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Infrastructure and Transport – Speed Limits

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Tags: Infrastructure, Roads, Community Safety

Dr WOODRUFF - I am glad Mrs Alexander asked her question about road safety because I was going to follow with the same question.

There appears to be heavy resistance within the freight industry to lowering speed limits in Tasmania. We can all understand where that is coming from. However, there is an unacceptably high death toll from road injuries and accidents, and the injuries are horrendous and ongoing.

There is also a view among some people in the community and, I believe, the people in the Department of State Growth, that it is all about driver responsibility. Even if that were true, which it is not, the evidence is clear that if people were travelling at lower speeds, the death toll and severe injuries would be significantly reduced.

I understand that the Road Safety Advisory Council is keen to reduce the road toll by lowering speed limits on all roads in Tasmania. Do you accept that lower speed limits would save lives?

Mr FERGUSON - Thank you, Dr Woodruff, for the very good question and your genuine interest in road safety. I don't hold myself out as a road safety expert but I do always look forward to advice that I receive from the Road Safety Advisory Council.

The Government doesn't support uniform reduction of speed limits. We do support, however, where a case can be made for roads that can be objectively shown to need a speed limit reduction to meet the terrain, the sight lines or the prevailing conditions, that this be considered by the Transport Commissioner on a case by case basis.

That has been occurring around the state, in my own electorate of Bass, for example. About two or three years ago, the Commissioner unilaterally determined that the speed limit as you ascend or descend the Southern Outlet should be 90 km/h. That was made independent of me and I was consulted only in so far as letting me know and asking me about my opinions on implementing such a thing, and how it could be enforced. That is how our laws work in Tasmania. I do agree with you that slower speed limits can lead to safety improvements; but there is a well understood system for building road infrastructure to meet a standard that would allow certain speed limits, including our highest speed limit of 110 kph. If you build a road and a highway to be capable of meeting the guidelines to have, for example, a 110 kph speed limit then my position would be, well, that is the appropriate speed.

I try to apply common sense about these things. If there is a difficult or problematic section of road, or one with a significant crash history that should be reviewed, there is a place for the road owner - whether it is the council or the department - to ask the commissioner to review it. In Mr Winter's earlier question, he pointed to a corridor study which recommended a review of the speed limit in a particular section. That is generally where I am very supportive that these things can be considered on a merits-based approach - including maybe raising a speed limit or, more likely, lowering one.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. You didn't directly answer the question; you indirectly pointed to road safety, I suppose. The Road Safety Advisory Council is making this push to put more effort into lowering speed limits. What level of consideration are you giving to the effort of the council to move beyond building these massive roads and therefore people travel at high speeds? The argument you have just presented, is if the road is built wide enough and flat enough then people should be able to travel at whatever speed is acceptable, to engineers. The reality is if an accident happens, driver responsibility or not, that greatly reduces the likelihood of death and severe injury. Are you going to listen to the Road Safety Advisory Council, since they are the experts in this area?

Mr FERGUSON - I rely on them. They give good advice to Government and that's is it's very purpose. Mr Evans, the secretary of the department sits on the Road Safety Advisory Council, so I will ask him to bring his perspectives to the table as well. I have been honest and clear with you that the Government does not support the uniform reduction of speed limits across a class of road. We support the speed guidelines that we currently have in place. Where a particular road or a section of road should be reviewed, we're for that, and that's an objective measure of its history. Any way that you could mitigate risk of serious injury or death on roads is something that we do quite routinely.

Under the law, there's not a role for the minister or any other politician to dictate to the commissioner what determination should be needed. Before I throw to the secretary to bring a perspective - after all, he sits on the council - I will draw your attention to the fact that in our action plan for road safety one of the initiatives being delivered is the speed moderation and community engagement strategy. That's not about one particular thing, it's about a holistic approach encompassing: speed limit setting; provision of road infrastructure to support speed limits; police enforcement; education and community engagement; and vehicle technologies.

