Transport Minister Phil Twyford has conceded New Zealand can do a lot better on highway speed limits.

His comments follow revelations that the Government is not considering lowering the speed limits on most major roads - despite new evidence showing around 87 per cent of those limits are too high for the conditions.

Twyford said today that the Government would look at the New Zealand Transport Agency's work as part of a larger transport safety strategy.

Twyford said it was pretty clear from the data that New Zealand can do a lot better on speed limits.

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Meanwhile Police Minister Stuart Nash said the work needed to include what speeds were right for each individual road, rather than a blanket reduction on speeds.

"What we're doing is looking at how we lower the road toll, at the minute we have a road toll that is totally unacceptable, too many people are dying, and we do recognise that speed it a major factor," Nash told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking.

"What I will say is we are not looking at carte blanche drop of the speed limit to 80km/h on every single road. But what we are looking at - and nothing's set in concrete yet, or asphalt - what we are looking at is in fact the right speed for the road.

"What we do know is that some of our state highways are actually engineered for a speed of 80km/h and some others around south of Auckland which are engineered for 120km/h, so looking at the right speed for the right road to make sure Kiwis are getting home."

The comments come after the Herald published data maps showing the vast majority of speed limits on New Zealand roads are too high for the conditions. The New Zealand Transport Agency's (NZTA) Mega Maps online risk assessment tool - which is used by the NZTA and councils as a guide for deciding on new speed limits - suggests only 5 per cent of the open road should have the current 100km/h signposted speed limit.

Instead, Mega Maps suggests a safe and appropriate speed of between 60km/h and 80 km/h would apply to most stretches of open road.

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.

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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.



50km/h speed limit

Mega Maps also estimates many urban roads should have speed limits lower than 50km/h. Drag the slider across to see how almost two thirds of Auckland roads are affected.



Explore the interactive map

But there has been criticism of the suggestion the Government may crack down on speed limits in the next three years in an attempt to reduce the road toll, which currently sits at 168 so far this year.

Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett said, while there's "no doubt" speed causes road crashes, a blanket reduction on speed limits would "slow our economy down".

"They're Mega Maps of what have been, not what is," he told NewstalkZB. "And they don't actually suggest a solution, someone is putting a solution on top of that and saying, 'well actually it fits nicely into the ideological drive of the Government', which is anti-roads, sadly.

"Roads are relied upon by millions of Kiwis to go about their daily business, for us as an industry to get goods to market because we're an export-driven economy. Slow that down, you slow the New Zealand economy down."

Leggett suggested the Government develop a 50 to 100-year plan "around what New Zealand requires on transport".

Only 5 per cent of the open roads in New Zealand should have the current 100km/h signposted speed limit, according to data maps by the NZTA. Photo / Dean Purcell
Only 5 per cent of the open roads in New Zealand should have the current 100km/h signposted speed limit, according to data maps by the NZTA. Photo / Dean Purcell

"All of what we require from the supermarket, the contents of our homes and offices comes on a truck, so it's vital that the arteries of the country, the roading and rail, are to a high quality."

Leggett said he wasn't against reducing speeds on roads where the evidence shows it will reduce crashes.

"But most developed countries have faster speed limits because they have better roads. You run down the roads of course more people are going to have accidents, so let's invest in roads because ... that's going to keep our economy going."

Leggett's comment were supported by National's transport spokesman Paul Goldsmith, who said a wholesale reduction of speed limits "could do more harm than good by further isolating regional New Zealand and weakening the economy".

"We all want safer roads, and while reducing speed limits across the board might be the easiest thing to do, it is too simplistic and would have huge implications for our way of life," Goldsmith said.

"Slower roads would impact regional New Zealand severely," he said, making the drive from Hamilton to New Plymouth 45 minutes longer.

"There would also be significant economic costs. If it suddenly took 30 per cent longer to move freight the same distance our national productivity would drop substantially, freight costs would rise and our international competitiveness would fall.

The National Party's transport spokesman Paul Goldsmith said a wholesale lowering of speed limits would isolate the regions and weaken the economy. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle
The National Party's transport spokesman Paul Goldsmith said a wholesale lowering of speed limits would isolate the regions and weaken the economy. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

"A smaller economy would invest less in healthcare, for example, ultimately costing lives. Houses would be more expensive to build and the price of food would go up. These broader implications need to be considered fully."

He also called on the Government to invest in quality new roads.

WSP Opus technical director - transport, Dr Fergus Tate, a former lead safety advisor for the NZTA, said the data from Mega Maps was useful, but needed to be grounds-tested on the particular road before any changes were made.

But he said it was "quite likely" the statistic that 87 per cent of speeds were too high for the roads was accurate.

"If you think about our roading network, most of our roading network has evolved rather than it being designed, and therefore we've got a lot.

"If you think about the total New Zealand road network of some 100,000km, there's an awful lot of windy, tortuous, narrow roads with serious roadside hazards against them and so I think that's quite possible.

"The other big thing is if you're looking at our performance against countries internationally, we're one of many countries - but not one of the best countries - that uses a four-inch paint line to separate traffic streams at 100km/h. If you look at the best performance countries in the world, they would have barriers on those roads."