Opinion: Increasing the speed limit is a big no-no

  • 20/10/2016
Opinion: Increasing the speed limit is a big no-no

By Dave Moore

Our ever-increasing road toll suggests we can’t cope with the 100kmh open road limit we currently have and no-one is really sure what would happen if that were hiked up 10 percent.

Last year's road toll rise and the same trend for the year before and yes, the one before, plus the fact that this year's is continuing to trend poorly, are reasons to back off the idea.

I've listened to scores of radio talkback callers who profess to having above average driving skills and owning a "safe" modern car, who feel that they're more than capable of conducting a car at 110 or 120km/h on our roads. It also appears we have lobbyists and pundits who feel the same.

People who seem to know about these things say that some highways are engineered for higher speeds than our current norm.

That's all very well when you have a modern road fleet to match, but we don't. In fact we have one of the oldest fleets in the developed world, and it's driven by a population that cannot adjust its speeds to suit prevailing conditions. News bulletins with crash reports beware witness to this all too regularly.

Some drivers may well have the skills and hardware to drive in a perfect world at velocities beyond our national limit, but they obviously haven't noticed the behaviour patterns of other road users, and the standard and age of the cars they drive.

They also may not have twigged that for statisticians and suffering families, it only takes a seemingly innocent SUV or people-mover full of mates to turn a relatively safe holiday weekend into a genuinely tragic one.

Our posted speed limits are there for the simple reason that historically, by way of our past records, we don't deserve them to be any higher.

A rise in our open road speed limit to 110km/h or perhaps 120km/h means that most of the traffic around us will be clustered at 117km/h and 127km/h instead of the previous 107km/h - depending on whether we remember if the authorities are applying a 4km/h or 8km/h tolerance that particular weekend.

From unscientific observation and anecdote, I'd say we're already unreliable when it comes to keeping to prescribed limits in suburbia and such disregard for advised speeds makes our communities risky places for people in general and children in particular, to walk and cycle.

It's obvious that driving just a bit faster dramatically increases stopping distances, reducing the chance of being able to stop in time in an emergency.

Brakes differ from one car to another, and where do you think you'll be safer, wandering in front of a car in Britain, where cars are aged on average seven years or so, or doing the same in front of a New Zealand car, average age 14 years and closing on 15?

And would you feel safe if those average, often shagged-out Kiwi cars were also afforded the ability to be driven 10 to 20 percent more quickly than they ever have legally before?

Even on divided highways, it would be inadvisable, as lane discipline and indicator use, on and off-ramp behaviour and levels of concentration are patently of a very low standard here.

The simple truth is that even though there are good drivers with modern cars who in an ideal world - say overseas, in more civilised driving nations with a half decent road toll - could cruise safely at higher three-digit speeds with relative impunity, they can't and shouldn't in New Zealand.

That's because you simply can't trust people around you to do what they're supposed or for their cars to react the way a modern one can. The same people who can't figure out how to indicate at roundabouts, can't work out what lane they should be in at intersections, and don't understand simple things like traffic lights, are likely to be pretty useless at placing themselves correctly on the open road and very unlikely to resist the temptation of taking advantage of their new found speed freedom even when road, vehicle and weather conditions suggest they shouldn't.

I think even those skilled drivers with posh cars who appear to be at the vanguard of the higher speed limit campaign need some retraining. If they are unable to witness, observe and note the patently appalling driving standards of what appears to be the majority of drivers around them and the number of knackered cars and trucks being used day-to-day in New Zealand, then they automatically disqualify themselves from driving any more quickly on public roads than they already do.

Dave Moore is RadioLIVE's motoring expert.