The Press on open road speed limits

April 1st, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar


For as long as many people can remember, the open-road for driving in this country has not changed. It has not increased significantly since the late 1960s when it was raised, under the old imperial system, from 55 miles per hour to 60mph – the equivalent of 96kmh, so not significantly different than the 100kmh that applies today on highways and motorways.

Umm, that is missing out a big chunk of history. The open road limit may have been 60 miles per hours, but in 1973 due to oil shocks, it dropped to 80 km/hr or 50 miles/hr.

It was only in 1986 it went to 100 km/hr.

So far from the open road limit rarely changing, the changes have been:

  • 1962 – from 50 mph to 55 mph
  • 1969 – from 55 mph to 60 mph
  • 1973 – from 60 mph to 50 mph or 80 kmh
  • 1986 – from 80 kmh to 100 kmh

Consider the cars that Kiwis were driving when the speed limit was last raised.

There is a world of difference between the engineering and safety standards of 21st-century cars and the likes of the Morris Minor, the original Mini, the Ford Cortina, the Holden Kingswood, the Rover 2000 and the Hillman Imp. Road engineering, too, has improved during those decades. Seen in this context, a proposal to raise the limit by only 10kmh on a relatively small number of top roads can be seen as very modest.

The difference in car safety and engineering is massive.

The speed limit is a maximum, not a target, and the rules – so often observed mainly in the breach – state that people should drive at a speed under the limit that is appropriate to the road, traffic, weather and other conditions.

If the speed limit is increased on engineered motorways, this should not be taken as an indication to drive at 110km on the open road or rural highways, where a 110kmh speed limit would not be appropriate.

Yep – drive the the conditions. Sometimes that will be 110 km/h and sometimes 70 km/h.

12 Responses to “The Press on open road speed limits”

  1. Shunda barunda (4,189 comments) says:

    Yep – drive the the conditions. Sometimes that will be 110 km/h and sometimes 70 km/h.

    Yes, but this is New Zealand and we don’t know how to do that.

    120 all the way!!

    Yeah harrr!!!

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  2. nasska (16,742 comments) says:

    Better to leave it at 100kph for now & institute a minimum speed on the open road…..we’d all get where we’re going a lot faster.

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  3. JC (1,102 comments) says:

    I got my licence in 1960 driving a big old Ford V8 and my wife to be got hers a year or so later in a V8 Chevvy. Our family also had a 1938 Ford V8 for towing.

    Thing is, even the 1938 car could do 70-80mph and the other cars scooted along at 90mph no trouble, but with all having the old drum braking system they had ocean liner capacities for stopping quickly.. “brake failure” was a polite term to describe the problem of an 8-9 stone man or woman trying to slow and stop a two ton beast from 70mph in a straight line on worn cross ply tyres using a steering wheel 2/3rds of a yard in diameter.
    Add in rain with the old vacuum operated windscreen wipers that stopped working every time you accelerated and 50mph+ driving, whilst still a real pleasure, was a bit of a challenge.

    I guess we also have to add in the “Six oclock swill” and the relaxed attitude towards drinking and driving “Old 1960s saying “You drive Claude.. you’re too drunk to sing”) to appreciate that back then we had half the cars of today on the road and more than twice the number of fatalities.


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  4. Harriet (7,516 comments) says:

    Oh come on!

    A far cheaper way to get MOSTLY the same result is to keep the speed limit signs the same, but don’t ticket people till they exceed the limit by 11kmph. 100k sign means a fine of say $200 if you hit 111ks. Then you don’t get fined for driving responsably in between.

    It’s better road safety as well: People drive to a sign that says 100k and they can then leave their eyes on the road instead of continuosly looking at the speedometer so that they are not 4ks over the 100 limit. Or 4ks over the 110 limit.

    It’s all about driver education. We already pay taxes for better road management – but having fines for every conceivable speeding offence when other methods are available instead – is just revenue gathering.

    It’s been as though lives matter less than the police budget to the likes of the police executive! 😎

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  5. nasska (16,742 comments) says:

    Recently an invalid on a mobility scooter was ticketed for reckless driving on SH2 between Masterton & Carterton. Three times he was seen to pull out & overtake cars driven by pensioners. 🙂

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  6. pq (728 comments) says:

    Are we sure about that 50mph figure up till 1986. I was in a rural area, taranaki and we drove at 80mph past the law, no problem.
    In fact my Holden Kingswood could do a 100mph passing a cop radar , so long as it radar was facing the other direction.

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  7. gump (2,333 comments) says:

    I frequently drive at 80km/h to save on the cost of petrol.

    It’s not a big deal on multi-lane roads.

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  8. tempest (41 comments) says:

    The other thing to keep in mind is that the tolerance – the amount you could generally speed before getting pulled over/getting a ticket – has gone down over the years. pq – this is why you could drive past cops doing quite a bit faster than the speed limit in the 80’s. In fact up until about early 2003 the open road tolerance was around 20-25kmh over the limit, sometimes even more depending on the officer. Doing a consistent 120-140k on the open road was pretty common as recent as the late 1990’s. There was a big push in in the early 2000’s which established a hard 10kmh tolerance and started requiring every cop, not just highway patrol members, to write tons of tickets with no or little discretion. In the last few years the tolerance has reduced still further, to 5kmh on holiday weekends and around schools. Speeds have come down accordingly and it is rare to see people consistently drive at more than 110, apart from overtaking. So increasing the speed limit to 110, with a 10k tolerance just gets us back to the de facto situation that existed before 2003.

    As well the speed limits on a lot of roads, especially rural roads that aren’t state highways, have been reduced from 100 to 80 or lower in the last 10 years. Eventually we are moving to a regime where rural state highways will be 100k and all other rural roads that are not state highways are 80 or less.

    Shouldn’t be any problem to bring in a new law that any expressway or motorway with a median barrier is 110k or even 120k – this would be easily understood and enforceable.

    It also would mean that proposed new motorways (that would be 110kmh on opening) would get a higher BCR due to reduced travel times because of their higher speed limit. Now THAT will keep Julie Ann Genter and the rest of the Greens awake at night. Heh.

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  9. RRM (12,545 comments) says:

    There’s nothing wrong with a Cortina!

    Tossers these days just don’t know how to drive, it’s all a bit too hard unless you’ve got all automatic everything and an electronic system to wipe your bum for you too…

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  10. Jaffa (165 comments) says:

    Unfortunately, the nut behind the steering wheel is the same!

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  11. Johnboy (20,823 comments) says:

    I think I forced that doddering fart in the A40 off the road on the Wainui hill last week too. Tosser! 🙂

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  12. redqueen (1,760 comments) says:

    120km/h on a motorway shouldn’t cause any trouble (with up to a 10 km/h tolerance). Having a 100km speed applying to both rural state highways (which is fine) and purpose-built motorways is just dammed silly.

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