Road safety officials say our "very low" speeding fines aren't working and want tougher penalties to lower the road toll.

But the government has refused to listen, sparking claims it is trading lives for votes.

New documents show officials are reviewing speeding offences and penalties and want to start giving demerit points to drivers who get caught by speed cameras.

But the documents also show a previous plan to slow motorists with demerit points on speed camera fines was rejected because of "political caution".


The focus on speeding fines and demerits comes amid concern over our road toll which has started to climb after two decades of steady falls.

There have been 203 people die on our roads this year - over 20 more than this time last year - in a trend that has seen an increase since 2013.

Until then, the rate of road deaths had fallen from a 1987 high of 23.8 deaths per 100,000 people in New Zealand to the 2013 low of 5.7 lives lost per 100,000 people.

Since then, it has increased to last year's toll of 318 deaths - about 7.1 people lost per 100,000 people.

Over that time, New Zealand speeding fines have continued to be well under penalties imposed in Australia.

In Victoria, speeds up to 10km/h over the limit attract a fine of $198 while in New Zealand the penalty is $30. At the top end, it narrows but someone going 50km/h over the limit is fined $793 in Victoria but $630 in New Zealand.

The move to take a fresh approach to the road toll was flagged in the May 2017 briefing to incoming Associate Minister of Transport Tim Macindoe, who was "speed remains the largest single contributing factor to road trauma".

Macindoe was told NZTA officials and police had concerns "the effectiveness of speed cameras is affected by the relatively low penalties for speeding".

The briefing to Macindoe stated: "This issue was considered by Cabinet in 2015 and proposals to harmonise the penalties were rejected."

Despite it being rejected, officials pursued the issue internally and have prepared to approach Macindoe with a fresh bid for tougher penalties.

An internal NZTA briefing paper on speeding from May 2016, released through the Official Information Act, said penalties "need to be meaningful and fair".

"The Transport Agency would also support a future penalty regime that is more reflective of the level of risk caused by illegal speeding, and a fairer approach to demerits that would see demerits applied consistently to all speeding offences irrespective of the method of enforcement."

Another document from November 2016 said: "Very low penalties are not an effective deterrent which results in high rates of offences, reducing safety gains achievable from active speed control."

And: "Lack of compliance is an accepted normalised deviant behaviour in New Zealand."

In April this year, as road safety officials prepared to put a fresh review plan before Macindoe, NZ Transport Agency's chief executive Fergus Gammie was told by staff: "Speed enforcement attracts criticism as 'revenue gathering' and some people object to enforcement of low-level speeding as being unduly harsh on otherwise law-abiding good drivers."

"There is understandable political caution about increasing the scope of speed enforcement."

The move by officials has again been nobbled by the Beehive, with a spokesman for Macindoe saying: "The Government does not see a case, and would not support, increasing fines or incurring demerit points from infringements received from speed cameras."

Macindoe's office said he could not be interviewed on the issue because it could not reach him. Transport Minister Simon Bridges' spokesman said he wouldn't because it was Macindoe's job.

NZTA acting road safety director Dennis Crequer said the "Safer Journeys" road safety strategy through to 2020 operated on the understanding "that if the chance of being caught speeding and being penalised is high, most people will comply with the speed limit".

"Enforcement works best when drivers can expect speed limits to be strongly enforced on an 'anytime, anywhere' basis."

He said the government was finding other ways of reducing death and serious injury by spending on safer roads, safer vehicle technology and "to discourage high risk road user behaviours".

NZ Police Assistant Commissioner of road policing Superintendent Sandra Venables would not be drawn on the levels of fines or demerit points but said there was no concern strict enforcement impacted on the public's view of police.

"Every road fatality is a complete tragedy. If 203 families have been affected by a road fatality this year... I don't think the general public feel we are being overbearing in this. I think they get it."

Green Party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said New Zealanders would expect the government to do all that it could to bring the road toll down.

"It suggests the National government thinks it is more politically acceptable to let people die on our roads than to take steps to reduce speeding.

"We need some leadership on this issue. We should be aiming at zero deaths on our roads."

Genter said she supported demerit points to apply to speed camera fines.

"It's fair enough if you're breaking the law and repeatedly caught speeding that should be reflected in demerits on your licence."

AA motoring affairs general manager Mike Noon said surveys of its members showed 47 per cent of motorists were opposed to demerit points on cameras.

But he said those opposed dropped when the camera demerit points were targeted at those doing 20km/h over the limit.

Other survey results showed 58 per cent of members would exceed the open road limit once in their journey and a third who saw enforcement as revenue gathering.

He said there were other ways to make motoring safer, including coupling brightly lit "slow down" signs with speed camera areas. "You give people the opportunity to be compliant."