80km/h speed limit unlikely to significantly reduce serious accidents

A proposal to dramatically lower the speed limit on most of the New Zealand's highways is unlikely to significantly lower the road toll, says the car review website dogandlemon.com.

Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson, who is an outspoken road safety campaigner, says: 

“Few drivers have a problem with a lower speed limit in high-risk areas. But this proposal is aimed at lowering the speed limit from 100km/h to 80km/h, even on long, straight, relatively safe highways. This is madness and is likely to produce a major backlash from all sectors of society.”

Matthew-Wilson adds that the police consistently use doubtful science to justify impractical speed enforcement.

"Despite what the police claim, speed is the primary cause of just 15% of fatal crashes, according to Ministry of Transport research.”

“Another inconvenient truth is that the police are targeting the wrong drivers. As a matter of scientific fact, few ordinary motorists cause speed-related fatalities. Instead, almost all speed-related fatalities are caused by a small group of yobbos and reckless motorcyclists, and they’re often blotto when they crash. Yobbos and blotto drivers don’t read speed signs, rarely think of consequences and are effectively immune to road safety messages.” 

Matthew-Wilson’s claims are supported by a 2009 AA summary of 300 fatal accidents, which concluded:

“…government advertising suggests you should be grateful to receive a speeding ticket because it will save your life. In fact, exceeding speed limits isn't a major issue…[Nor is it] true that middle-New Zealand drivers creeping a few kilometres over the limit on long, empty [roads were a major factor in] the road toll…”

The AA report confirmed that a high percentage of speed-related fatalities were:

“caused by people who don’t care about any kind of rules. These are men who speed, drink, don’t wear safety belts, have no valid licence or Warrant of Fitness – who are basically renegades. They usually end up wrapped around a tree, but they can also overtake across a yellow line and take out other motorists as well."

Matthew-Wilson gave the example of Jeremy Thompson, 28, who caused a head-on crash near Waverly that killed seven people in 2018. Thompson had been smoking synthetic cannabis and was driving erratically before the crash.

“Perhaps the police could explain how lowering the speed limit would have prevented this crash?”

“The cops also tell us we need to reduce average speeds. But the average speed isn’t the speed that the average driver travels at; the average speed rises and falls with the number of crazy drivers travelling at crazy speeds. Clearly, the police should be targeting the crazy drivers, not the families driving home from holiday.”

"The police say that 90% of the country’s roads are unsafe. Unsafe compared to what?  That’s a convenient made-up figure designed to hide the reality that a decade of heavy speed enforcement has utterly failed to significantly reduce speed-related road deaths.”

“I'm a big fan of fixing unsafe roads, but the fact that the government has been incredibly slack about sorting out our roading system isn’t an excuse to lower the speed limit. It’s a wake-up call for the government to stop mucking about and instead sort out the safety of our roads. Done properly, we can quickly make our old highways safe for a fraction of the cost of building new highways.”

Matthew-Wilson adds that this proposal to lower the speed limit originally came from the Greens and is primarily intended to make life more difficult for car owners. 


“The Greens approached me to support this strategy. I have been a lifetime supporter of green causes, but I said no. It’s hypocritical to make life more difficult for people who genuinely need vehicles, unless the government first provides these drivers with realistic alternatives to driving.


Matthew-Wilson is also frustrated that both the police and the government ignore simple, affordable and effective ways of substantially reducing the road toll.

Cars with Daytime Running Lights on are up to 25% less likely to end up in fatal daytime collisions, yet this simple lifesaving technology isn’t even on the government’s agenda. What’s gone wrong with our government?”