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Speed reductions not backed by crash evidence

Waka Kotahi SH2 speed limit reductions have caused controversy in Wairarapa, where many motorists view 80kmh as too slow for wide straight sections of highway – regardless of NZTA’s insistence on the need for “safety improvements”.

Now, data obtained by the Times-Age under the Official Information Act [OIA] has revealed that in the past 22 years, speed was a factor in only one fatal crash between Masterton and Featherston.

The data shows that speed was not a factor in the majority of the 53 serious or fatal crashes on the section of highway since 2000.

Data compiled from an Official Information Act request to Waka Kotahi.

Inappropriate speed or poor judgement [including misjudged speed] accounted for approximately 9 per cent of the total contributing factors.

Driver error accounted for half of the contributing factors, which included failure to give way, being in the wrong lane, overtaking, poor handling, or poor observation.

The data also showed the section from Masterton to Carterton was considerably more treacherous than the Carterton to Greytown and Greytown to Featherston sections of SH2.

Masterton to Carterton accounted for 64 per cent of the serious or fatal crashes, while the other two sections accounted for 17 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively.

Despite the different levels of risk between the three sections of highway, Waka Kotahi treated them equally, lowering the speed limit on each from 100kmh to 80kmh.

The agency said reducing the speed limit was a quick way to make the roads safer for all road users.

Waka Kotahi said it found 100kmh to be an inappropriate speed after conducting a technical assessment that looked at previous crash history, average operating speed, and traffic volumes.

The OIA data included the annual average daily traffic on the three stretches of road, which indicates there had been a combined total of 215 million trips on this stretch of SH2 since 2000.

Just one of those trips, between Masterton and Carterton, resulted in a fatal crash in which speed was a factor.

Furthermore, speed was not a factor in a single fatal crash from Carterton to Greytown or from Greytown to Featherston in the past 22 years.

The three fatal crashes on the 4.5km Carterton-Greytown section included a car hit from behind while turning onto a side road, one involving alcohol or drugs, and one where a car hit a guardrail, causing its trailer to skid outwards, killing a motorcyclist.

The two fatal crashes on the 10km Greytown-Featherston section were caused by a fatigued truck driver who crossed the centreline and killed a passenger in an oncoming car, and a person who crashed into a flat deck truck that stalled while turning onto a side road, leaving its tray protruding into the highway.

Speed was listed as a factor five times among the 14 serious crashes on the two sections of road in that period.

Data compiled from an Official Information Act request to Waka Kotahi.

By comparison, the Masterton-Carterton section, currently undergoing significant physical safety improvements, had five fatal and 29 serious crashes in the same period, making it more dangerous than the other two sections combined.

The Times-Age has submitted several follow-up questions about the data, which a Waka Kotahi spokesperson said would be responded to next week.

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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