Do we need to rethink speed limits on Victorian roads?

Empty country road with speed limit signs

Sue Hewitt

Posted February 11, 2020

After a horror year on Victoria’s roads, RACV is calling for a review of speed limits.

RACV has called for an urgent review of speed limits across the state after a horror year saw 263 people lose their lives on Victorian roads last year.

The death toll was a shocking wake-up call for authorities after a fairly constant decline in road fatalities over several years.

Even before the year was out, the state government realised something had to be done. By early May the road toll was 50 per cent higher than for the same period in 2018 and worse was to come. It organised a road-safety summit, regional road-safety forums and finally, in July, announced a parliamentary inquiry.

RACV says in its submission to the inquiry that there is an urgent need to review speed limits across the state and especially in country Victoria, with about half the state’s fatal crashes involving country drivers on regional roads.

The submission also calls for more funding to improve safety infrastructure on major highways and other high-traffic roads, as well as decreasing fines for low-level speeding while forcing repeat speeding offenders to install speed limiters in their cars.

Emily McLean, RACV’s senior engineer of roads and traffic, says rethinking speed limits should start with low-traffic secondary roads with 100kmh speed limits.

“That’s where people are dying,” she says. “In many instances it’s just not possible to drive safely at 100kmh on these roads, yet they have the same speed limit as the Geelong Ring Road which is sealed, divided and with multiple lanes in each direction.”

Emily says there are simple and affordable measures that can help make Victorian roads safer. “In country areas, this means rumble strips on the edge of the lane to prevent run-off road crashes, sealed shoulders to allow time for a driver to recover if they do leave their lane, and wire-rope barriers along the centre and side of roads to prevent them hitting a tree, pole or another vehicle.”

But she says it is not viable to upgrade every section of the 180,000 kilometres of regional roads with 100kmh speed limits across the state.

“At the current rate of funding we estimate it would take over 1000 years to upgrade every road to an acceptable safety standard – or we could act immediately to make roads safer by reviewing speed limits.” 

She says higher speed limits should only be applied when a road is safe enough to allow it. “We know people need to get around, and safe roads with higher speed limits are critical on important routes. But in other areas we need to review whether the speed limits are correct. Just because a road has always had a certain limit doesn’t mean it’s a safe speed for that road.”  

Although reviewing speed limits is likely to reduce the number and severity of crashes, it is only part of the solution to saving lives on Victorian roads.

“We need not just safer speeds and safer roads, but also safer cars and – crucially – safer drivers,” Emily says.

As the road toll began its upward spiral last year, the government brought together Victoria Police, the Transport Accident Commission, VicRoads (now the Department of Transport), RACV and other road experts to look at possible causes. It sent road experts to country Victoria, where locals were dying on local roads, and held eight regional community forums across the state.

The road-safety specialists all found that drugs and alcohol, driver distraction, the use of smart phones, speed, road standards and driver attitude had an impact.

“We think we can go a little bit faster, quickly check a map on the phone, have a little bit to drink, and that [a crash] won’t happen to us,” says Emily. “But it does happen to ordinary people every day.”

RACV's senior manager of transport, planning and infrastructure Peter Kartsidimas says distraction is a significant road-safety risk which has been identified as a factor in at least 16 per cent of serious crashes on Australian roads.

“Given that handheld mobile-phone use has been shown to significantly increase drivers’ crash risk and is labelled as a high-risk interaction, RACV is encouraging the government to pilot and implement mobile-phone detection cameras to deter driver distraction as a result of mobile-phone use,” he says.

This technology is already in place across New South Wales, he says, and RACV believes Victorians would benefit from the introduction of similar technology on our roads.

Peter says apart from rethinking speed limits, authorities needed to reconsider how they deal with lead-foot offenders. 

“RACV believes the demerit points system in Victoria should be reviewed in light of reforms a number of years ago in South Australia that resulted in the fine for low-level speeding being decreased from $260 to $155, and the demerit points being increased from one to two points for each offence,” Peter says.

This, he says, sends a clear message to the community that speed enforcement is about safety and not revenue raising, while reinforcing that any speed above the posted speed limit is unacceptable.

Repeat speeding offenders should be slowed down by having speed-limiting technology devices fitted to their cars as well undergoing behavioural programs, he says.

This technology has been successful overseas and the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, is making the devices mandatory for all newly manufactured light vehicles starting in 2022, he says. 

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