Please help us achieve traffic speeds that put New Zealanders’ safety first – make a quick submission by 5pm Friday, June 16! In this guest post, Bevan Woodward of Skypath Trust explains the catch in the proposed speed-limit setting rule, and how to fix it…

NZTA is updating the speed-limit setting rule… but it is unwilling to put New Zealanders’ safety first. This is a missed opportunity to make our roads safer, more liveable, more vibrant and more efficient.

Instead NZTA continues to require that speed limits be ‘safe and appropriate’. This initially sounds good – who doesn’t want safe streets? And it’s appropriate for traffic to go more slowly on streets where we live, shop, and travel to school.

Unfortunately, we know there’s a nasty fish hook in the phrase ‘safe and appropriate’.

NZTA’s rule defines ‘appropriate’ as ‘optimising efficiency outcomes’, which NZTA then defines as ‘economic productivity’. This creates a flawed trade-off between safety and speed, because it results in dangerous roads with no evidence of increased efficiency nor economic productivity.

YOU CAN HELP! Please by 5pm, Friday June 16 and ask that the Setting of Speed Limits Rule adopts a ‘safety first’ approach for the setting of speed limits. This approach has proven to work well in countries like Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark, who enjoy roads that are both safer and more efficient than New Zealand’s.


Reducing speed is the most critical place to start if we want to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on New Zealand’s roads. 

‘Speed is the single biggest road safety issue in NZ today. The faster you drive the more likely you are to crash and suffer injuries.’ – Auckland Transport website

‘Speed is the difference between a correctable mistake and a fatal error. Every extra km/h increases the likelihood of someone having a crash. Regardless of what causes a crash, speed always plays a part.’ – NZTA’s Better Conversations on Road Risk Toolkit

Everyone travelling a few kilometres slower makes us all safer. With even a small decrease in average speed, we see a decrease in the number of fatal and injury crashes.’ – NZ Police, Facts and Myths About Speed.

Some points to bear in mind

  • New Zealand has one of the highest rates per capita of road deaths in the world: twice that of the United Kingdom, and four times that of Northern European countries.
  • Travelling too fast for the conditions contributes to about a third of fatal crashes in NZ.
  • Speed is a factor in every crash, as it determines the severity of the impact and the resulting injuries or deaths.
Risk of injury to pedestrians based on impact speed; the risk for those who bike is similar. (Mackie Research Ltd; as shared on NZTA’s page, Safety Issues for People Who Cycle)
  • By OECD standards, New Zealand’s roads are unforgiving of driver error – and yet we also have the highest speed limits on our urban and rural roads.

  • Productivity isn’t simply about travel time. NZTA’s own resources note the huge economic impact of our current rate of road deaths and injuries: ‘In 2014, 295 people died on our roads. This cost New Zealanders $3.14bn.’ And the Ministry of Transport keeps count of the social cost of our road toll, which rose 7.4% from 2014 to 2015, with fatalities up by 9%.
  • NZTA’s Safer Journeys programme aims to ‘Reduce death and serious injuries, and support economic productivity through travel speeds that are safe and appropriate for road function, design, safety and use.’  But there is no evidence of a link between higher traffic speeds and efficiency or economic productivity; countries with safer standard urban speeds of 30km/h (and rural speeds of 60-80km/h) such as Sweden, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, have road networks at least as efficient and economically productive as New Zealand.
  • Increasingly, international best practice is adopting a ‘safety first’ approach, and the trend is for speed limits of 30km/h on urban streets and 60 – 80km/h on rural roads. The European Union recently committed to halving road casualties by 2030 by among other things ‘expanding and integrating reduced speed limits, such as 30 km/h, into high-risk areas, in particular areas where people work, cycle and play.’
Compare the suggested safe and appropriate speeds for New Zealand roads, from the NZ Speed Management Guide – First Edition (November 2016)
  • Every year 300 – 400 people are killed on our roads; compared to 40 – 60 people killed in the workplace. The guiding principle of New Zealand’s Health and Safety at Work Act is that people in the workplace should be given the highest level of protection against harm as is reasonably practicable. Why shouldn’t the same protection be afforded to us when using our roads?

