modern cars are safer and better, so there's no need for us to drive slower."

Cars may have evolved to go faster, but humans haven't. Our bodies feel the force of a crash the same way they did when the first car was invented. While modern cars have better safety equipment, NZ's fleet is relatively old. Half the cars on the road lack even basic safety features, like stability control or side airbags. Even the best technology won't stop another car crashing into you.

"Reducing speed limits is revenue gathering for the Police."

Police do not retain any of the money from infringements; the money goes to the Government. Collection of infringements comes at a much more significant cost to issue notices including police time and energy. Police would be delighted not to have to issue any infringements, as this would show everyone was driving safely and not putting themselves or others at risk. This would see deaths and serious injuries on our roads significantly reduced. Police would happily not collect any revenue if it meant people drove at safe, suitable speeds for the conditions.

"It’s the road not the speed limit that needs changing.”

All roads are not created equal nor are the risks necessarily identifiable by a driver, and people do make mistakes. Travelling the right speed for the risk on the road can help minimise the impact of a crash. Speed is the difference between a correctable mistake and a fatal error. Even good drivers can hurt others if they are involved in a crash travelling at the wrong speed for the road and conditions. To engineer existing roads to a higher standard would cost the district billions of dollars, and result in limited benefits, if any.

AT Death and Injury
*Survivability rates vary significantly based on a number of factors and scenarios. AT takes a preventative approach with respect to the survivability of our most vulnerable road users. Data taken from Research Report AP-R560-18 published in March 2018 by Austroads - the Association of Australian and New Zealand Road Transport and Traffic Authorities.

"Its overseas drivers that cause the problems, they don’t know our rules and roads, locals know the roads well."

New Zealand drivers crash at a much higher rate than our visitors. Over the five years from 2012-2016, 6.2 percent of fatal and injury crashes involved an overseas driver, and not all overseas drivers involved in those crashes were at fault. Many of the countries that tourists come from have better engineered roads than us, with more finely tuned speed limits, and as such tourists are quite often just driving at the safe and appropriate speed for the engineering of the road. New Zealand drivers are used to driving faster on those roads as they are familiar through day-to-day journeys, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those speeds are safe and appropriate for the engineering of the roads. Mistakes happen to everyone, even well-seasoned locals, but a mistake shouldn’t result in death or serious harm.

"Lowering the speed limit to 30 km/h in Auckland city centre and other town centres."

Auckland Transport is currently investigating lower speeds of 30km/h in Auckland city centre which aligns with Auckland Council’s City Centre Masterplan. We are also looking at introducing 30km/h in some town centres. This will be finalised for consultation as part of the speed management bylaw later this year. Generally, the city centre zone under consideration is within the motorway boundaries.
The investigation will determine the precise locations for the start of the lower speed limit and what physical changes we would need to implement. While the city centre accounts for 2.2 per cent of Auckland’s death and serious injuries, it has a significant number of people walking and cycling. 84% of all crashes involve vulnerable road users. Or in other words, while Auckland city centre accounts for 0.6% of the total network, in 2017, it accounted for 4% of the total deaths and injuries (serious and minor).

"Different speed limits proposed for roads that once had similar speed limits."

Historically speed limits were set based mainly on the land use. Urban areas defaulted to 50km/h, rural areas defaulted to 100km/h, and there was some limited scope to apply 80km/h and 70km/h to urban fringe areas.
Central government have updated the legislation for setting of speed limits and under the new speed management approach while 50km/h and 100km/h are still the default values there are options to set speed limits based on the nature of the road rather than just the surrounding land use. In the case of rural roads this allows the adoption of speed limits of 80 or 60 where the roads are not designed to operate safely at 100. In extreme cases such as narrow, winding, unsealed roads, 40 km/h may also be considered as a rural speed limit.
The roll out of lower speed limits will occur gradually across the network. Key criteria for selecting which roads to treat first include:

  • Routes with high crash rates (where speed reduction could be expected to give the best crash reductions).
  • Routes where the road conditions/geometry already encourage most drivers to drive at a lower speed and aligning the limit with the lower speeds will help to make speed limits more credible.

Read more myths and misconceptions about the speed limit bylaw on OurAuckland website.