Waka Kotahi plan to reduce speed limits on some highways will save lives - Automobile Association

A proposal that would reduce speed limits on 400 kilometres of highway is the best way to save lives and prevent injury, the Automobile Association says.

But the changes would be controversial, leaving some commuters with much longer trips, it said.

Waka Kotahi's Interim Speed Management Plan has been opened to consultation until 12 December, giving drivers an opportunity for feedback. The plan would reduce some 100 km/h zones, such as the winding Remutaka Hill Road between Wellington and the Wairarapa, to as low as 60 km/h.

AA road safety spokesperson Dylan Thomsen said the move was the best way to save lives and prevent injury.

"Speed limit reductions are the key tool the government is using to reduce harm and trauma from crashes on the road," he said. "That's about setting speed limits lower than they have been."

The changes were not likely to be welcomed by everyone, particularly those who regularly travelled long distances, Thomsen said.

"The key areas that are likely to be a bit more controversial and have some more polarised views are in the Waikato, the Bay of Plenty, the Wairarapa, Manawatū, and Wellington," he said.

"All of those places have some significant stretches of highway."

But he hoped drivers would see the positives, and understand that the changes were necessary.

"This is the latest step in [the Road to Zero strategy], and it won't be the last one either," he said.

Waka Kotahi national manager of programme and standards Vanessa Browne told Morning Report lowering speed limits did not mean other changes were not made.

But it was a quick change that could be made, she said.

Road safety strategy was underpinned by safe speeds, improving safety through infrastructure and maintenance, safer vehicles and encouraging safer driver behaviour, she said.

"Already this year we've had 320 people lose their lives on our roads and every one of those deaths is a tragedy for the families and the communities affected."

Thousands of people were injured on the roads each year, she said.

"Preventing that pain and suffering is why this work is important."

Waka Kotahi monitored the impact speed limit changes had, she said.

A change in speed limits on SH6 between Nelson and Blenheim had seen the number of accidents drop dramatically, she said.

"In ten years, from 2009 to 2018, 20 people died and 92 were seriously injured on the road. Since the new safer limits were lowered in 2022, there's been only one fatal crash and far few serious crashes."

There was a lot of opposition to the changes initially, she said, but since they came into effect the feedback had been positive.

National Party transport spokesperson Simeon Brown called the plan a short-sighted quick-fix.

"Just reducing speed limits, it slows New Zealanders down, it causes significant increase in lack of productivity, particularly for our freight industry which relies on being able to get around our country and it doesn't invest in the quality of our roads which we need to have."

He said the government should be addressing the condition of state highways which he claimed had become peppered with potholes.