It’s time for a truly Safety First approach to speed limits; once safety is ensured, efficiency and productivity can be desirable secondary goals.

That is why we request that the requirement for ‘safe and appropriate’ speed limits be changed to a requirement for speed limits that are ‘as safe as is reasonably practicable given the road function, design, users and the surrounding land use’. This will align the Setting of Speed Limits rule with NZ’s Health and Safety in the Workplace legislation and the NZTA Speed Management Guide – and will reduce NZ’s appalling road toll.

– Bevan Woodward

Campaign NZTA
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9 responses to “Safety first! Time for a speedy submission on the new speed limit rule

  1. Great Article Bevan. We certainly need the “Car” to travel at a lower speed where WE the Pedestrian & Bicyclist feel Safe. 30 Km/hr…

  2. The speed limit in German cities is not 30 km/hr. I lived there for many years and it’s 50 like it is here. There might be 30 k areas but they are like less than 10% of the roads. Outside of urban areas it’s 100 just like here. And of course the motorways have no speed limit when you get away from built up areas, which is perhaps a reason for the claims regarding higher efficiency. This is the problem with statistics, you can pick the numbers to suit any argument.

    1. It’s
      pretty standard these days for the bulk of residential and central
      streets in German cities to be 30km/h; typically only the arterials tend
      to be higher. And B-class rural roads would usually be 80k or less
      whereas almost all of ours are stubbornly 100k.

      1. Sorry can’t agree with that. I was there only 18 months ago and nothing had changed regarding speed limits since I had been living there. Either that or I was speeding all the time (and everyone else)….

        1. No, it’s just that, like any country, the majority of roads are quiet suburban streets but the majority of VKT are done on arterials.

  3. In my opinion a big contributor is the skill level of drivers. You don’t need to attend any driving courses to start driving on public roads here in NZ while in a lot of European countries you have to go for at least 6 months to driving schools.

  4. Just made the deadline with a submission!. Thanks to Bevan for raising awareness about this issue.

    Submission to New Zealand Transport Agency on behalf of the Waitemat? Local Board, Auckland Council

    Setting speed limits rule

    16 June 2016

    This submission is made on behalf of the Waitemat? Local Board (the Board) by Pippa Coom, Chair and Transport portfolio lead. The Board welcomes the opportunity to comment on the proposed new rule.


    The Board represents over 100,000 residents in Auckland’s city centre and central suburbs. The Board is committed to an accessible, connected and safe transport network with well-designed streets.

    Road deaths and serious injuries have increased in Auckland by 56% from 354 in 2012 to 547 in 2016 with vulnerable road users making up almost 60% of that increase. Speed is a factor in all road crashes. Urgent changes are needed to speed limits to make our roads safer, more liveable, more vibrant and more efficient.

    The Board supports improving safety for all road users and advocates for:
    • Adoption of a target of zero serious injuries or deaths on our roads as part of a comprehensive safe systems approach to road safety including safe road design, enforcement, safer speeds and driver education
    • Implementation of slower traffic speed zones in the city centre and residential areas and through town centres


    The Board supports the update to the Setting Speed Limits Rule consistent with the Safe System approach to road safety. Any changes must allow for flexibility to set speeds using local knowledge.

    The Board requests that local boards, as representatives of the community, have a key role in setting speeds. The Board wishes to work with NZTA, Auckland Transport and the RCA to proactively review all speed limits within the Waitemat? Local Board area.

    The Board is concerned that NZTA continues to require that speed limits be ‘safe and appropriate’ and that NZTA defines ‘appropriate’ as ‘optimising efficiency outcomes’, which NZTA then defines as ‘economic productivity’. This creates a flawed trade-off between safety and speed, because it results in dangerous roads with no evidence of increased efficiency nor economic productivity.

    The Board therefore requests that:

    • NZTA, in updating the speed limit rule, adopts a “safety first” approach for the setting of speed limits. The safety first approach is consistent within the safe systems approach to road safety supported by NZ Police, Auckland Transport and NZTA and will bring NZ in line with international best practice.
    • the requirement for ‘safe and appropriate’ speed limits be changed to a requirement for speed limits that are ‘as safe as is reasonably practicable given the road function, design, users and the surrounding land use’.

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