April has started badly on the roads. On April 1, nine people had died in accidents by 10am, five of them members of the same family. Police said some of those killed had not been wearing seatbelts.
By the end of March the road toll had reached 104, just two fewer than the first three months of last year which recorded the worst toll since 2009. After a period of improvement, the trend has definitely turned for the worst.
Every crash is different and can be attributed to a different set of road conditions, driving errors and distractions. Many will suspect the trends in recent times bear a direct relation to the resources police are putting into road patrols.
During the years the toll was dropping, police cars were seen more often on the highways and in the cities it was common to be stopped at a drink-driving checkpoint. It seems a while since policing of that kind was happening.
The solution these days is thought to be lower speed limits. The statistics show the chances of being killed in a collision increase with speed. Many of New Zealand's country roads are simply not safe for the speed permitted on them. Auckland Transport believes the same is true of city roads. It is proposing to lower the speed limit to 30km/h on hundreds of streets in the central city and suburban centres.
That proposal might be doing more harm than good, arousing antagonism to lower speed limits generally. A limit of 30km/h is unnecessary at busy times, when the traffic is much slower, and too slow at other times. It is facing opposition from the Automobile Association but has the keen support of cycling enthusiasts who say 30km/h will do more than save lives, it will make the city more pleasant (for them) to get around. For motorists at quiet times it would be so slow it is unlikely to be observed, which is not good law.
Auckland Transport will begin hearing submissions on its proposed speed limits later this month. If adopted, the lower limits will come into force in August. For rural roads in the region a reduction to 80km/h and even 60km/h should not be controversial. Narrow, winding, undulating roads are not designed for the speeds that have been permitted for too long.
At the same time, the NZ Transport Agency is designing new expressways and motorways that are suitable for speeds well above 100km/h. The days of simple nationwide limits are probably gone. Road standards will vary and drivers will need to be more alert to the speed permitted on the road they have taken.
The Ministry of Transport calculates that on average one person dies on New Zealand's roads every day and someone is injured every hour. This Government has put safety higher in national transport priorities than it was previously. A year ago its Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter announced a target of zero road deaths and gave the ministry until September this year to develop a strategy to reach it. Lower speed limits will be just the beginning and they will help.