A bright future and we welcome a rethink on speed limits

In News6 MinutesBy Dom KalasihSeptember 29, 2023

Last Saturday our Board Chair and I attended an event for our members hosted by the Hawke’s Bay branch of CARTA. The room was packed and the guest speaker was Katie Nimon, the National Party candidate.

One of Katie’s fundamental views was that roads should be seen as an investment to drive and improve the economy. While I’m sure no one else in the room needed convincing of that, it was very refreshing to hear because that idealism appears to have gone missing for a significant period of time.

Apart from the event being very enjoyable, it was also a good demonstration of what makes this sector such a neat industry to be part of. While significant scarring from Cyclone Gabrielle is still evident, the progress made with recovery is massive. The clearing and dumping of thousands of tonnes of silt is no easy task and in some cases that cost has been borne directly by the operator as they just wanted to get it done. Again, this speaks to the extraordinary levels of adaptability, tolerance, and resilience of our members.

My other observation was how promising and bright our future looks. Sure, some faces looked a bit older but there were also attendees who were second and third generation family members of their founder. The fact that so many people came out shows the passion, interest, and commitment to the industry and that bodes well for the future.

Many suppliers supported the event and attended and I’d like to thank those I didn’t get around to talking to on the night.

The drive up and back gave me plenty of time to reflect on what a mess our speed limits are. Many state highways have already had their speeds reduced from 100km/h to 80km/h as part of the government’s Road to Zero initiative to reduce road deaths. If you wander onto rural local roads and you happen to miss a speed limit sign, then it leaves you guessing what the legal limit is and that’s not good. We’ve made several formal submissions on this including one to Dunedin City Council just last week and it was no surprise to see speed limits getting lots of media attention, with National promising to roll back some of the blanket speed limit reductions brought in by the current Labour government.

Transporting New Zealand supports road safety and ways to reduce deaths and serious injuries on our road – many which are avoidable and all of which cause a horrendous and long-lasting impact on everyone involved from families to first-responders. Although no-one wants to see people getting injured on the roads, the current system is farcical and there is no rhyme nor reason to some proposals.

Even Labour senior minister Kieran McAnulty is opposed to speed limit reductions in his Wairarapa electorate – but Waka Kotahi has brought them in regardless.

If you think that sounds bizarre, you’re right. It’s critical that government policy takes safety, the environment, and productivity into consideration. A scientific, risk-based approach must be used rather than blanket limits on whole roads.

The current approach, which depends largely on the road function, is too one dimensional and nonsensical.

We’re seeing proposals to reduce sections of road from 100 km/h down to 40 km/h even when engineers have advised the safe and appropriate speed limit is higher.

The road network is the workplace of our members so as much as anyone we want a safe network. But variations and inconsistencies like this make no sense and in fact will make it very hard for drivers to have any idea what the speed limit actually is.

We’ve heard it might cost $30 million to reverse what’s been done but on the flip side, with what’s happening now it could easily add 15 minutes to a transport operator’s daily travel time, particularly if operating on rural roads. As the charge-out rate for a truck and trailer unit could be about $200 an hour, the loss of productivity could be unnecessarily costing the country an additional $2.5 million every day with no equivalent gains in safety.

Transporting New Zealand is concerned that simply reducing speeds could be a way to avoid spending the funds needed to bring them up to modern standards and meet future transport requirements.

We’ve been calling this problem out for a long time now and it’s great to see there is now a solid political debate about road speeds as we believe we need a sensible rethink of this.

Additional information about Transporting New Zealand’s policy priorities can be found at https://www.transporting.nz/election-platform-2023  and while it shouldn’t be misconstrued as us predicting the outcome of the general election, as a matter of routine, we are preparing our briefing for the incoming Minister.

– By Dom Kalasih, interim chief executive.