Election 2023: National wants to reverse speed limit reductions, minimise use of road cones

National wants to accelerate New Zealanders by reversing speed limit reductions, allowing motorists to drive up to 110km/h on more roads, and minimising the use of road cones and temporary speed reductions.

The party on Sunday said it would repeal legislation introduced under Labour that has led to what National called a "centralised, one-size-fits-all approach to setting speed limits with no requirement to take the economic impact of slowing drivers down into consideration"

"The implementation of this rule has ushered in a wave of blanket speed limit reductions in cities and towns across the country, reducing speed limits to 30 km/h in many areas," a National policy document says.

"Likewise, a number of state highways and major arterial roads have seen their speed limits reduced to 80 km/h."

Waka Kotahi last year proposed lowering the speed limit on a large number of New Zealand's roads as part of the Road to Zero goal of having 40 percent fewer deaths and serious injuries on the road by 2030 compared to 2018.

However, in March, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins significantly watered down this work, announcing that changes would only be made to the most dangerous 1 percent of state highways, with targeted reductions to areas around schools, maraes and in some small towns.

National wants to replace the legislation with new rules requiring authorities to take into account not just safety impacts, but travel time impacts and the views of users and the community.

Different road types would have their own standardised speed limits, like 100km/h for rural highways and 50km/h for local roads. There would be "variations in between for different standards of arterial roads, unless it is unsafe to do so". 

There would also be variable speed limits on roads approaching schools during pick-up and drop-off times.

National transport spokesperson Simeon Brown said the party anticipated the new rules would result "in highways going back to 100km/h speed limits, except where it would be unsafe to do so".

"Similarly, we'll restore local roads to 50 km/h from 30, except where that would be unsafe. It makes no sense to have roads that can safely accommodate higher speed limits, only to require motorists to drive more slowly."

An initial $30 million would be available to councils and Waka Kotahi to cover the cost of lifting speed limits, including purchasing and installing new signage and removing road markings. This would be prioritised towards roads where previous consultation has indicated a high level of opposition to reduced speed limits. 

The party also wants to increase the speed limit to 110km/h on Transmission Gully and the Kāpiti Expressway. The Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway could also move to 110km/h if a review finds it is suitable to do so. National also wants future expressways to be designed with a 110km/h speed limit in mind.

The third part of National's plan is to "limit the unnecessary use of road cones and temporary speed limit reductions", arguing that rules and regulations governing traffic management operations have become "overly prescriptive" without improving safety.

"The excessive use of road cones and unnecessary speed limit reductions not only frustrates motorists but also hinders economic productivity and imposes significant costs on taxpayers," National says. 

"Overly rigid traffic management plans have led to situations where speed limits remain reduced at road maintenance sites even when frontline workers are absent, and road conditions are safe for regular speeds."

The party would require contractors to minimise the use of temporary speed limit reductions when front-line workers are off-site, require NZTA to investigate a "financial incentive framework" to reduce reliance on cones and temporary traffic management, and get agencies to report expenditure on temporary traffic management quarterly.

The reduction of speed limits in some areas has even frustrated some in Labour.

Labour MP for Wairarapa Kieran McAnulty told AM earlier this month that as associate Transport Minister he had asked Waka Kotahi to review the speed limit on State Highway 2 connecting the Remutakas to Masterton, which was recently lowered to 80km/h. 

"They said 'no' and that was the end of the matter," he said. "They have statutory independence from ministers and we cannot instruct them what to do in terms of operational decisions."

McAnulty told AM the lowered speed limits are a "massive source of frustration" to the region and he's written numerous letters to the agency asking for them to change the speed limit back to 100km/h. 

Waka Kotahi told AM between January 2010 and December 2019, there were 488 reported crashes on State Highway 2 between Masterton and Featherston. Four people were killed and 28 were seriously injured.

The agency said the new speed limits would help protect the lives of people who use local streets and roads.

"The decision to do a speed review only came after a thorough technical assessment of this section of State Highway 2 had been done. It looked at what a safe and appropriate speed for the road should be and if it was out of step with the 100 km/h speed limit that had been in place. Safe and appropriate speeds are recorded in the Megamaps database," Emma Speight, director regional relationships for Waka Kotahi. 

"During the assessment, we looked at the previous crash history, the average speed people were travelling at, the number of cars and trucks using the road each day, and what was happening near the road in terms of housing, urban development, businesses, and other activities."