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Myths and Misconceptions About Speed

The setting of speed limits on our roads can be an emotive issue but there is only one objective – and that is to make our roads safer for motorists and pedestrians.

Whatever your opinion on how fast people should drive on our roads, there is one fact that is undeniable – and for this fact we quote our Road Safety Co-ordinator Megan Jolly: “Speed will determine the seriousness of the outcome of any crash.”

There are many myths and misconceptions about the speed at which we drive – here are a few for you to consider:


“Reducing speed limits is revenue gathering for the Police”

Police do not retain any of the money from infringements; the money goes to the Government. Collection of infringements comes at a much more significant cost to issue notices including police time and energy.  Police would be delighted not to have to issue any infringements, as this would show everyone was driving safely and not putting themselves or others at risk. This would see deaths and serious injuries on our roads significantly reduced.


“It’s not the speed; it’s the idiots not driving to the conditions or the rules”

While poor driving behaviour has resulted in crashes, more are a result of mistakes and even the most experienced “perfect” driver among us drops the ball sometimes. Whether late for a meeting or work, or late dropping the kids off/picking up from school, everyday pressures can influence our driving behaviour and result in us making driving errors. These mistakes shouldn’t result in loss of life or serious injury and the speed you are driving by far has the greatest influence on the severity of a crash, and it could be the difference between life, death or serious injury.


“If speed limits are reduced, my travel time will dramatically increase and cost me more”

Research has shown driving at a speed appropriate for the road is likely to only result in a very small increase in travel time. Other factors, such as lights, traffic, and intersections have a much greater effect on travel time.  

Trips reducing the maximum speed from 100km/h to 80km/h on a 10km length of road showed travel time increases ranged from 30-48 seconds.  For local trips reducing the maximum speed from 50km/h to 40km/h showed travel time increases ranged from 11-42 seconds difference.

Trip typeDistanceMaximum speed (time) beforeMaximum speed (time) after
Open road travel10km100km/hr (06:00)80km/hr (06:30 – 06:48)
30-48 seconds difference
Local road trips4km50km/hr (04:48)40km/hr (05:09 – 05:30)
11-42 seconds difference

If the maximum speed limit around a typical town is 50km/h, your average journey speed is between 26km/h and 33 km/h. Safe and appropriate speeds actually result in significant fuel savings.


"It’s the road not the speed limit that needs changing”

All roads are not created equal nor are the risks necessarily identifiable by a driver, and people do make mistakes. Travelling the right speed for the risk on the road can help minimise the impact of a crash. Speed is the difference between a correctable mistake and a fatal error. Even good drivers can hurt others if they are involved in a crash travelling at the wrong speed for the road and conditions. To engineer existing roads to a higher standard would cost the district billions of dollars, and result in limited benefits, if any.

Graphs of crashes involving vehicles vs vehicle and vehicles vs pedestrian/cyclist

Crash involving vehicles vs vehicle and vehicles vs pedestrian/cyclist
Source: Austroads Balance between harm reduction and mobility in setting speed limits: a feasibility study (2005)

Visualisation of pedestrian/cyclist fatality at 40kmph vs 50 kmph

Crash involving vehicle vs pedestrian/cyclist - Difference between 50km/h and 40km/h
Source: Cities Safer by Design (2015)


“My car is safer so speed is not an issue”

While modern cars have better safety equipment our bodies don’t, and they feel the force of a crash the same way they did when the first car was invented.

Speed contributes to the severity of the impact when a collision does occur. For car occupants in a crash with an impact speed of 80 km/h, the likelihood of death is 20 times what it would have been at an impact speed of 40 km/h.

New Zealand roads are often unforgiving and leave no room for error. Even the best technology won’t stop another car crashing into you, or protect you from impact with a roadside object.


“Its overseas drivers that cause the problems, they don’t know our rules and roads, locals know the roads well”

New Zealand drivers crash at a much higher rate than our visitors.  Over the five years from 2012-2016, 6.2 percent of fatal and injury crashes involved an overseas driver, and not all overseas drivers involved in those crashes were at fault. Many of the countries that tourists come from have better engineered roads than us, with more finely tuned speed limits, and as such tourists are quite often just driving at the safe and appropriate speed for the engineering of the road.

New Zealand drivers are used to driving faster on those roads as they are familiar through day-to-day journeys, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those speeds are safe and appropriate for the engineering of the roads. Mistakes happen to everyone, even well-seasoned locals, but a mistake shouldn’t result in death or serious harm.