Joint Standing Committee Upon Road Safety

About this Item
SpeakersGibson Mr Paul; Jeffery Mr Bruce; Mills Mr John; Small Mr James; Harrison Mr Robert; Smith Mr Russell
BusinessCommittee, Report

Report: A 50km/h General Urban Speed Limit for New South Wales

Mr GIBSON (Londonderry) [7.48 p.m.]: Speeding is a major factor in road trauma and the major cause of more than one-third of the fatal crashes in New South Wales each year. Speeding ranks with drink driving as the leading cause of crashes on our roads. If the Government is ever to make a dent in the speeding problem it must break the present speed culture. I believe that a 50- kilometre-per-hour speed limit will go a long way to achieve that and make young people realise they should not speed. Hopefully the next generation will carry through that achievement and break down today's speeding culture. The general urban speed limit in New South Wales and throughout Australia is 60 kilometres per hour, which is very high by world standards. Most other countries have an urban speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour, and in many jurisdictions the speed limit is even lower. Some countries have urban speed limits of 40 and even 30 kilometres per hour. It is important to note that I am speaking only of residential streets; not main roads or thoroughfares, just where people live. I suppose that what the committee is trying to do in the report is to give the streets where people live back to the families and the people to enjoy.

The report outlines the way in which the Staysafe committee would like to see a lower
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general urban speed limit put in place: as one action within an integrated package of measures associated with traffic management, traffic law, police enforcement, and communications strategies designed to educate drivers. If the initiatives on drink-driving and compulsory seat belts have been the most important developments in reducing the road toll, the adoption of a lower general urban speed limit can be seen as another significant piece in the road toll puzzle. Indeed, there is a good argument for proclaiming a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit as the single most important factor in the attempt to reduce the road toll by a significant margin over the next few years.

Research evidence and statistics show that for every one kilometre per hour reduction in the average speed of motor vehicles on our roads a 3 per cent reduction in road crashes can be expected. Every study throughout the world has supported that finding. It is hard to estimate exactly, but I suggest that it would be reasonable to project a reduction in road fatalities and road trauma by about 7 to 10 per cent a year if New South Wales implements a 50- kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit. That is, there would be a drop of 30 to 50 deaths each year together with a drop of about 500 to 600 in the number of persons hospitalised. This leads to a conservative estimate of at least $30 million in savings in health costs, property damage and losses to the community. I think it likely that these savings would be more in the range of $50 million each year if productivity losses and other costs associated with road deaths and serious injuries are included. So not only would families be saved trauma; there would also be a significant economic saving.

Let me stress that the 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit will affect local streets only. Main traffic routes will retain their current speed limits. This reflects the Staysafe committee's chief concern with respect to a 60-kilometre-per-hour speed limit: the danger posed to pedestrians, particularly children and the elderly. Children spend far more time than adults do in walking, so their exposure to traffic, particularly in residential streets, is much higher than that of adults. Reducing speed limits in these streets will mean children have a safer environment to walk and play in. Moreover, the local streets where we have our homes will become less a conduit for cars and more a space where people can live without the danger of fast traffic. As I said before, we are trying to give the streets back to the people.

The week before last there was a road safety seminar in Parliament House. There were representatives of every Australian road safety committee in every government. Representatives from New Zealand and the Federal Government also attended. After the two-and-a-half-day seminar the first motion passed stated that every State and New Zealand agreed that a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit should be introduced as soon as possible. It is often said that the solution to the speeding problem is more and better designed driver education and driver training programs so that drivers can better perceive and respond appropriately to the variety of road conditions that occur, yet still drive at the speed they wish rather than in accord with any speed limit set by the roads authority and enforced by police. That argument shows the lack of understanding in the community about the role which excessive speeding plays in serious injuries and deaths on urban roads.

The facts are simple: it is pure physics. If a car travelling at 60 kilometres per hour and a car doing 50 kilometres per hour on the same road have to stop suddenly, the car that was travelling at 60 kilometres per hour will still be travelling at 40 kilometres per hour when the car that was travelling at 50 kilometres per hour has stopped. So there is a far greater chance of preventing accidents and injury to pedestrians with a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit. Drivers might know all the things to look out for as road hazards but if they are driving too fast then they are the hazard. In the words of a British road safety advertisement, "If you can't stop in time, you are going too fast, aren't you?"

