RACV and crash expert urge lower speeds on risky country roads

The RACV and a leading road crash expert are calling for lower speed limits on regional roads that lack safety features with plans for a speed reduction trial on the Mornington Peninsula getting more community support.

So far this year, 80 people have died on Victorian roads with many more suffering serious injuries.

New figures showed strong community support for a speed reduction trial on the Mornington Peninsula.Credit:Joe Armao

Victoria’s main farming group has rejected the push to reduce speeds, arguing governments should focus on upgrading roads instead.

But the RACV says it will be far too expensive and time consuming to deliver the required improvements to allow drivers to travel at high speeds safely throughout the country road network.

It has been pushing for a review of speed limits on all regional roads to help determine where speeds should be lowered or money invested in upgrades.

Peter Kartsidimas, the RACV’s manager for transport, planning and infrastructure, said Victoria had about 180,000 kilometres of roads where drivers could travel at 100 km/h but only an estimated 20 per cent reached the Australian Road Assessment Program’s minimum three-star safety standard.

The RACV wants drivers to be encouraged to use highways for driving at higher speeds rather than backroads in the country. Credit:Justin McManus

He said it would take 1000 years to bring the remaining roads up to minimum standards at the current rate.

Mr Kartsidimas said there were various ways to achieve a three-star rating but roads that qualified usually had shoulders, good line markings, rumble strips and were clear of hazards.

He said speed limits set by governments decades ago might no longer be the safest option on many regional roads.

“Just because we thought it was appropriate to set a speed limit of 100 km/h 40 years ago, we know now that’s not appropriate,” he said.

Lowering speed limits on back roads in the country might encourage drivers to use better standard highways, he said with features including barriers and shoulders, that were more appropriate for driving at higher speeds.

“We need to really focus on making sure we get more people driving on the safe roads at 100 km/h.”

Monash University Accident Research Centre associate professor, Michael Fitzharris, said reducing speed limits was the only way to make some country roads safer.

He said the government’s goal of halving road deaths by 2030 could not be achieved without cutting limits on roads that lacked well-maintained surfaces, shoulders, rumble strips and barriers.

“We will not achieve that if we don’t look at lower speed limits as a key part of road strategy.”

Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano.Credit:Simon Schluter

But he insisted road infrastructure and maintenance were also crucial.

Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano said lowering speed limits would not make poor quality roads any safer.

She said slashing limits took the onus off all levels of government to provide safer roads.

“All levels of government need to invest in regional roads being up to scratch,” she said. “It’s a first world country and we all pay our taxes.”

In 2019 the Mornington Peninsula Shire launched a trial reducing speeds on dozens of its roads from 100 km/h to 80 km/h. It sparked a debate about reducing speed across the state.

A community survey of 1059 people on the peninsula over the past summer revealed that 59 per cent of respondents supported the trial while 21 per cent opposed it.

The survey also showed 51 per cent of respondents wanted the lower speed limits to remain permanent while 29 per cent disagreed.

The council introduced the trial after a spate of deaths in the area but there have been no fatalities on the roads in the trial since it was introduced.

Roads Minister Ben Carroll said there were no plans to introduce blanket speed-limit reductions on country roads.

But he said the government would evaluate the results of the speed reduction trial on the Mornington Peninsula and evaluate individual roads across the state as part the ongoing effort to reduce road trauma.

“We’ll leave no stone unturned when it comes to driving down road trauma, and we’ll consider any tool that could help more Victorians make it home safely each day, but speed limits need to be suitable for the specific road environment, so we’ll continue to take a case by case, evidence-based approach to speed issues,” he said.

Mornington Peninsula mayor Despi O’Connor said the survey showed residents were willing to slow down in the interests of safety.

“It debunks the perception that matching appropriate speed limits to the road environment would be viewed negatively by the broader community,” she said.

In the first quarter of this year there were 34 deaths on metropolitan roads compared to 29 in regional Victoria – a reversal of the usual trend where country roads claim more lives. However, the fatality numbers have since begun to even out.

Since 2000 there have been just five years in which there were more fatalities on metropolitan than regional roads.

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