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Government study backs higher speed limits
A Federal Government-funded study justifies increased rural freeway speed limits
10 Dec 2003
A FEDERAL Government-funded study into the trade-off between speed and safety has found economic merit in raising speed limits on rural freeways during good conditions to as high as 125km/h.
The study on highway traffic speeds conducted by the Monash University Accident Research Centre for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau analysed the impact of speed changes on major cost factors, including travel times, crash rates, fuel consumption and the environmental effects of vehicle emissions.
It found the overall cost of rural travel could be reduced if speed limits were better matched to the crash risks of different sections of road.
Conflicting with government policy that has historically lowered speed limits, the study noted that the economically optimum speed for light vehicles travelling on high standard rural freeways was actually higher than current speed limits - somewhere between 115km/h and 125km/h.
"Higher speeds on these roads could be justified in economic terms because of the saving in travel time, but that would mean a lower level of safety," said the federal Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads, Senator Ian Campbell, in a press release presenting the study on November 24.
"Contrary to some popular beliefs, the study emphasises that any increase in speeds would result in an increase in fatalities and injuries, even on freeway-standard divided roads. This is consistent with the vast body of research evidence on speed and crash risk. I hope this study encourages constructive debate about Australia's rural speed limits," he said.
Senator Campbell said a flexible approach to speed regulation had the potential to create a better overall balance between efficiency and safety objectives.
He said there was merit in exploring the use of variable speed limits – including higher freeway speeds for light vehicles during good conditions and lower speed limits on undivided rural roads.
"Most undivided rural roads are currently speed limited to 100km/h or 110km/h, but the study shows the economically optimal speed for cars on these roads can range from 85km/h to 105km/h, depending on various features of the road," Senator Campbell said.
"By reducing speed limits on the lower standard parts of the rural network, we would not only achieve better safety outcomes, we would enjoy a net economic benefit as well." Variable speed limits already exist in many European nations like France, where the standard 130km/h Autoroute speed limit drops to 110km/h during wet weather.
Speed limits on all three-lane Autostradas in Italy will rise from 130km/h to 150km/h from January 1, 2004, in response to research that shows only nine per cent of fatal accidents there are caused by speeding.
AUSTRALIA’S peak bicycle and pedestrian groups have come out in support of the Bracks government by attacking car company chiefs who criticised Victoria’s focus on speed cameras.
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