Speed limits

One of the biggest road safety risks in New Zealand is excessive speed. But the bigger issue is drivers travelling too fast for the conditions.

Many drivers aren't aware that the speed limit is the maximum legal speed you can travel in perfect conditions.

Road conditions are seldom perfect. Safe drivers drive to the conditions and look out for changes in traffic, road and weather conditions, and reduce their speed accordingly.

Did you know?

On the open road there will be around twice as many fatal crashes when the average speed is 120km/h, rather than 100km/h.

In New Zealand the speed limit now varies more than the 50 km/h (urban) and 100km/h (open road) limits that were for many years the only national limits. Speed limits can range from 10km/h to a maximum of 100km/h, in 10km/h increments. Speed limits between 50 and 100km/h are particularly common.

This graduated approach allows for the setting of speed limits that align more closely with the character of the road, and are more likely to be obeyed by motorists.

District councils are responsible for setting speed limits for their local roads, and New Zealand Transport Agency rules cover how the limits are signposted for motorists.

AA speaking up for motorists

Drive to the conditions, within the speed limit

Speed limits that are set too low will result in the majority of motorists breaking the law in order to travel at a reasonable speed.

Speed limits that are set too high place motorists at increased risk of having a crash.

Whatever the posted speed limit, motorists must always use their judgement to drive to the conditions, and adjust their speed accordingly.

The need for more “self-explaining” roads

Motorists are less likely to travel at the wrong speed if New Zealand’s roads are more self-explaining.

Self-explaining roads are designed so that the nature of the road reveals itself to motorists in such a transparent way that they instinctively drive at a speed which is appropriate for that road.

Engineering features such as road marking are especially useful for providing the cues that help motorists drive at a safe speed.

Support for graduated speed limits

The AA would like to see more standard speed limits between the urban limit of 50km/h, and the open road limit of 100km/h. Speed limits should be set at realistic levels more in tune with the nature of the road, and consistently applied.

However, if there are too many varying speed limits motorists may get confused about what speed zone they’re in.

Before any posted speed limit is changed, affected communities and road user groups, including the AA, must always be consulted.

Fair warning of speed limits

Motorists must be fairly warned of the speed limit in any area by using signs to indicate a change of speed limit, and by signs reminding drivers of the changed limit throughout the speed zone.

Rational speed limits around road works

The AA wants a review of the temporary speed limits and signage used around road works at times when work is not occurring. Many motorists ignore these temporary speed restrictions because they are often set far too low for the road conditions. This is potentially dangerous when work is occurring, with road staff at risk of injury.

Speed enforcement must always be about road safety - never for revenue collection

The Police are right to rigorously enforce speed limits, but the Police Association and the AA have cautioned that any ticketing “quota system” undermines goodwill towards road safety enforcement and the Police. Traffic enforcement should always be focused on the highest safety risk areas.

Ticketing motorists for speeding in areas where the speed limit is set too low for the road conditions (often known as ‘fishing’) undermines public goodwill and diverts traffic enforcement away from hazard areas.

The AA supports the thrust of the government’s proposed changes to reduce fine levels and increase demerit points for speed infringements. Such a change would not affect average motorists who get few fines, but will target repeat speeders who face an increased risk of losing their license if they continue to speed.

What AA Members are saying

Speed threshold

AA Members were asked whether they would support the Police dropping the speed tolerance threshold (from 10km/h) to 5km/h over the posted speed limit. (Mar 2006 Survey)

Strongly Oppose - 24%
Oppose - 31%
No feeling - 18%
Support - 16%
Strongly Support - 7%
Unsure - 3%

Urban speed limit tolerance

AA Members were asked to name the speed at which it’s reasonable for Police to issue a speeding ticket. (Jul 2007 Survey)

50km/h and over - 4.1 %
55km/h and over - 36.9 %
60km/h and over - 57.1%

It’s very clear that AA Members want the current 10km/h speed tolerance to be retained.

Open road cruising speed

AA Members were asked what speed they targeted when driving on the open road. (Mar 2006 Survey)

Over 110km/h - 2%
106-110 - 21%
100-105 - 44%
90-100 - 20%
Less - 1%

Slow drivers

AA Members expressed huge support (87%) for a suggested rule that drivers with a queue of six or more vehicles behind them must pull over and let them pass (7% opposed). While six vehicles was the number favoured by the majority (44%), a third (33%) preferred less than six vehicles as the triggering queue. 10% of respondents preferred seven or more. (Mar 2005 Survey)

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