I recently blogged about the Revenue Grab by police in New Zealand by lowering the threshold before issuing tickets.

One thing that really stuck in my mind was the lack of research by either the police or the media in the way they reported it.  I just want to show how it CAN be done, and also how so much of what was reported was rubbish.

The Crap

Anyway .. lets start with that last bit (the rubbish) and show how badly constructed their argument was.  One of the statements made by the police was:

In Australia, tolerance limits were about 5kmh above the speed limit and the road fatality rate was falling.

Firstly, as already mentioned in my last post, the Police and the media really need to learn the concept of cause and effect. (i.e. that having one thing happen, and another thing happen too, does not mean that one causes the other).   But let’s expand on this some more.  What ELSE does Australia do differently which might effect their road toll:

  1. Australia has FAR superior roads, and normally are at least dual carriage way or more (NZ has so many two lane roads even on main highways)
  2. They have far greater use of graduated speed variations between roads – lots of 70/80/100 areas as well as 110 on the open road.  Built up areas have 50/60.
  3. The MAXIMUM open road speed is 110 (10km/hr more than NZ)
  4. The speed limit in lots of built up areas in a city is 60km/hr (10km/hr more than NZ)
  5. Most of their cities have excellent public transport (well they do when you compared to NZ!)
  6. They use toll roads MUCH more
  7. They have a “turning right gives way” rule (reverse of NZ)
  8. The don’t have warrant of fitness checks for cars – its up to the owner to ensure a car is fit for the road at all times

That should do for now (I just did a quick summary _ I am sure there is more).  Now in addition to the above, Australia also has a the lower threshold for going over the posted speed limit (the only bit the NZ Police reported).  So this means on lots of roads in cities in Australia you can drive at 64km/hr and NOT get a ticket in a built up area (remember many streets are 60km/hr).   So if speed was the sole issue with road safety (and main cause of deaths) then surely Australia would have a rising road toll not a falling one.  So, yeah .. IRRELEVANT facts, based on bad/no research.

Now for some research

So as I keep saying, we need research.  And since the NZ police seam unwilling, and the NZ media incapable of doing this, I did some quick checking and found this EXCELLENT piece of research undertaken by Monash University to review road speed policy in Australia and New Zealand, and makes lots of comparisons with NZ (in fact it even recommends a joint speed policy approach between the two countries). The report makes many excellent recommendations, as well as some very useful observations.

Let’s start with some basics:

New Zealand’s current speeds are generally lower than Australia’s but above those of many overseas countries.

WHAT? New Zealand has LOWER speed limits that Australia, surely that be a misprint.  I mean the NZ Police would have us believe Australia is the model.  After all as they claim their road toll is falling, and we should follow what they do.   Does that mean the NZ Police recommend raising road speed limits? (oh wait, no, that was just me being sarcastic).  

More importantly however they make a number of EXCELLENT recommendations.  One of the key ones (in my view) is a greater use of graduated speeds in build up areas and going to a 30/50km system (30km/hr for where pedestrians and cyclists are in greater proportion).  And why 30km/hr?  Because it’s based on RESEARCH about what type of impact a body can survive when being hit by a car.  50km/hr is for the limit for a car hitting a car (side on), but 30 is for a car hitting a pedestrian.   They then go on to show how that this is then 110km/hr where there is a median barrier set up (i.e. more or less eliminating side on crashes).  Now this kind of speed control I DO support.  If it means I have to slow to 30km/hr in some areas because it’s based on actual science, and the inconvenience has been balanced with the safety consideration I am all for it!

They also look CORRECTLY at how to calculate speed limits. They explore a number of different models, which BALANCE the convenience of speed with the extra cost of (less) safety.  One model is called the willingness to pay model which ends up concluding that if trucks were limited to 100km/hr that in fact speed limits should be RAISED on the open road to 120km/hr for cars!   Now I am not advocating raising the speed limit.  My whole point (and I do have one) is that we need recommendations based on RESEARCH.  And that research needs to take all factors into account not just one dimensional safety is all that matters, or else we will end up with perverse rules like limiting all cars to 20km/kr.

I think their best paragraph is this:

A safe system strategy does not imply that crashes are caused solely (or even mainly) by speed and recognizes that any given crash event is likely to be the result of an interplay of many factors.
Accordingly, a safe system approach requires all aspects of the transport system to work together for the safest possible outcomes, with speed representing but one component, albeit a critical one.
This is perhaps most evident in the Sustainable Safety system, which comprises three key elements:
– a road network and infrastructure that is predictable and should more or less elicit the correct safe behaviour, including choice of a safe traveling speed
– vehicles that are designed and equipped to simplify the human task and afford protection to occupants when errors occur
-  road users that are well informed and educated.

WOW!  These guys get it. Not only should speed not be the sole focus, but it’s not even the main reason for crashes, but its one critical factor. They go on to say

The new speed limits are not a substitute for infrastructure improvements.

YEP, you got it.  New Zealand roads are CRAP.  When was this last mentioned by the NZ police?  (I can tell you – never!)    In NZ only a fraction of the amount collected through road taxes  (including petrol) is actually spent on roads or transport infrastructure.  Most is siphoned off into the general tax take coffers.  This needs to change.  We need to build a first world transport infrastructure system – and THIS will help reduce road deaths AND at the same time benefit drivers.

Anyway .. enuf of my rant .. what do you think?

Black and White Version: We need research before we make decisions.  Road speed limits in NZ are no exception.

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