I know that there will be accusations that this is just another revenue-raising exercise by the Government. Nothing could be further from the truth. To demonstrate this point, the Staysafe committee has recommended a major revision of speeding offences and penalties. The primary penalty for minor speeding offences - for example, a driver exceeding the speed limit by no more than 10 kilometres per hour - should be demerit points rather than a heavy monetary fine. Staysafe proposes that the current system of a fine of $109 and loss of one demerit point be changed so that the fine is only $65 and the driver loses two demerit points.

The report was tabled in the Parliament in November last year. It was good to see that the police picked up the idea of doubling the demerit points for speeding offences. The trial over the Easter period achieved outstanding results. Staysafe has recommended that a three-month moratorium be placed on the issuing of fines for minor speeding infringements on roads affected by the new speed limit. Staysafe has stressed the crucial role which local councils will play in the successful implementation of a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit. In a modern society, where the pace of life is so much faster than it once was, it
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will be difficult for some people to understand the necessity of slowing drivers down. But, as the report notes, a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit will add virtually nothing to travel times. Surveys involving 26 million kilometres have been conducted. It has been found that perhaps 17 seconds could be added per journey, which is a minimal increase.

Staysafe recognises that the report into the proposed introduction of a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit has, of necessity, touched upon more general issues relating to excessive speeding on all New South Wales roads, including rural highways, freeways and urban traffic routes. There are general issues associated with technologies for detection of excessive speeding, the standard operating procedures for police enforcement in relation to excessive speeding, road design and urban and transport planning, and traffic management strategies for the safe and efficient movement of motor vehicles that merit further and more detailed examination than was possible in this inquiry. It is hoped that Staysafe will continue its review of speeding and road safety in later inquiries.

A significant aspect of the Staysafe committee's operation is the bipartisan manner in which the committee members conduct their inquiries and deliberations. I am grateful for the hard work of my colleagues, be they government members, Opposition members or crossbench members. Collectively, the contributions and scrutiny of members of the Staysafe committee ensure that policies and programs for road trauma reduction remain focused and are developed and delivered efficiently and effectively. As ever, the Staysafe committee has been ably served by its director, Mr Ian Faulks, and the secretariat: Mrs Cheryl Samuels, committee officer; Mr Chris Papadopoulos, research officer; and Mrs Maria Tyrogalas and Ms Susan Want, assistant committee officers. The work of these parliamentary officers has greatly assisted the committee's deliberations. I specifically note the contribution of Mr Chris Papadopoulos. He was employed as a research officer to assist the inquiry under a grant from the Minister for Roads for the conduct of the inquiry and he prepared the initial draft report for the committee. Members of the Staysafe committee thank the Parliamentary Reporting Staff and the Parliamentary Printing Services for their excellent work. There is a simple message in the Staysafe report into a lower urban speed limit - "When you're in town, slow down".

Mr JEFFERY (Oxley) [7.58 p.m.]: Following the speech by the Chairman of Staysafe, Mr Gibson, there is not a lot to add in relation to the report Staysafe 34. As the chairman said, speeding is a major problem ranking with drink-driving as a leading cause of crashes in New South Wales, causing more than a third of fatal crashes. We are talking only about residential areas. Children can dart out onto a roadway. A driver may be inattentive or momentarily distracted by an unexpected manoeuvre by another vehicle. There may be a misconception about the nature of the roadway - curves, crests, signs or signals. Such events occur commonly in driving.

I repeat the advice given by the chairman of the Staysafe committee that a car travelling at 60 kilometres per hour requires about 50 metres to come to a complete halt, a car travelling at 70 kilometres per hour requires almost 60 metres, and a car travelling at 80 kilometres an hour requires almost 75 metres. The effects of speed in terms of injuries and deaths are horrific. I shall comment on one or two aspects not raised by the chairman of the committee, the honourable member for Londonderry. During the Easter holiday break demerit points for speeding offences were doubled, and as a result of that I received a few phone calls from angry constituents who claimed that the Government and politicians - myself included, as my constituents know that I am a member of the Staysafe committee - are merely trying to raise revenue.

Mr Amery: I hope the honourable member defended us admirably.

Mr JEFFERY: It can be difficult to come up with a good answer when one is asked why the police are not concentrating on catching the real crooks rather than picking up people who have a quiet drink before driving home or who drive at a couple of kilometres in excess of the limit. My defence was, of course, that if people do not speed and if they do not drive after drinking, they will have no worries. I was unable to win the argument with my constituents, however. Recommendation 7 of report No. 34 of the Staysafe committee states:
      The Traffic Act 1901 and associated statutory rules be amended to provide for the imposition of fines and demerit points based on increments of 10 km/h for speeding offences.

