Safety campaigner backs increased speed limit

An increased speed limit on selected roads is unlikely to increase road deaths, says the car review website

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

“There is no such thing as a safe speed; there is only a speed that is appropriate to the conditions. You can drive safely at 110km/h or you can drive unsafely at 50km/h.”

“Regardless of the speed, most open-road fatalities are caused by vehicles colliding with each other, vehicles colliding with objects such as lampposts, or vehicles leaving the road. Modern highways effectively limit most of these scenarios, which is why they’re so much safer. So, yes, the speed limit should be increased on these roads. However, older highways without roadside fencing or median barriers are not suitable for a speed increase.”

Matthew-Wilson says many people are confused about the role speed plays in fatal accidents.

“The facts are these: about 80% of the road toll occurs below, not above, the speed limit. Most people are surprised to learn this, but it’s true.”

"Of the 20% of fatalities that occur above the speed limit, most involve either people who are blotto, a small group of reckless motorcyclists or young working-class males who live on the edge of the law.”

Matthew-Wilson is concerned the police will use increased speed limits as an excuse for even more rigid enforcement.

“There is simply no evidence that rigid enforcement of speed limits has made the slightest difference to the behaviour of high risk drivers. After two years of the heaviest anti-speeding campaign in the country’s history, the road toll has actually climbed, not lowered.”

"In Australia's Northern Territory, the police no longer enforce speed limits at all in some places. Instead, they heavily target unsafe driving. Yet, during the 12-month trial of no speed limits at all on two sections of highway, there were no fatalities and no speed-related injuries.”

Matthew-Wilson says New Zealand’s roads still require speed limits, but the speed limits must be appropriate, and the enforcement must also be appropriate.

“There will be roads where the speed limit can go up and those where it should come down. We just need to apply common sense.”