Traffic Speed

In WA about 70 pedestrians & cyclists (vulnerable road users (VRU)) suffer serious injury each year. 20% of hospital admissions are VRUs. The most common factor in road trauma is traffic speed; a person struck by a vehicle at 40kph or greater if not killed outright, will suffer ‘unrecoverable damage’ 

There has been substantial research clearly demonstrating the improved safety to cyclists and pedestrians that results from the introduction of 40kph speed limit on suburban streets.  40kph is recognised as the maximum at which a pedestrian can expect to survive if hit by a car.  Motorists safety is also improved as slower speeds result in fewer and less severe collisions. 

The Road Users Consultative Committee (RUCC) which represents the views of road users to the Road Safety Council, has consistently argued, with the exception of the RAC who host the committee, that reduced speeds in the suburbs will create a safer environment for VRU’s.  The RAC is opposed to slower speeds.

The 2008 – 2012 WA Road safety strategy is based on improvements in 4 keys areas

  1. Safer road use behaviour
  2. Safer and more forgiving roads and roadsides
  3. Safer speeds. and
  4. Safer vehicles

The original strategy paper, commissioned from the specialist Accident Research Center at Monash University suggested that reducing suburban speed limits to 40 kph would between 2008 – 2012, reduce the numbers of road users being killed or seriously injured by 11,000.  The idea of reducing speed limits proved politically unacceptable and was actually opposed by the RAC who represent ‘all road users’ on the Road Safety Council.  (With due regard to the RAC, they are a motorists organisation and understandably put motorists first.  The fact that they are regarded as representing ‘all road users’ and not just motorists is indicative of the Road Safety Council mindset.)

The original paper was withdrawn, rewritten to be more politically acceptable and can be found on the Office of Road Safety website.  To be fair there is a small section on page 37 about community perceptions of increased travel time and mobility reduction being the main reason stated for opposing reductions in speed limits, despite there being no empirical evidence to support the view.  (I suspect that this attitude is reflected on many issues today where the community support for an issue collapses the moment some personal sacrifice is required.)  The paper also acknowledges that

  • The reduction of the urban speed limit to 50 kph meant that there has been a reduction of approximately 8500 crashes in the first two years after implementation
  • For the general standard of roads in WA, speed limits are higher than those on similar roads in other countries
  • The safety benefits of lower speeds to VRU’s
  • The reduction in vehicle wear and fuel consumption at lower speed limits and its consequent environmental benefit.

There is also a small paragraph on the Nilsson Power Model which showed, from research gathered worldwide, a 5% decrease in speed would result in a 10% reduction in injuries and a 20% reduction in fatalities, and vice versa. 

Despite all that, Mr Moir of the RAC questionned the relationship between lower speeds and reduced road trauma.

There is of course the matter of enforcement.  Making laws that are largely unenforceable and therefore ignored is not good policy.  There does need to be community acceptance that the car is potentially dangerous and used carelessly by many inadequately trained people. The number of drivers I observe driving one handed whilst talking on their mobile or impatiently running a red lights, indicates we still have a long way to go in overcoming their personal sense of immortality.

In the meantime, the BTA  is lobbying for VRU’s to be seperately represented on the Road Safety Council and not to be grouped with motoring organisations.  It will continue to promote 40 kph speed limits for inner suburban areas to improve the safety of all VRU’s.

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Promoting everyday cycling