Recommendation 8 reads as follows:
      The primary punishment emphasis following a conviction of an offence of exceeding the speed limit by 10 km/h or less placed on demerit points rather than on a monetary fine.

In my opinion those are key recommendations. One of the local councils in my electorate, the Kempsey Shire Council, was not in favour of a 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit. Apparently the main reason for the council's opposition was its perception that it would incur costs for the erection of signs, et cetera.
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Those concerns should be laid to rest by recommendation 15, which states:
      The Minister for Roads:
      (i) ensure that adequate funding is made available to local councils for road markings, signage and associated works to support the implementation of a 50 km/h general urban speed limit; and
      (ii) provide a public assurance to local councils that such funding will be available for road markings, signage and associated works to support the implementation of a 50 km/h general urban speed limit.

When the recommendations of this report are legislated and fully implemented speed limits in residential areas will be restricted. A limit of 50 kilometres per hour in residential areas has been trialled in some parts of Sydney and has received overwhelming acceptance. The people want this restriction; they know that it will lead to safer conditions for their children, older residents and all road users. The community as a whole will benefit from the recommendations of this report when they are implemented by the Parliament. I shall bring my remarks to a conclusion, rather than reiterate points made by the honourable member for Londonderry. I realise that other members of the Joint Standing Committee upon Road Safety will wish to make contributions.

I support the remarks made by the chairman of the committee that the committee works with a wonderful bipartisan spirit. The committee gets results without having to go back to the party structure and it makes decisions for the right reasons. It is my belief that the recommendations contained in report No. 34 of the Staysafe committee will be accepted by all. I extend the committee's thanks to its director, Ian Faulks, and its staff. The committee generates a great deal of work and produces many reports. Its work is of great benefit to the community and improves all aspects of road safety. I know that all members of the Staysafe committee gain great satisfaction from their work on the committee.

Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [8.03 p.m.]: History will judge report No. 34 of the Staysafe committee, recommending a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit for New South Wales, as the second-most significant of all Staysafe committee reports. Of course, it will always be hard to beat the achievements of report No. 1 of 1982, entitled "Alcohol, drugs and road safety", which represented the first serious bipartisan political attempt to tackle the horrendous problem of alcohol-related crashes which so dominated death and injury on our roads. That initiative eventually gained widespread community support. Resulting from report No. 1 of the Staysafe committee and the success of random breath-testing in reducing alcohol-related crashes, today there are some 8,000 or 9,000 people alive who otherwise would not be, some 20,000 people who are alive and healthy rather than being disabled following accidents, and fewer of our public hospital beds occupied by those with serious injuries occasioned by road accidents.

Report No. 34 presents the Staysafe committee recommendations for change in the culture of speeding. Just as, many years ago, we needed to change the booze culture, the drink-driving culture, members of the Staysafe committee have recognised the need to change the culture of speeding. The honourable member for Oxley referred to arguments he had with some of his constituents. I am in the same boat. Many constituents ring me, angry at being fined. They say that they can drive safely at high speeds and should be able to drive at whatever speed they choose. I would say I have lost one or two votes because I put forward the arguments for public safety and community interest in the recommendations of the Staysafe committee.

In an attempt to change the culture of speeding the committee has made recommendations aimed at changing driver behaviour, to reject excessive and inappropriate speed. I certainly hope that in 10 years time we can look back and again count the road safety success in terms of lives saved and injuries and pain forgone. I thank the former Minister for Roads, the Minister for the Olympics, for giving the Staysafe committee the reference to carry out this inquiry. I request that his successor, the present Minister for Roads, make a decision soon to implement the changes recommended by the Staysafe committee so that a start can be made on the necessary community consultation before the reduced general urban speed limit would commence.

Along with other members of the committee, I thank the staff, and particularly the director, Ian Faulks, for their work. I also thank my fellow members on the committee, each and every one of them. Without the spirit of bipartisanship and the dedication of the staff - Ian, Cheryl, Chris, Maria and Susan - we would not have made as much progress. I also thank those who made submissions to the inquiry. In all, 201 submissions were received, almost unanimously in favour of a reduced speed limit for local streets in built-up areas, from 60 to 50 kilometres per hour.