The strategy will involve creating an open exchange of information about issues and solutions with all levels of community to inform and build support for action on safer speeds. One of things that Mr Tilyard observed last week, when we announced the new enforcement cameras, was that the Department of State Growth has been able to take average measures of traffic speed in select roads around the state and the trend has shown that speed has been going up. That means regardless of what the speed limit actually is set at, if you measure the experience of actual speeds of drivers on our roads, they have been going faster. Hence, the need for the technology to be one of the things that is used to curb illegal behaviour on our roads - people who are speeding faster than the conditions should support. I know we're running out of time, but could you address that from the perspective of the RSAC?

Mr EVANS - Thank you. Obviously, speed is a very serious issue. It's something that the Road Safety Advisory Council, through the Towards Zero Action Plan, focusses on. The Deputy Premier's spoken about the automated traffic enforcement measure that we've just introduced. But it's not the only thing that's important. We've got a take a system-wide approach here. A significant factor is obviously alcohol and drugs. They account for 24 per cent of serious or major casualties. Distraction…

Dr WOODRUFF - The point that I was making, you're absolutely right, it's not the cause; but it does mitigate the devastation of an accident, if people are travelling slower.

Mr EVANS - There's a whole range of factors that come into play here. I speak about distraction, and obviously that's a focus, and one of the features of our new automated protection program. Not wearing a seatbelt is still a problem, unfortunately; as is fatigue. A whole range of things need to be taken into account in terms of a whole of system action plan to try and deal with this very difficult problem, of which one is speed. The Deputy Premier has spoken about the systems we've got in place to deal with speed in terms of assessment of risk and decisions that are made independently by the Transport Commission.

Dr WOODRUFF - I accept what you're saying and it's true, but shouldn't we be pulling all the levers that we can? We've got this incredible road toll. Yes, we're doing what we can about all those other issues which you've raised. There's a range of different strategies, but a key one, and you didn't answer what the Road Safety Advisory Council's view is on this, but I understand it is to be looking at reducing speed limits more than we're currently doing. Regional Tasmanian roads are a huge issue. We've got these massive highways, but meanwhile we've got Birralee Road for example, just outside of Westbury, which came to prominence because of the consideration of the northern prison - 100 kilometres an hour. An incredibly dangerous speed limit.

There is a problem. There is no pressure on those speed limits on those sorts of roads. It's killing people. Why is the Government not looking more closely at doing the things that we can do? We can do that. We can't necessarily get into somebody's car and make them put a seatbelt on, but we can reduce the limits particularly on those regional roads.

Mr FERGUSON - I take your point and your comments, which are seeking to be helpful. I will assure you that in fact, I think through our actions, we can demonstrate that we are absolutely doing what you ask us to do, which to pull every possible lever. But they need to be objective and workable in the community. Speed is one of those. There are many others, noting that our problem, where you see speed involved as a risk factor in a crash or a contributing factor, is that 29 per cent of crashes? It's usually when that's identified as a factor it's because somebody exceeding the legal speed limit rather than observing the speed limit. Nothing I say will change the fact that even within a speed limit, it doesn't mean you should drive to that number, it means you should drive to the conditions and drive safely within that speed limit, as you know. We've heard it before. It's a speed limit, not a target.

I think you're wise and fair to raise the issue, but we need to take a system-wide approach, and that's exactly the strategy does seek to do. Safe systems - not just one or two initiatives, but taken as a whole. We do have a great need in the community. If everybody obeyed the laws of the land, we'd see far fewer crashes on our roads and far fewer deaths and serious injuries -because speeding is against the law. It's illegal to be over the drug and alcohol limit. It's illegal to not wear a seatbelt.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, I'm aware of all of that.

Mr FERGUSON - It's illegal to be using your mobile phone while you're driving. It's not necessarily illegal, there's no offence on fatigue and driving; but there is an offence of negligence and dangerous driving, which fatigue may be a legitimate matter to take to court. If you and I, and everybody else, can just obey the laws that we were taught to do we would see a major reduction in crashes, and it's with that in mind that we will continue to improve roads and infrastructure, continue to review speed limits where appropriate. We have to drive home the message about responsibility. It's not just about road safety, it's about driver safety and that is something the Road Safety Advisory Council continues to assist the Government with.