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Open Letter to Minister of Police: Don't Lower "Ticketing" Speed Limits

, posted: 29-Nov-2013 07:24

The Automobile Association was established in Britain in 1905 specifically to help drivers to avoid police speed traps. In NZ, in 2006, AA Members expressed opposition to lowering of the speed tolerance from 10 to 5 km/h. In 2007 a majority of AA Members said that speeding tickets in urban areas should not be issued below 60 km/h.

For several years the NZ Police have enforce speed limits with a reduced tolerance (from 10 to 4 km/h) over holiday weekends. This has coincided with lower crash and death counts. Police credit the lower speeds, though it could be argued that the greater police presence, and greater concentration by motorists due to the need for higher vigilance to avoid speeding tickets is the cause. The Police website presents several reasons for applying this policy to holiday weekends:
Police policy on speed tolerance (Nov 2013)

The unilateral announcement by the Minister of Police and NZTA that speed tolerances would be lowered from 10 to 4 km/h for all of December and January is unwarranted and unwise. At most, NZTA could apply this measure to the Christmas holiday road toll period, as this is the interval in which their stated conditions apply.
The more insidious announcement, though, was the “softening up blow” of saying the 4 km/h speed tolerance could apply all year. This is a perverse incentive for motorists – if you drive safely we will reward you with slower commutes, greater frustration and a less efficient economy! And we haven’t considered the increased public hostility towards the Police for revenue collecting instead of targeting the recidivist bad motorists (excessively fast or slow or inebriated or erratic).

NZ speed limits have remained static for many years, despite the improvements in road engineering and vehicle passive and active safety features (such as ABS brakes and stability control). 
As a rule of thumb, posted speed limits should be the 85th percentile speed. That is, in free-flowing traffic, only 15% of vehicle would be exceeding the posted speed limit. Drivers travelling much faster OR much slower than the 85th percentile speed are significantly over-represented in crashes.
Even NZTA acknowledges that Speed limits must make sense to drivers. Motorists are less likely to comply with speed limits that are seen as too low for the road. Yet the fact that, on most roads, the majority of motorists exceed the posted speeds, and drive up to the speed tolerance, indicates that the limits are set too low.
Proposed Solution
Rather than a 100 km/h maximum speed limit plus a 10 km/h ticketing tolerance, I suggest that the open road speed limit be changed to 110 km/h with a zero tolerance. Similarly, urban limits of 50 + 10 km/h would become 60 km/h with zero tolerance, and so forth.
This would have the following benefits:
  • Motorists’ support for speed limits. Suddenly the majority of drivers would not be breaking the law any more.
  • Less speeding, allowing Police to concentrate on the problem driving offenders, and resulting in greater goodwill between motorists and Police.
  • Promotion of accurate speedometers, as the driver is responsible for knowing whether their indicated speed is “high” or “low”. (Calibration is easier nowadays with most smartphones including a GPS speed function.)
  • Less slower drivers, since the current “law-abiding” ones can cease to hold up the average motorists, reducing the need for overtaking.
The Future
There are some non-arterial urban roads where 60 km/h is too high – particularly narrow cul de sacs. Lowering limits for such roads should not affect travel times or safety, as motorists should already be travelling slowly in such areas.
Conversely, on the motorways built to high safety standards, higher speed limits should be considered.
Immediate Action
I respectfully request the Minister of Police to instruct her department to abandon their plans of imposing the 4 km/h speed tolerance for all of December and January, and revert to just the Christmas/New Year holiday period.
Yours sincerely,
David White
BE (Mech), PhD (Vehicle Stability)

If you, dear reader, agree with me, please email the Minister of Police ( and calmly tell her so. 


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Comment by KiwiNZ, on 29-Nov-2013 08:04

It is surprisingly easy to avoid speeding fines just like it is surprisingly easy to avoid alcohol driving charges.... Don't.

Author's note by dmw, on 29-Nov-2013 09:16

KiwiNZ, the speeding fines are not my prime concern (although that will be for the thousands of hard-working people who don't vigilantly watch their speedometer while dealing with recalcitrant children, or emotional turmoil, or other distractions). I have not had a speeding ticket since 1979.