The Staysafe committee seeks cooperation between the Roads and Traffic Authority and local government to establish a specific hierarchy of local streets, collector roads and sub-arterial and arterial traffic routes within suburbs and towns. Until that is right, the final implementation of the scheme will not be able to be introduced. I know from my own
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experience on the traffic committees in both Lake Macquarie city and Newcastle city that traffic committees are looking forward to the introduction of a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit. It is my opinion that there will be widespread community acceptance of this recommendation, provided consultation is followed right through.

A number of arguments can be made, but if there is one selling point in the report worth mentioning in favour of the Government adopting these recommendations it is that a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit would add virtually nothing to travel times while it would help to save lives, reduce the severity of injuries in road crashes and reduce the cost of property damage. The report contains figures to demonstrate that virtually nothing would be added to travel times. That is an important consideration to take into account. I am sure that New South Wales motorists can be persuaded to accept reduced urban speeds. There is popular support for the proposals. A survey by the National Roads and Motorists Association indicates 74 per cent agreement amongst respondents to a proposal for a 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit in local streets. The Royal Automobile Club of Victoria has undertaken similar surveys. An RTA survey shows that 54 per cent of respondents were in favour of such a proposal. I commend the recommendations to the Minister.

Mr SMALL (Murray) [8.08 p.m.]: I am honoured to be a member of the Staysafe committee. This bipartisan parliamentary committee may not be appreciated by everyone because it is perceived to be recommending the making of laws, albeit to save lives, and therefore cannot please everyone. The committee was set up to investigate and make recommendations to the Parliament on aspects of road safety, with the aim of reducing the number of road deaths in this State to the lowest possible level. The aim of governments and parliamentary committees such as Staysafe must always be for there to be no deaths on the roads.

When the recommendation for a 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit in urban residential streets was first mentioned by the Staysafe committee in Staysafe 34, queries were raised as to why motorists should be restricted to driving at speeds under 60 kilometres per hour when most accidents occur on the major highways. In fact, the statistics of the number of road deaths that occur in urban residential streets are alarming. The road fatalities in residential areas mainly involve the elderly, who often have poor hearing and eyesight, and very young children who play and ride their bicycles on the streets.

The fixing of a maximum speed of 50 kilometres per hour in urban streets will not be a handicap. As most residential areas have intersections at each block, it is difficult to drive above a speed of 50 kilometres per hour. Motorists travelling above that speed would be driving dangerously, unless they were on a main thoroughfare. In these circumstances the Staysafe committee has had discussions with people throughout the country and metropolitan communities of New South Wales. The committee has also heard evidence from representatives from schools, motoring organisations, the NRMA, the Roads and Traffic Authority, the police and other parties the committee considered had an interest in these issues.

I compliment Mr Ian Faulks, Director of the Staysafe committee, and the committee members under the chairmanship of the honourable member for Londonderry. All committee members worked in harmony to achieve the results that are contained in the report. The evidence the committee received was not always favourable to every organisation and from every point of view. Everyone agrees and acknowledges that wherever it is possible to save lives, we have a responsibility to do so, even if the measures to be implemented to achieve that end are unpopular. Another matter of importance, particularly for country New South Wales, mentioned in this take-note debate is that councils were concerned that if they did not secure funding to erect and change signage, including painting speed limit signs on the road surfaces, they would not be able to undertake this work.

The Staysafe committee has recommended that the Government provide funds to enable the RTA to undertake this work with the assistance of local councils. The necessary changes may be costly but local government cannot be expected to pay for them. The way to go was to have the RTA provide assistance to local councils. If the Minister for Roads can persuade Cabinet to accept the recommendation to introduce a limit of 50 kilometres per hour in urban residential streets, one would not expect the necessary legislation to be implemented within six months. Implementation may take 18 months or two years because of the cost factor. [Time expired.]

Mr HARRISON (Kiama) [8.13 p.m.]: I support the recommendations contained in Staysafe 34. I extend my appreciation to the committee staff and to committee members for their bipartisan approach. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the dedication of the chairman of the committee, the honourable member for Londonderry, who has made the reduction of the speed limit in residential streets a personal crusade. I place on record my appreciation for the hospitality that was
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given to committee members when they recently toured the Murray area. I acknowledge the assistance and local knowledge of the honourable member for Murray who was able to bring many representatives of local government in the region to talk about the issue with the committee.

