Some councils are taking short cuts on road safety by simply cutting speed limits instead of upgrading roads to make them safer, says the Automobile Association.
As the road toll continues to climb and amid calls for greater action, the AA says it has written to Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter concerned that the guidelines councils are using to determine new speed limits are not being used properly.
The AA was involved in the development of the Speed Management Guide, which along with the NZTA Mega Maps online tool, is now being used by road controlling authorities (RCAs) all over the country to propose new speed limits in a bid to make the roads safer.
"Originally the guide was aiming to target 5 per cent of the roading network with the highest safety benefits, then that was increased to 10 per cent," said Mike Noon, AA's motoring affairs general manager.
"Now some areas are looking to change speed limits on the majority of their roads while others are picking out a few bits and pieces.
"Some are using the guide's recommendations unchanged while other places have adjusted them, so it's inconsistent," Noon told the Herald.
He also suggested some councils might be taking the easier option of reducing speeds rather than upgrading roads to make them safer.
"We have seen little of this coming through in proposals so far and we are concerned that we are going to just see limits coming down across the country."
Check the interactive graphic below to see fatal and serious crashes on NZ roads since 2000 and how current speed limits compare to the safe and appropriate speeds suggested by Mega Maps.
Road deaths since 2000
Each red dot on the map shows one fatal road crash. Zoom in to explore.
Serious injuries in road crashes since 2000
Each purple dot on the map shows one serious road injury crash. Zoom in to explore.
100km/h speed limit
NZTA's Mega Maps planning tool estimates 95 per cent of NZ's open road should have a lower speed limit than 100km/h. Drag the slider from left to right to see how many roads are affected.
Explore the interactive map
Noon also questioned whether the road-using public were being sufficiently consulted on proposed changes.
"Whether a change to the speed limit makes sense to people or is supported by the public seems to not really matter under the guide, which questions the point of having consultations on these issues at all if the outcome is already determined," he said.
The AA has written to Genter seeking a review of the guide.
Communities must be consulted
The New Zealand Transport Agency, which developed the guide and administers Mega Maps, said that when carrying out public engagement on proposed speed limit changes, it and other RCAs provided a range of information including the 'safe and appropriate speed' calculated for the road being consulted on.
"When reviewing and setting speed limits, councils and the NZTA need to bring communities along with us by having open and honest discussions about speed, listening to people and understanding different perspectives, so that when a decision is made to change a speed limit people understand why the change is being made," said Niclas Johansson, NZTA's acting director of safety and environment.
The NZTA, as a road controlling authority, also seeks public input when reviewing speed limits on state highways, for which it has responsibility.
"As well as the technical inputs on what is a safe and appropriate speed for a state highway, we also engage with communities at an early stage to better understand how people use the road and what other factors might ultimately influence safe speeds and speed limits," Johansson said.
"Communities typically tell us that increased traffic volumes, new developments such as a shopping centre or sub-division, a new school, increased number of tourists, or a greater number of cyclists are all factors that influence their views on safe speeds."
Johansson said that in many cases, speed reviews were initiated because of community feedback or concern.
Genter said she also received a lot of correspondence from communities and local authorities that wanted safer and more appropriate speeds in their area.
"Up until now it's actually been difficult for them to implement the speed limit they want," she said.
So far this year, 12 people have died on the roads in Northland. All of them have been on the open road, nine of them on state highways.
According to NZTA research carried out in 2017 on New Zealanders' attitudes to road safety, risk and safety solutions, New Zealanders cared about road safety but believed that deaths were unavoidable.
Understanding of road risks varied, leading to uncertainty about the most effective solutions. Most people believed community conversations would lead to improved safety yet few agreed the right road risks were being talked about.
The research showed that Northlanders were more aware of road safety messages – 82 per cent compared with a 71 per cent national average.
Northlanders were more confident in identifying risks and also more likely to think speed and roads contributed to crashes.
They were also more likely to support improvements to the road and more likely to prefer investment in road improvements (70 per cent v 58 per cent nationally).
Northlanders were more likely to think road risk was increasing and some roads were not safe at current limits (51 per cent v 37 per cent).
Far North District Council is seeking feedback on some speed limit changes ahead of a bigger review.
Whangarei District Council has recently closed consultation on proposed amendments to the Speed Limits Bylaw which would make the bylaw consistent with new legislation and other speed limit bylaws in Northland without changing any current posted speed limits or the enforcement of speed limits at present.
Kaipara District Council has passed a bylaw setting new limits