Editorial: Time for us to become speed-free

Last year 10 people died on the roads over Queen's Birthday Weekend. By late yesterday this year's toll was one. That is good news, but it is still one too many.

Aroha Ormsby was killed when she was thrown from a car. Her death leaves three young children motherless, and friends and family confronting a personal tragedy that will never be revealed by a study of the bald statistics.

The death of Ms Ormsby – and of the hundreds of other New Zealanders killed each year – is why the police were right to trial a lower tolerance for those who break the speed limit. As long as there are New Zealanders dying on the roads there can be no slackening in the effort to make the roads safer.

The sceptics will point to the atrocious weather over the holiday break, and say that the low toll and lower speeds owe as much to people staying home or slowing down in the rain. That will have played a role but so too will the increased prospect of a ticket.

The plain fact is that too many regard the limits as a meddlesome restriction necessary only for drivers of lesser ability who do not possess their skills.

They are wrong. Those who speed are cutting the amount of time they have to react to the unexpected, and increasing the chances of killing themselves or others should things go awry.

Ensuring there are consequences for breaking the limit is part of stopping that. Those who believe they are hard done by when issued with a speeding ticket for going just over the limit have a simple alternative: do not break it at all. They should remember that the 100kmh limit is just that – a legal limit. It is not meant to be treated as an infinitely flexible guideline, something that applies unless the road is clear and it's a sunny day, or unless there is a car that needs overtaking, or unless there is a particularly urgent appointment that needs keeping.

For their part, the police need to remember that they police by consent. They need to have broad acceptance of the laws they enforce, and the measures they take to apply them. Road rules work only if they are accepted as sensible, reasonable, and targeted at road safety rather than revenue.

The approach taken by the police this time round is the way to convince sceptics. The zero-tolerance approach was given extensive publicity. Passing lanes were not targeted. More police were put on the roads and there was a move from unmarked to marked cars. There was also an assurance that slow drivers were being targeted, along with the speedsters.

According to national road policing manager Superintendent Paula Rose, an overall reduction in the mean speed on the road by a kilometre an hour would see a 4 per cent reduction in road deaths – the annual equivalent of 15 deaths. The sceptics need to provide convincing evidence that is not true, or that a zero-tolerance approach won't help in achieving that.

If they cannot, the police must look at making zero tolerance a permanent policy.

The Dominion Post