The issue here is, are we happy to have our unmolested travel speeds reduced by up to 10%? With no public debate? Are we happy to have the public at loggerheads with the Police?

Rather than high viz marked patrol cars, the police should use more mufti cars to track down and put away the worst driving offenders.

Comment by KiwiNZ, on 29-Nov-2013 09:38

The Police have not reduced the speed limit by 10%, the maximum legal speed limit on New Zealand public roads is 100KMH depending on pervailing conditions, it is not 110KMH. Given that the speed limit is set by Act of Parliament it could be seen that the Police had acted ultra fire in applying an unwritten 10% discretion.

The higher visibility vehicles is a good thing if it reduces speed and makes travel safer. Remember the bigger the speed the bigger the mess.

Comment by gnfb, on 29-Nov-2013 10:00

I have always thought of speeding fines in New Zealand as Tax rather than anything else. When I was working in Wellington and drove to work everyday I accrued 3 or was it 4 speeding tickets for doing 55-60 in a 40-50 zone I think. I looked at it as just the price of doing business. In fact I have never worried about the effects of fines or tickets form the NZ force as I was once booked in the south island for driving to slowly I was doing 75 in a 100 zone $150 fine (thought I was on candid camera). After that I just couldn't take any of it seriously. A better cause for action and effort would be bringing into effect a instant lifetime ban for drink driving. If you are still caught driving after that you are sent to jail or Australia dealers choice.

Author's note by dmw, on 29-Nov-2013 10:17

I agree, @KiwiNZ. "The Police have not reduced the speed limit by 10%." But that is not what I said.

Note it well: unmolested travel speeds reduced by up to 10%

Before, I could drive at 60km/h in a so-called 50km/h area without fear of interruption by a member of the constabulary. From Sunday, if I exceed 54 km/h, I can be pinged.

Speed does not kill. Sudden deceleration does. Crashes happen mainly due to carelessness, or bad driving by others.

Comment by KiwiNZ, on 29-Nov-2013 10:39

When has it ever been permitted to drive at 60KMH in a 50KMH zone? And to do that is anti social, irresponsible and illegal.  Also the argument used for the discretion ( 10 KMH in 100 KMH area and 5kmh in a 50 KMH area) was to account for speedo inaccuracy, Your proposal that the speed limit be increased to 110 KMH with no discretion makes the discrepancy argument nonsense, are you saying that any speedo inaccuracy is eliminated once the speed exceeds 100KMH?

Driving at excessive speed is careless use of a vehicle, greater the speed the lesser the reaction time, longer braking time, and greater impact speed resulting in greater damage and risk of serious trauma. Add that to a built up area hitting a pedestrian or a cyclist at 60KMH  will certainly result in serious injury or death.

Author's note by dmw, on 29-Nov-2013 11:04

@KiwiNZ: Are you one of the road-rage inducing drivers who insists on driving at an indicated 49 km/h on a 50 km/h arterial route, when everyone else is trying to make the most of the 10 km/h tolerance by driving at 55 to 60 km/h? Yes, it is illegal. The fact that a huge majority of drivers are breaking the law says more about the limit than it does about the drivers. (And which driver in those circumstances is anti-social: the one doing 49 and holding up the flow, or the one doing 59 and blending in?)

I am saying that modern cars have accurate speedos. And that if a driver chooses to travel near the maximum posted limit, it should become their responsibility to know the accuracy of their speedo - including the effect of changing tyres.

I agree that travelling at 60 km/h in areas with many pedestrians or young cyclists is irresponsible. That would be a potential careless driving offence. But if commuting cyclists choose to travel on arterial routes with cars, buses and trucks, that is their risk.

Comment by KiwiNZ, on 29-Nov-2013 11:31

I drive according to the law, simple. I am fully aware that when my speedo show 50KMH I am travelling at 48KMH therefore I adjust accordingly, the same as for 60KMH, 80KMH and 100KMH zones. If anyone has road rage because I follow the road rules driving to the posted speed limit, keeping left unless passing etc etc then they are the poor driver and need to address their driving habits. 
Your statement as to modern cars "I am saying that modern cars have accurate speedos" is incorrect my car is a 2013 vehicle and there is a slight inaccuracy and my wife's car is a 2012 and that is the same.

