Lower speed limit mooted
The speed limit between Masterton and Featherston could end up dropping to 80km/h as part of a national overhaul of road speeds.
Speed limits through towns could be lowered as well.
The New Zealand Transport Agency is looking at where improved speed management could provide a significant reduction in death and serious injuries across the national road network.
NZTA says this work is in its early stages, and extensive consultation would be conducted before any changes went ahead.
But according to NZTA’s new Speed Management Guide, the “safe and appropriate speed” for State Highway 2 through Wairarapa would be 80km/h.
A speed limit of 40km/h would be appropriate through town centres, and 30km/h would be suitable for town centres with a high concentration of road users.
NZTA’s regional transport systems manager Mark Owen said the guide considered all road users and would make road speeds throughout the country more consistent.
However, the guide was simply a starting point to begin a road safety conversation, and did not determine what the ultimate road speeds would be.
“NZTA is working with the councils in Wairarapa to look at how the new speed management guide may be applied to the highways and local roads.”
NZTA director for safety and environment Harry Wilson said it was too early to say which specific sites may have speed limit changes proposed.
But he said less speed meant less harm in a crash.
“Even when speed doesn’t directly cause a crash, it is the single biggest determinant in whether anyone is killed, injured, or walks away unharmed.
“A small change in speed makes a big difference to injury severity. The facts and the physics are indisputable.”
Wairarapa Automobile Association chairman and national councillor Martin Napier said he did not think a blanket 80km/h speed limit for SH2 was appropriate, but would support that limit through some areas, such as Clareville.
He said the new NZTA guidelines were not a tool “to reduce speeds willy-nilly”, but about identifying high-risk roads and making suitable changes, which could include lowering speeds or re-engineering roads.
South Wairarapa District Council infrastructure services group manager Mark Allingham said the new guide would assist councils in setting speed limits that suited the pace of their respective communities.
“There is expectation that the lowering of speed limits will meet resistance from many drivers but in reality, many rural roads can’t be driven at 100km/h.
“Setting a realistic safe speed limit on these roads makes sense.”
He said there was no expectation that there would be extensive changes to the region’s speed limits in the short-term, adding that there were many factors to be first considered by the three Wairarapa councils.
Mr Allingham said there was already public support to have road speeds reduced in Martinborough, where there were many pedestrians and cyclists, and into and out of Greytown and Featherston.
Wairarapa Road Safety Council manager and former policeman Bruce Pauling said more needed to be done to curb the “unacceptable” trend in which serious and fatal crashes were increasing.
It was about time New Zealand caught up with the best performing countries in terms of road safety.
“Appropriate and safe speeds on roads are proven world-wide to be one of the best strategies to reduce crashes and crash trauma for families and communities, but also towards reducing our social costs of crashes, where currently a fatal crash is close to $5m, and a serious injury $900,000.”
Mr Pauling said lowering speeds did not add as much trip time as one would think.
“An 80km/h speed limit on Masterton-Castlepoint Rd would add around only five minutes over the entire distance.”
He said a 100km/h speed limit was not suitable for Wairarapa’s unsealed roads, or for many of the windy roads which were frequently used by cyclists and motorcyclists.
Mr Pauling said 30km/h would be appropriate for Masterton’s Queen St, with its high pedestrian traffic.
But proper consultation with road user groups and the public was crucial.
“We have to ask ourselves if we are willing to travel a few kilometres slower for a short time to prevent crashes and their serious outcomes.”