TOM TAYLOR and JOHN LAZO-RON
Sunday, September 19, will be the last chance for people to respond to NZTA’s State Highway 2 speed review consultation.
Alongside other safety improvement plans, NZTA has proposed reducing the speed limit of 100kmh to a maximum of 80kmh.
Data obtained under the Official Information Act found that from 2010 to August 9, 2021, more than 550 crashes occurred along the stretch of SH2 under review.
Of the 554 crashes, 371 did not result in any injuries, 146 resulted in minor injuries, 32 resulted in serious injuries, and five resulted in deaths.
The OIA data also provided a breakdown of the factors involved in the 37 serious or fatal crashes.
Eighty-one factors contributed to these crashes.
Poor observation was the most common factor, contributing to 19 serious or fatal crashes.
Alcohol was the second most common factor, contributing to 12 of the crashes.
Failure to give way or stop was a factor in nine crashes.
Travel speed contributed to just five of the serious or fatal crashes. Driver fatigue and vehicle factors also contributed to five crashes each.
NZTA director of regional relationships Emma Speight said that even when speed was not the direct cause of a crash, it was always a factor in the severity of the crash.
“As speeds increase, people have less time to react. When speeds are safe for the road environment, simple mistakes are less likely to end in tragedy.”
In their speed review, NZTA had assessed 15 sections of SH2 between Masterton and Featherston.
For urban road sections, the agency had considered the surrounding factors like homes, shops, schools, and pedestrian crossings.
For rural sections, they had considered median barriers, roadside hazards, driveways, intersections, and other factors.
However, Speight said multiple factors could contribute to any one crash, and a crash in one location could not necessarily predict future crashes at that location.
Speight said NZTA’s approach to road safety recognised that even responsible drivers could sometimes make mistakes.
“We know that, on roads with speeds over 80kmh, a head-on crash is highly likely to result in deaths and serious injuries,” Speight said.
“If a road does not have central median barriers, then reducing the speeds from 100kmh to 80kmh can reduce the number of people killed by 20 per cent.”
Alongside the speed limit changes, NZTA proposed to make infrastructure improvements, including median barriers, roundabouts, and raised pedestrian crossings.
“These safety improvements will reduce the likelihood of someone having a crash and help to ensure that speeds are lower in these locations so that if a crash does happen, the outcome will be less serious.”
Comments on NZTA’s interactive online map indicated that some people were frustrated with the proposal to reduce speed limits between Masterton and Featherston to a maximum of 80kmh.
“Instead of increasing journey times, the roads should be improved,” one commenter said. “Come on, people, we need progress, not regression.”
“If you can’t manage to do 100kmh on this piece of road, you shouldn’t have a licence,” another said.
Wairarapa Road Safety Council manager Bruce Pauling acknowledged that reduced speeds could cause frustration but said they would not significantly change travel times.
“The question is, are we prepared to put up with a slight time inconvenience so we can prioritise safety?”
Although speed was not listed as the primary factor for many crashes along SH2, Pauling said it was often the difference between life and death.
“When people make mistakes which lead to crashes, speed absolutely determines the severity in terms of whether a road user makes an ACC claim or becomes a fatality statistic.”
According to a Ministry of Transport study, the total social cost of fatal and injury crashes on New Zealand roads in 2018 was about $4.9 billion.
“Imagine what we could do to improve our road networks further if we could significantly reduce these crashes and massively reduce these costs to the country,” Pauling said.
However, not everyone agreed that lower speeds were the best way forward.
AA Wairarapa chairman Craig Bowyer said the organisation had made a submission opposing the reduced speeds.
“In the submission that we [AA Wairarapa] put through, we said that we struggle to see the justification in reducing the speed on any of the lengths they are reviewing,” he said.
“We believe the roundabouts and a median barrier between Masterton and Carterton will solve virtually all the issues of the crashes in that area.
“We are very aware that this part of the Government’s ‘Road to Zero’ programme trying to reduce road deaths, but it’s very hard when you look at the figures to justify a reduction in the speed.”
Bowyer urged people to make their submissions before the September 19 deadline because it was crucial to the region’s safety and economy.
“I want people to get on board and submit something. That road [SH2] is of vital economic importance to Wairarapa and speed reductions will affect everyone on it. And rural roads will be next.”
A former professional motorcycle road racer said that although deaths should never be accepted, reduced speed limits adversely affect road safety.
Aaron Slight commended NZTA’s move to extend the deadline for submissions on proposed SH2 changes.
He said the extension had given Wairarapa people a chance to put their thoughts down online during the lockdown.
However, he questioned what NZTA was trying to achieve through the proposed changes.
“The devil is in the detail, and the details suggest that it won’t be any safer and may even be worse,” Slight said.
“No fatalities should be the expected standard, but there is always a margin for error when you are on a road where you travel head-on into opposing traffic.”
Slight called on NZTA to introduce nationwide speed limits: a town speed of 50kmh, a medium speed of 70kmh, and an open speed of 100kmh.
He said more uniformity would lead to less confusion on New Zealand roads.