Tasmania rejects full rural road speed reduction

State trucking operators to the fore in opposing blanket reduction of default country speed to 90km/h

August 20, 2013

After months of uncertainty sparked by concern at the numbers of deaths on rural Tasmanian roads, there will be no 10km/h reduction to 90 km/h in the default speed limit for them.

Much of the opposition came from trucking operators who pointed to efficiency and time-sensitive load issues.

The outcome announced by Infrastructure Minister David O’Byrne came despite expert opinion that lower speeds on roads that in some cases are deteriorating would lower the toll.

"We’ve achieved a 33 per cent reduction in serious casualty crashes over the last five years, however too many crashes continue to occur on rural roads," O’Byrne says.

"While the original recommendation from the Road Safety Advisory Council was for a blanket reduction, instead we’ve been working and consulting with communities about the Safer Roads Strategy and looking at roads on a case-by-case basis, using proven criteria.

"It is however clear that overwhelmingly the community does not support a reduction in the default speed limit on our rural roads.

"Without community backing for this approach we know it will not keep Tasmanians safe on our roads and could in fact put drivers at risk."

Tasmanian trucking industry participants were generally opposed.

At a parliamentary committee meeting in Launceston on April 29, Page Transport Managing Director Geoff Page pointed out that his livestock transport drivers were for the most part well-versed in driving with care to ensure stock was safe.

He also highlighted safety advances in truck technology.

"It seems a nonsense that we are going backwards in speed but forwards in safety and technology in these vehicles," Page told the hearing.

Page calls for better roads, driver education and fatigue management ahead of a move that would mean confusion over a spread of differing speed limits.

He was critical of the amount of consultation undertaken with livestock transporters, saying there had been one information night and some information passed on from the Tasmanian Transport Association.

He notes that time-sensitive loads will spoil if they fail to meet ferries for Bass Strait crossings.

Calvin Jones of CR and S Jones Transport says motorists’ bad practices and poor maintenance, rather than the speed limit, were the central issues.

Stefan Rebarcyzyk of vehicle dealers Burt & Campbell Trucks believes complacency and boredom could become an issue for country-dwellers once they are out of their comfort zones.

An artificially low speed limit might see "locals in that area . . . become used to that pace and when they enter the highway 110kph zones their acquired abilities will become sorely tested", Rebarcyzyk says in a submission.

O’Byrne says a public education campaign to alert motorists to always drive to the conditions, particularly on rural roads, would start later this year as planned.

"I respect and accept the views of the community that reducing speeds alone isn’t an acceptable approach and I call on the community to now lead our campaign forward.

"Road safety is everyone’s responsibility and together we can make our rural roads safer by driving to the changing road conditions, no matter what the posted speed limit sign says."

O’Byrne says that individual road assessments undertaken as part of the Safer Roads Strategy would assist in future infrastructure investment.

"Our focus has always been about improving, where possible, road and roadside infrastructure, with speed management being used where an infrastructure response is not possible.

"The State and Federal Governments have invested over $900 million into transport infrastructure over the last few years – we will push ahead with work on upgrading our strategic road network and continue to build on this record investment."

Speed limits on gravel roads would still be reduced to 80km/h and ‘END’ speed limit signs would still be removed as planned later this year.

"The message has been very clear when it comes to a more sensible speed limit on gravel roads and removing confusing ‘END’ speed limit signage – that’s why we’re taking action now.

"We’ll also continue working with local councils to deliver appropriate speed limits on sections of roads in their municipalities, with community agreement.

"I thank DIER and the Road Safety Advisory Council for their continued work and advocacy for road safety and I believe this new approach, with the community on board, will ensure we continue to keep Tasmanians safe."

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