It is a tribute to the Staysafe committee and its chairman that the committee did not attempt to make a decision from on high but discussed the issue with the people in southern New South Wales who perhaps do not have the opportunity to talk to so many members of Parliament at the one time on the matter of public safety. I hope that attitude of the Staysafe committee prevails and that committee members are always ready to listen to all points of view, as we did when we toured the Murray area. The recommendations contained in this report for reducing the speed limit to 50 kilometres per hour in residential streets excludes main roads and collector roads where the speed limit will be determined by local traffic committees in consultation with local councils and the community and will be indicated by signage.

It is an unfortunate fact of life, as previous speakers have pointed out, that an unusually high number of people are killed in residential areas. Most of the fatalities involve people of senior years, whose reflexes, hearing and ability to move quickly are not what they used to be, and children who, regardless of parental supervision, will play and ride their bicycles on the road. We have a clear obligation to society to ensure that people of senior and junior years are protected from speeding motor vehicles. When the committee toured southern rural New South Wales, there was support, not wildly enthusiastic, for the reduction of the limit to 50 kilometres per hour after the advantages were pointed out. But a particular concern was the cost of implementing the necessary signage and the physical restrictions that would be necessary on occasion to ensure that the 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit was complied with. Recommendation 15, which I pursued very strongly on behalf of local government, is that the Minister for Roads:
    (i) ensure that adequate funding is made available to local councils for road markings, signage and associated works to support the implementation of a 50 km/h general urban speed limit; and
    (ii) provide a public assurance to local councils that such funding will be available for road markings, signage and associated works to support the implementation of a 50 km/h general urban speed limit.

I refer honourable members to page 121 of the report and to my questions of Mr Ford from the Roads and Traffic Authority about this aspect. On behalf of councils in this State, it is reasonable to expect that funds for this purpose are not taken from some other area; rather, that they are over and above those already received. [Time expired.]

Mr DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! I understand the honourable member for Bega wishes to speak to this report and I am happy for him to do so. However, I remind committee chairmen that time for debate is limited to 30 minutes for each report. That time limit has already been exceeded so far as the report under discussion is concerned. I merely bring this to the attention of committee chairmen, as 10 reports are listed for discussion, and ask them to observe the 30-minute limit.

Mr SMITH (Bega) [8.18 p.m.]: I shall comment briefly on Staysafe 34 and its recommendation of a general speed limit of 50 kilometre per hour in urban areas. The bipartisan nature of this joint standing committee has resulted in various pieces of legislation dealing with road safety passing through this House. Many lives have been saved because of the work of this committee. It is a committee that is highly respected by overseas jurisdictions. My initial impression was that this report would be received rather badly in country areas. I believed that country people would see themselves in a different category from city drivers, without the volume of traffic or the clutter, hustle and bustle of the city. After generations of people being restricted to 60 kilometres per hour in built-up areas, I was not convinced this proposal would work in the country.

I was shocked that the recommendation was accepted across the board not only by those within country areas, but also by experts who gave evidence to the committee. The decision to adopt this proposal was almost unanimous. The committee learned from other jurisdictions that New South Wales is probably one of the few jurisdictions that has not already implemented the 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit in residential areas. In this instance New South Wales is not taking the usual lead, but it will certainly catch up. One member of the committee, John Tingle, was concerned whether people would comply with the 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit because they did not comply with the present speed restrictions. That may be so, but if people drove at 70-kilometres-per-hour in a 60 kilometre zone, perhaps they will maintain that 10 kilometres per hour difference. In that event, though they may not obey the 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit, their speed would be reduced to 55 kilometres per hour or the present 60 kilometres per hour.

Statistics provided in the report reveal that such a reduction in speed has an impact on the stopping time and would reduce trauma, death and
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much heartache for families. Another relevant point to be stressed at every turn is that this speed limit does not relate to connector roads or those major routes people use to travel to and from work. The speed limit will apply only to residential areas and to that extent it will provide a dual purpose. Not only will it make residential streets safer, but the secondary benefit is that it will provide a better environment for those people to live in without objectionable major structures and other things outside their homes.

The report contains a number of recommendations and I reiterate most of the comments of other honourable members. However, particular attention should be drawn to the responsibility of paying for the associated costs of introducing this speed limit change. Everyone knows the State Government is hard done by because the Federal Government knocks off funding to the States. The State Government always tries to recoup a little of its costs from local councils. Most roads referred to in this report will be local roads falling under the responsibility of local councils to provide funds for the structural change, which involves signage. Staysafe believes the State Government should provide the funding as it is implementing the change. Councils do not have such vast amounts of funds to change significant quantities of road signage. I thank you, Mr Deputy-Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak to this report. [Time expired.]

Report noted.