Our View (5-6-2018): Should our highways return to 110km/h?

EXTENSIVE roadworks on the Copper Coast and Yorke Highways have reignited the push for speed limits to return to 110km/h.

Former Member for Goyder Steven Griffiths flagged this idea soon after the YP Country Times revealed the roadworks, which will cost almost $40million when all is said and done, were planned in 2016. His successor, Member for Narungga Fraser Ellis, has now raised the issue in parliament, noting the former Labor government dropped Yorke Peninsula’s highway limits to 100km/h in 2011 and never reviewed the decision.

Mr Ellis said the upgraded highways ought to be safe enough for a return to 110km/h limits.

It should prove a popular move, as polls taken in late 2011 showed a vast majority of motorists wanted the limits kept at 110km/h. In fact, at the time, Yorke Peninsula Council’s elected members refused to drop council-owned highways from 110km/h in keeping with the state highway limits. Many argued dropping the limits was a cop out and the government should have invested in improving the standard of roads instead.

And who could blame people for being upset? Even several years on, sticking to a 100km/h limit can become pretty tedious. It is fair to wonder whether going slower causes impatience, leading to risky overtaking and other hazardous driving.

But the push to bring back 110km/h speed limits is also not without its risks.

If local roads returned to 110km/h and there was a fatal crash soon after, coincidental or not, those who made the decision would face heavy scrutiny.

It is difficult to know whether reducing the local speed limits has improved road safety. To be clear, one fatal crash is too many, but statistically speaking YP has relatively few such accidents. A multiple-fatality crash can easily skew the data when working with such small numbers.

Here is what we know. In the two years before limits were reduced to 100km/h, the Yorke-Mid North area had 24 fatalities from vehicle crashes — 10 in 2010 and 14 in 2011.

The next year there were 19 fatalities, followed by 13 the year after that. In 2015 there were five fatal crashes, compared with 11 in 2016 and just four last year.

There are considerably more serious injury crashes. In 2010 and 2011 our region had 101 and 95 crashes causing serious injury. In 2012 that number dropped to 82 and in 2013 it fell again to 55. In the each of the past three years there have been fewer such crashes again — 29 in 2015, 23 in 2016 and 30 last year. So far this year, there have already been 28 serious injury crashes in the Yorke-Mid North.

In short, the change coincided with a significant drop in serious crashes.

Fatalities rose sharply in the first year after the new limits were introduced, perhaps when driver impatience was at its highest, before dipping to average or below-average numbers.

This is all important information to consider but, changing the speed limits on state and council-owned highways was only one part of the equation when it came to making our roads safer.

The local reduction in serious injury crashes correlates with a significant statewide decline. A decade ago South Australia had more than 1200 serious accidents, and before that the annual total typically exceeded 1300. Already in 2010 and 2011, before rural road limits on Yorke Peninsula and within 100 kilometres of Adelaide were changed to 100km/h, those figures had dropped to 1050 and then 932. The trend continued into the 700s and then 600s, and preliminary figures indicate there were 659 serious injury collisions last year, a new low for the state in modern times.

Fatal crashes similarly dipped from 120-odd annually in the early to mid-2000s, to the 100s for much of late-2010, and into the 80s and 90s for most of this decade so far. Last year there were 93 fatal crashes state-wide, claiming 100 lives. The work of the police and Motor Accident Commission to bring down the road toll cannot be understated in these results.

It’s a lot to weigh up, and it will be interesting to see how the discussion progresses.

Regardless of any further decisions, everyone has a responsibility to drive safely. At the end of the day, it is up to motorists to ensure our roads are as safe as possible.

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Change of publishing

Next week’s Yorke Peninsula Country Times will be published on Wednesday, June 13.

This is due to the Queen’s Birthday public holiday on Monday.

The deadline for personal notices and action ads is 10am Wednesday for next week only.



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