Driving at 60 KMH in a 50KMH zone is just plain stupid driving.

Comment by Satch, on 29-Nov-2013 13:26

I mostly agree with @dmw here.  I too can't make sense of this change in tolerance.  Something no one has raised yet is of the times I have driven during holiday reduced tolerances, I find myself focusing more on my speedo and less on the conditions around me.  A 4km/h tolerance in my view is tiring to drive under as I have to be MUCH MORE aware of my speed which takes my attention away from other equally, even more important aspects of driving.

What I don't agree with is setting hard limits.  It is impossible to expect anyone to drive to an exact limit.  I wouldn't be particularly happy being pinged for travelling 111km/h in a 110km/h zone.  My driving (and 99.9% of people's driving) is not good enough to drive to no margin of error.

@KiwiNZ - I mean no disrespect here but from my experience your views are in the minority, and perhaps a little unrealistic.  Commonsense has to come into play, hence why we have any tolerances in the first place.  You also raise a rather subjective argument when you bring "excessive speed" into the discussion.  Is 55km/h in a 50km/h zone really "excessive speed"?  When you then look at 105km/h in a 100km/h zone, the definition becomes even more questionable.

I completely don't agree with what the Police are doing over Dec and Jan.  I believe it places additional stress on driving, particularly over longer distances, and diverts drivers' attention from other equally important aspects of driving.  Why can't our Police force focus on other as equally (argumentatively more important) tasks like reducing crime (burglaries/theft etc) rather than go for the easy task of sitting roadside for hours on end playing a numbers game?


Comment by createcoms, on 29-Nov-2013 16:52

I don't support any speed enforcement that is applied in a vacuum.  What I mean, is that people should be ticketed for driving *dangerously* and exceeding the posted limit should be one of those tools available to the discretion of a police officer who is assessing the driver with not just his radar/lidar but his eyes and ears as well. 

And yes, that means I'm opposed in principle to all automated speed enforcement as an implication of the above.

Comment by afe66, on 29-Nov-2013 17:19

(I joined the AA becuase of the brakedown facility alone. I have never been surveyed about my opinions that the AA annouces. I wonder how many of the AA's member are of a similar opinion.)

In 25 year of driving I have only had one speeding ticket and thats because I was tired and missed a sign. My fault.

The speed limit is what it is. If we have to pick some wiggle room ok make it 4km and keep to it all year round. Life has all sorts of arbitary limits and we cope. (Why cant I drive at 14, why cant I drink at 17.9 yrs of age)

For those who claim speeding tickets are revenue collecting lets increase the demerit points significantly. Maybe loss of licence for 3 months after the second ticket.

I have driven in europe and nz, our roads are bad and our drivers poorly behaved and have a sence of entitlement to speed and a high opinion of their driving ability. I have never come accross anyone who hasnt said their driving is "better than average".

I look after the consequences of crashes and they arent pretty. If it takes you a little longer to get to your destination so be it. We coped when the open road limit was 80km/h.


Comment by colinuu, on 29-Nov-2013 21:05

@KiwiNZ: May I correct your commonly held misunderstanding that the discretionary tolerance in 50k zone is 5k. the tolerance is 10k regardless of the limit. So your outrage at people driving up to 60k is a little misplaced. It is important to stress the  word discretionary in this discussion. Some arterial 50k roads  are quite safe at 60k, likewise on others it would be folly to do 50k. Similarly, many motorways are built to be safe at 110k, other main routes not. So the discretionary tolerance is the device used by Police to recognise these factors and to permit the free flow of traffic at speeds suitable to the particular road.

An alternative approach to the problem is as used in Australia, where the limit on main roads and motorways frequently changes between 70, 80, 90, 100, 110k according to the local conditions. Many urban roads have a 60k limit, others 50 or 40. This is perhaps a more 'honest' system, but has a downside in that it can be easy to miss a speed limit sign.

