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Q and A with Waka Kotahi NZTA

Reporter Flynn Nicholls asked Waka Kotahi NZTA for further information about their decision to lower speed limits after a Times-Age Official Information Act request revealed only one fatal crash in the past 22 years had speed as a factor on SH2 Masterton to Featherston. The agency’s answers, here printed verbatim, may leave you scratching your head.

Q: Why did Waka Kotahi lower the speed limit on SH2 Carterton-Greytown and SH2 Greytown-Featherston, given their relatively low number of speed-related crashes?

A: When carrying out speed limit reviews and changes to speed limits, Waka Kotahi considers a wide range of factors. Decisions are not made solely on speed as a factor in crashes or fatal crash numbers. After careful consideration, the open road 100 km/h sections of State Highway 2 [Featherston to Carterton] were reduced to 80 km/h. When making this decision we also took into account traffic volumes, road layout and design, and roadside hazards.

The evidence from crash statistics was also clear. When reviewing the speed limits for these parts of State Highway 2, it was the open road sections of the state highway that had seen the most fatal and serious injury crashes. Regionally, the highway also had heightened risk in terms of deaths and serious injury [DSI] per kilometre compared to other state highway routes [see image].

We would also note inappropriate speed was a factor recorded for a fatal crash in the statistics supplied to you.

    [Times Age note: This fatal crash was not south of Carterton – it was between Masterton and Carterton. In the past 22 years, inappropriate or misjudged speed was not listed as a contributing factor to a single fatal crash on SH2 Carterton-Greytown or SH2 Greytown-Featherston, although the speed limit on both these sections was lowered to 80kmh]

Q: Given that no fatal crashes over a 20-year period on these two stretches cited inappropriate speed as a factor, what was the metric that convinced Waka Kotahi that lowering the speed limit on these sections of road was necessary and appropriate?

A: The data released to you in OIA 1197 shows 53 instances of serious and fatal crashes in sections of State Highway 2 now covered by lower speed limits. Forty-three of these crashes resulted in victims being seriously injured.

The impact of fatal and serious injury crashes cannot be understated. At least six people die and around 44 are reported seriously injured every week on New Zealand’s roads.

Each death and serious injury have a devastating and wide-reaching impact on our communities. This has a social cost to New Zealand of $65 million per week, or over $3.4 billion in 2021. Social cost includes the cost to individuals, our health system, disruption on our road network, and the devastation that deaths and serious injuries have on communities

Of note in the factors listed as contributing to the cause of these crashes are those that relate to errors on the part of the drivers involved – poor observation [21], drugs and alcohol [16], and poor handling [9] rate as the top three common factors.

When drivers make mistakes, the road design and speed limits must be such that their chances of surviving a crash are improved. Even when speed doesn’t cause a crash, it is always a factor in the severity and can be the difference between a person being killed, seriously injured, or walking away from a crash.

Research also indicates speed is under-reported in road crashes. A key finding of research is that:

“Speeding is involved in around 60 per cent of fatal crashes in New Zealand, and that speeds above New Zealand’s Safe and Appropriate Speeds are involved in around 71 per cent of injury crashes.”

Ensuring speed limits are safe and appropriate is integral to New Zealand’s Road to Zero strategy. The evidence is clear that even a small reduction in speed limits on high-risk roads can make a big difference and save lives.

Q: Can we expect to see whatever this metric is consistently applied in other Waka Kotahi decisions about roads around New Zealand?

A: Waka Kotahi applies a consistent decision-making process when considering all speed limit reviews and our decisions are evidence-based.

Road to Zero accepts that humans are vulnerable and make mistakes. The changes Waka Kotahi considers with speed limit changes aim to prevent people from being killed or seriously injured when they make mistakes.

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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