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by John Cadogan

NSW NRMA’s regional director Graham Blight recently told the media that the RTA’s hidden agenda is to drop the state-wide speed limit to 90km/h. Mr Blight’s allegations came as the RTA dropped the speed limit on the Newell Highway fell from 110km/h in places to 100 on December 1. Mr Blight suggests the RTA’s first step in this process is to get rid of 110km/h zones that aren’t on divided roads (read: freeways and motorways).

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Will driving at 90 kays an hour make your trip safer? Probably not, but let’s just say the jury’s out on that. Crashes that start at 90km/h generally end better than those that kick off at 100 (or 110), but adding 10 per cent to your driving time opens the door even further to the other big long-distance killer – fatigue. Will driving at a reduced speed make the trip longer? Certainly – in time, if not in distance.

The reduction in the Newell’s limit wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. There was the RTA on one side and a vocal community, NRMA, business and even police opposition to the then proposal – which the NSW RTA simply turned a deaf ear to, and ultimately steamrollered over. The NSW Police’s western region commander Steve Bradshaw told the ABC: “Reducing speed [on the Newell Highway] won’t make much of a difference. Other things need to be targeted, like fatigue.”

The new speed limit adds one hour onto the 1060-kilometre trip from Victoria to Queensland along the Newell. It also means trucks and passenger vehicles are all limited to the same 100km/h speed – making overtaking a heavy vehicle in front all the more difficult.

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In one of its more Orwellian statements, the RTA said the lower limit was a benefit to all road users. Here’s what an RTA spokesperson said about that recently: “It is expected that the reduction in the speed limit will also reduce the difference in travel speeds between the various road users on the open road and reduce the need for overtaking.”

Huh? Frankly, fewer things seem are less appealing than the prospect of driving behind a B-double for several hours along the Newell Highway for want of an extra 10km/h of overtaking ability. That extra 10km/h was an asset, not a liability, as every experienced long-distance driver knows.

Politically it’s easier to drop the speed limit than it is to spend money on engineering upgrades (and maintenance) on our roads – engineering deficiencies being another major killer that the NSW RTA fails to acknowledge, possibly because it is also the agency tasked with upgrading the roads.

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Mr Blight says reducing the Newell’s speed limit to 100 is the first step in a campaign to reduce state-wide speed limits on all undivided highways to 100km/h and then to 90 kays. This allegation is based on comments Mr Blight says RTA members have made at NRMA meetings.

“There are a few fanatical guys within the RTA who are totally anti-speed and they have a campaign to get every speed limit in NSW down to 100. We had a guy from the RTA at our policy committee the other day who actually under a fair bit of pressure let it slip that now they might be thinking about 90,” he said recently.

There is certainly a number of so-called ‘experts’ within the RTA and in the other state regulatory agencies whose view is that road safety is something so complex that non-academics – ordinary people like us, if you like – simply are not cut out to understand it, nor is an average person’s view on road safety policy of any value.

In the RTA, the poster boy for this group of experts is Dr Soames Job, director of the RTA’s Centre for Road Safety. According to the Centre’s website, the agency exists to develop “new solutions to the biggest killer on our roads – speeding”. Dr Job says that there is no evidence adding one hour to the trip along the Newell will increase fatigue. Let’s hope he’s right, because even the RTA acknowledges that fatigue (not speed) is the number-one cause of serious crashes on the Newell.

Adding an hour to a remote trip will surely increase the potential for fatigue, not reduce it. If fatigue is the biggest contributor to crashing on that road (and the NRMA, the cops and the RTA agree that it is) then the RTA is playing a dangerous game. Dr Job doesn’t agree.

“There is no evidence that this is the case. Naive assertions such as this have the potential to cost lives in western NSW,” he said.

The NSW RTA is so impossibly arrogant that it is no longer even accountable to its own regulations and policies when it comes to reviewing speed limits. Its own Speed Zoning Guidelines (pp 16-17) state that stakeholder consultation is an essential part of the speed limit review process. You’d think that if senior police, who are at the coal face when things go wrong on the Newell, and the NRMA, which represents the Newell’s road users, and the local communities disagree strongly with the proposal, then maybe the RTA would re-think its position. And pigs might fly…

The first of those 90km/h signs will go up in NSW before you know it.




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