I have a lot of sympathy for the views expressed by the OP, and don't believe that restricting speed to 104k on many motorways will do anything to improve safety. In other situations it may. So my preference would be to move towards multiple limits which match the road design and condition, and then also a tightening up on the tolerance (say 2k).

Thanks for listening.

Comment by SteveC, on 30-Nov-2013 17:03

I suggest the big problem on New Zealand roads is lack of courtesy, sometimes mixed with share stupidity.This blog makes an implication that speed limits have a significant effect on overall travel times.  Last Christmas we travelled from Wellington to Matamata and back with a boat.  We stuck to 90 kph.  I was astounded at the number of people who would speed past us, generally at a safe place, and them turned up just in front of us maybe 20 to 30 minutes later.  Likewise, I used to ride my bicycle 18 kms to work every so often.  That took about 90 minutes.  Same trip in a car (about one third on the Wellington motorway) took about 30 minutes.  Speed limits would allow me to drive twice to four times the fastest I can cycle.More research is needed before asserting that increased speed limits significantly affect travel times.  There are hundreds of other variables.As for your comment about the popular police safety slogan.  I don't care for your clever semantics - you are insulting the memory of people who have lost loved ones in high-speed crashes.  There is plenty of research confirming that higher vehicle speeds result in more deaths.Speed does kill.Thanks for promoting a discussion.Steve

Author's note by dmw, on 30-Nov-2013 18:56

Colin Espiner has written an opinion piece on this subject too. Very good it is, too. 

Recommended reading.

Comment by Reanalyse, on 1-Dec-2013 16:00

Let's accept the 4km tolerance- but if the road toll for the period December 2013- January 2014 is not lower than that for all previous years then the Minister of Police and the Commissioner of Police both have to resign. With responsibility comes accountability.

Author's note by dmw, on 1-Dec-2013 17:34

@Reanalyse but what a perverse incentive...

Ok guys, who is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice? You will be doing the country a favour. Otherwise, everyone is stuck doing 54 km/h, maximum. We just have to get the road toll up to avoid that. You'll go down in history as one of the heroes who defeated the stupid speed tolerance reduction.

"Unintended consequences"

Comment by KiwiNZ, on 1-Dec-2013 18:54

They should just enforce the legal maximum as prescribed in legislation.

Comment by stevenz, on 2-Dec-2013 11:31

FWIW - I drive about 8% over the posted speed limits, as I know that when my speedo says 108Km/Hr, I'm actually doing 100Km/Hr.

In _most_ cases, the posted speed limits make sense. Given the increased safety of vehicles, the limits could probably be increased, but given that the competance of drivers has _not_ increased, that probably offsets any benefits in the vehicles. Then you get Volvo drivers who think that because their car is so "safe" they can drive as poorly as they like as they'll be ok.

If you're driving in such a way that you're paying so little attention that you don't see the cop before you get pinged, then you probably deserve to get pinged.

Also, "Speed kills" is an incomplete, nonsensical statement. They stopped using it for a few years, now they've gone back to it, along with "the bigger the speed, the bigger the mess" which is also an incomplete statement. Tack "If you crash" onto the end of either, and you're in business.

Comment by Satch, on 2-Dec-2013 13:05

@dmw - thanks for the link to Espiner's article.  Good, intelligent debate.  It is crazy how many people think that speeding a small percentage over the arbitrarily posted legal limit (how convenient that the limits line up exactly with round numbers like 50/80/100 etc) is the same thing as "dangerous driving" or "excessively" speeding.

I got pinged $30 recently travelling downhill 57km/h in a 50km/h zone passed a speed camera.  That's within the Police's unwritten 9 or 10km/h tolerance but I still got done.  I didn't adjust for the downhill fast enough and got penalised.  I have no choice but to accept their ruling, but wouldn't WE ALL be better off by the Police targeting the real dangerous driver who speeds past you going 130km/h in a 100km/h zone while crossing double yellow lines to do so?  I need more than one hand worth of fingers to count the number of times this has happened to me, all while I was travelling close to 110km/h when the conditions made it safe for me to do so.

