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Government study backs higher speed limits

Balance: A flexible approach to speed regulation had the potential to create a better overall balance between efficiency and safety objectives, Senator Campbell said.

A Federal Government-funded study justifies increased rural freeway speed limits

General News logo10 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.

800000”>Bicycle, pedestrian groups lambast car-makers

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.

A press release issued jointly on November 23 by the Bicycle Federation of Australia and the Pedestrian Council of Australia - in response to comments made by the local chiefs of Holden, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Mazda, Porsche and BMW - was headed “Peak Pedestrian and Bicycle Organisations Give Total Support to Bracks Government Anti-Speed Campaign”.

In part, it read: "On Friday 21 November, Mr George (sic) Polites, president of Ford Australia, was reported as saying: ‘No company condones speeding or unsafe driving, but my concern is an over-emphasis on speeding…’ "The Chairman of the PCA, Mr Harold Scruby, responded: ‘Car-makers in Australia have an appalling record of promoting unfettered speed and dangerous driving on our roads. The vast majority of their advertisements feature such behaviour (a blatant breach of their own voluntary advertising code) and their promotional material invariably includes data showing vehicles capable of well over 200km/h and 0 to 100km/h in nanoseconds.

"'It’s extraordinary, isn’t it, that you never hear the petrol-head brigade accusing governments of revenue-raising when they fine motorists who run red-lights? And equally, since the introduction of over 80 red-light speed cameras at intersections throughout Victoria, which issue tickets for both speeding and running red-lights at intersections, the same well-oiled lobby has been contemptuously struck-dumb on their revenue-raising tirade.’" Ms Fiona Campbell, spokesperson for the BFA, was quoted as saying: "Simply because there has been a minor technical glitch in some of Victoria’s speed cameras, car-makers are now cynically seizing upon this as an opportunity to get speed-cameras banned so they can continue to promote and glamorise ‘speed’.

"The Victorian Government has produced its lowest road toll in history, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists by employing some of the toughest anti-speed measures in the world, including covert enforcement and a 3km/h discretionary tolerance.

"While the PCA and the BFA agree there should be far more driver education and training (such as in Germany and Holland), speeding motorists severely damage the amenity of our neighbourhoods, reducing the propensity for people to walk and cycle."

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