"We're working toward a future where no one is killed or seriously injured in road crashes in Aotearoa.
"We know that speed is the single biggest factor determining if you or someone you love, dies or survives a crash. That's why we're reviewing speeds on a number of state highways in Taranaki where the current speed limits may not be safe and appropriate."
These are the words used in the opening paragraph of Waka Kotahi NZTA's public engagement document on the Safer Speed Review for the region's highways. Decoded and translated, the words mean, they want to lower the current speed limit.
No one can disagree with the overarching goals of reducing roads crashes, reducing injury, eliminating road deaths and making the roads safer. These goals are simply no brainers and they form the basis and justification for much of the work undertaken across New Zealand's roads. As a nation we are united in our vision to be able to travel safely on our roads.
Where the controversy and debate arises is how do we achieve these goals?
We know that many, many factors contribute to New Zealand's poor safety statistics, including mixtures of driver behaviour, driver ability and the roading infrastructure. But the one factor that stands out time and time again is speed.
Remember the tagline from road safety advertising, "the faster you go, the bigger the mess"?
On average, 130 people die every year in New Zealand in speed-related crashes which gives weight to the campaign to lower speed limits on our highways. The Road to Zero target is to reduce serious injuries and deaths by 40 per cent by 2030. Reaching the target would mean reducing the number of people killed on our roads each year to 227, and seriously injured to 1680 by 2030.
Waka Kotahi NZTA is seeking feedback on Taranaki's highway speed limits and while it hasn't formally stated a preference yet, make no mistake, an 80km per hour limit is firmly in their sights.
The immediate reaction to this is predictable and varies widely. I suspect some people will accept such a change as a good thing and struggle to see a problem with an 80km/h speed limit, while others will totally reject the idea citing problems with travel times and associated costs, economic efficiencies and driver impatience.
I see a fundamental question here, and it needs to be answered before speed limit decisions are made.
Should the speed limit be lowered to make it more suitable and safer when using the existing poor-quality roading infrastructure or should the roading infrastructure standards be improved to make it safer for people to drive at the existing 100km/h limit.
In other words, do you engineer roads downwards to the standards suited to a lower speed limit or engineer roads upwards to the standards suited to a higher speed limit?
Engineering roads up would include combinations of safety measures like median barriers, passing lanes, turning bays, roundabouts, rumble strips, road markings, warning signage, better road surface and alignment, the list goes on. But there is a common problem with all of these measures: cost.
Say the words "road improvements" and watch as alarm bells ring and dollar signs start flashing before the eyes of the decision makers, even before they know what is being proposed. Those in the game know that regardless of how much money was ever put towards road improvements, it will never be enough.
Then all of a sudden it becomes, in my opinion, easy to understand why lowering speed limits and maybe engineering roads down appeals to authorities.
Lowering speeds will mean less harm caused on the road and logically make for a safer journey, but it is also a much cheaper option than the alternative measures outlined earlier. Furthermore, it has the added benefit of being able to be implemented quite quickly. The long-term solution to road safety is a combination of measures, that will require a degree of compromise by opposing factions.
If you want to have your say on the "Safer Speed Review" for our highways there are forms available at the council office or on Waka Kotahi NZTA's website: www.nzta.govt.nz/np2h