The Government and Auckland Council have proposed radical reductions in speed limits, suggesting a large proportion of our open roads should have limits reduced from 100 to 80, or even as far as 60km/h. This would take us back to the 1970s or earlier. Regional centres such as Gisborne, New Plymouth and Whangārei become a much greater journey away from friends, family, tourism and jobs.
Remembering there are 24 hours in a day, for most of those hours these are wide thoroughfares with plenty of opportunity for people to get on their way.
There will be roads where it is appropriate to drop the speed limit, but to do it in a wholesale way is an over-reaction, offending a basic sense of progress. Cars have never been safer; why should we be going backwards?
In contrast to the Government's enthusiasm to reduce speed limits, it has been very slow to make progress on other areas – the quality of the roads, law enforcement around drink driving and wearing seat belts, the growing scourge of drugged driving and driver distraction generally, particularly cellphones.
On drugged driving, the Government has been dragged, kicking and screaming after 18 months' silence, into starting the process the previous government had underway to devise ways to randomly test for drugged driving. The Aussies have recently mastered it.
National undertook a roading investment project that, once completed, will have doubled the level of motorway in New Zealand. These are the safest roads in New Zealand.
The Government has made a clear and deliberate decision to cancel or greatly delay all the major new roading projects. In exchange, we have investigations into pet projects, such as light rail in Auckland and Wellington. I understand officials are advising both projects are likely to cost in the billions and deliver only minor service improvements.
Julie Anne Genter refers regularly to progress Sweden has made on its road toll. Sweden has around twice our population. We have 360km of motorway, with a further 124km under construction. Sweden has more than 2000km of motorway and a further 6000 of expressway. Genter does not point out that every Swedish city larger than Dunedin is connected in a motorway network, with speed limits up to 120km/h. Speed limit reductions are limited to minor rural roads.
Astoundingly, given the Government's apparent focus on road safety, the so-called Wellbeing Budget actually budgeted $10 million less for police road safety than it spent last year. It is hard to comprehend this could be the case; but it is.
We should absolutely be focused on turning around the increase in road deaths in the past five years, and we should use the full suite of options available – not just a wholesale reduction in speed limits.