Thursday, May 19, 2022

Speed limit cuts will drive up prices

Cutting the speed limit on state highways around the country to address the number of road fatalities is only a short-term solution that fails to address the real problems and will lead to higher prices for consumers, Federated Farmers transport spokesperson Karen Williams says.

Feds transport spokesperson Karen Williams would like to see an integrated approach to reducing the road toll, not just reducing speed limits in some areas.

Cutting the speed limit on state highways around the country to address the number of road fatalities is only a short-term solution that fails to address the real problems and will lead to higher prices for consumers, Federated Farmers transport spokesperson Karen Williams says.

Williams said the number of people who die or are seriously hurt on New Zealand roads is unacceptable and while she loves the national ambition of the national Road to Zero safety strategy, she said there needs to be a more integrated approach taken to achieve that, not just reducing speed limits in some areas.

“What are the other levers that we can pull?” Williams asked.

“People are everything and it’s very important that we take care of them but what are our other options?

“There are always little places where you think, ‘yeah, actually, it should be slower here’.

“But where’s the planning in all this? Where’s the information or the research that says, okay population growth is this, we know there’s going to X percentage more vehicles on these roads, so here’s the investment going forward.”

There are 57 stretches of state highway around the country where Waka Kotahi (NZTA) is either currently reviewing or has recently reviewed speed limits.

That includes a proposal that could potentially reduce the state highway speed limit across Northland to 80km/h.

Another is a 72km section of the Napier-Taupō road (SH5) from Rangitaiki to Esk Valley, which Waka Kotahi director regional relationships Linda Stewart said was identified as a road where safer speed limits could make a difference in saving lives.

She said last year Waka Kotahi consulted on a proposal to reduce the speed limit on that piece of road from 100km/h to 80km/h, with the permanent new limits set to come into place later this week.

Earlier this month Hawke’s Bay Regional Council hit back at the decision, its regional transport committee saying it wanted it reviewed.

“We believe that the decision was predetermined and did not fully take into account the thousands of submissions against the proposal,” the committee said in a statement.

It agreed that there were issues with the road, but said they would not be solved solely through a reduction in the speed limit.

“State Highway 5 is a lifeline for the region and our transport system. It is as important to us as the Auckland Harbour Bridge is to Auckland. It is vital to our competitiveness as a region, not least for the Port of Napier,” the statement said.

“We find there is a lack of strategic management of SH5 and the focus has been solely through the speed lens, without taking adequate consideration of the flow-on and broader social and economic effects.”

The committee said it appreciated that Waka Kotahi was in a difficult position as it’s under direction from the Government to reduce death and serious injuries without adequate resources.

It seems unlikely that the decision will be reviewed, with Stewart telling Farmers Weekly the new speed limit will come into force on February 18.

In Williams’ home patch of Wairarapa, speed limits on SH2 between Masterton and Featherston are also under review, with consultation closed but no decision announced.

She said the problem is increased pressure on roads through traffic volume.

“You can deal with that in one of two ways: you can either improve the carriageway, or you can drop the speed limit,” she said.

“The speed limit seems like it’s the short-term fix and if we’re talking about a progressive society then shouldn’t we be looking to maintain efficiency and productivity by planning ahead?”

She said what’s often overlooked is the cost to consumers that will flow-on from a speed limit reduction.

“With our produce going to market, whether it’s milk heading off to a processing plant, seed going somewhere, or meat to a processing plant, trucking firms will do less trips in a day,” she said.

“That means they’re not earning as much.

“Alongside that they’ve got increasing wages, difficulties securing drivers, and that will lead to a direct increase in freight costs as those companies try to cost-recover, which has an impact on food prices.

“There’s always economic impacts behind these things and when these decisions get made, I don’t know if enough analysis is given to the impact on the whole system.”

Waka Kotahi chief executive Nicole Rosie says the Road to Zero strategy has a long-term vision of no deaths or serious injuries on NZ roads by 2050.

It also includes an interim target to reduce deaths and serious injuries by 40% compared to 2018 levels by 2030. 

In real terms, reaching that target would mean reducing annual road deaths to no more than 227 and serious injuries to no more than 1560 by 2030.

To put that in context, 319 people died in 2021.

She said safer speeds have a huge role to play.

“Reducing speeds to safe levels is a key tool which has been used to great effect in many countries with world-leading road safety records,” Rosie said.

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