Comment by KiwiNZ, on 2-Dec-2013 14:50

I commend any initiative and work done by the police to make the roads safer and to reduce the road toll, its a pity so many New Zealanders are so self centred they cannot see that. That attitude is the same that prevailed regarding drink driving.

I think it's immature to carry on about incomplete statements etc  take on board the message, dive socially and with maturity.

Comment by kiwitrc, on 2-Dec-2013 15:56

Good letter dmw, wholeheartedly agree. I find I tend to drive to the conditions but rarely if at all go over 110k these days which is mainly due to fact I drive a Hilux and unlike my previous turbo Subaru, she aint built like a race car.

Comment by CodyP, on 2-Dec-2013 16:03

If the majority of motorists already exceed speed limits by the tolerance, they're driving right at the edge of the ticketing threshold canceling out any tolerance. there's no more leeway, no buffer to protect them from dips in the road or a freak gust of tailwind and it defeats the whole purpose of a tolerance. Yet from the comments I've read on various websites, these drivers now think the reduced tolerance will mean they're now more likely to get ticketed, I don't understand that logic.

What id rather see is the limit on motorways, some state highways and commercial urban areas raised by 10. Keep the suburbs etc at 50. Have a recommended/suggested speed of 10k below the limit which the road user is not obligated to go over, and leave it up to the individual to set their own tolerance, which is basically what's happening now.

Comment by Tom, on 3-Dec-2013 01:49

@KiwiNZ modern cars do have incredibly accurate speedos (considering the limitations of tires changing size slightly over their life etc). Most cars have 2-3km/h intentionally added, as can be seen by connecting a scan tool to your car's diagnostic port, or by traveling a known distance and checking the trip meter. The margin is because the standards for car speedometers require that they are accurate within a certain percentage but never display a speed under that which you are actually traveling (making any tolerance by the police only apply to human error, not instrumentation).This effect is also noticeable if you drive past a "your speed" sign at 30km/h and then at 50km/h, the difference is a fixed amount, not a percentage.

Comment by Alex, on 3-Dec-2013 16:22

Thanks for your excellent post David,It's so refreshing to see someone who isn't affected by the blatant propaganda and whom can think for themselves. Sadly as you can see from many of the comments we now live in a world of brainwashed "enablers" that blindly repeat whatever mantra the Government has sold them through expensive marketing. They do so much damage through applying social pressure to enforce blind compliance to whatever the Government and the Police feed us, no matter how absurd or how ulterior the motive. Thanks again for reassuring me that there are still some thinkers out there.

Comment by Alex, on 3-Dec-2013 16:32

Actually David,Would you  be interested in developing a petition for on this subject?I was going to write one up but wouldn't be able to manage as eloquently as you have. I was also going to mention how the statistics used to justify these measures and those used regularly by the Police in the media are blatantly flawed and shouldn't be accepted by a 10 year olds math teacher. (like when they make conclusions to suit their agenda based on one weekend and ignore all other factors). I would also like to point out how even cruise control systems on new cars can't even be this accurate, and the dangers of having people not accelerate properly when passing, which means more time on the wrong side of the road, not to mention extra fatigue on long trips from excessive speedometer watching. A nod to the recent drink driving change that was passed at great expense despite the statistics not supporting it would be good too, especially given it was done at a time when we can't even afford to properly staff the 111 call centre and are using IT contractors to take up the slack.Just some ideas anyhow, it would be great to have a petition going so people could see the numbers who support it rather than an unknown number of letters going to a minister only to be ignored. Thanks again for taking the time to share your insights.

Comment by tim, on 10-Dec-2013 22:56

Whats so important about the number 100 and its + and - friends? Drop it to 90 or 80 if it saves one more life, or lets all walk. Is there a difference between tightening the tolerance than lowering the legal top speed? The roads and vehicles are immeasurably superior to when these limits were set. What is that saying about my people and rights? I give up..-Dismayed.

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David White
New Zealand

Goon fan, .NET developer, contrarian seeker of truth