More than than half the nation's motorists are routinely flouting the 50kmh speed limit.
The Ministry of Transport's annual speed survey has revealed 56 per cent of motorists had lead feet when driving on urban streets last year.
Drivers in Bay of Plenty, Auckland and Southland were the worst offenders, travelling at an average of just over 54kmh through 50kmh zones.
Wellington, Taranaki, Nelson- Marlborough and Gisborne were the only parts of the country where motorists, on average, actually obeyed the 50kmh limit.
The ministry monitored vehicles in areas where they were unimpeded by other vehicles, traffic lights, intersections, hills, corners or road works, so the driver's choice determined speed.
That a majority of drivers were choosing to break the law was a concern, said national road policing manager, Superintendent Carey Griffiths. "The limit is the limit. It's chosen for safety reasons and the more people who exceed the limit, the more we're all exposed to risk."
Motorists were much better behaved when driving through 100kmh areas. The survey showed only 25 per cent broke the law in those zones, with the nation's average speed being 95.7kmh.
Griffiths speculated that drivers were less inclined to obey the 50kmh limit because they did not perceive themselves to be in as much danger.
The majority of risk at 50kmh was to pedestrians rather than drivers, but when added up across "hundreds of thousands or even millions of drivers" that risk was substantial.
"The evidence we've got is that people don't perceive they're speeding when travelling at what they see as quite low levels over the limit."
Police were working with the ministry and other partners to look at new ways of managing speed through the Government's Safer Journeys strategy, Griffiths said.
Recent moves to lower the speed tolerance level to 4kmh was one initiative. Other options were road design and improved vehicle technology, including cars that automatically slow down when they enter a slower speed zone.
Having more police on the road and writing more tickets was only a short-term solution, Griffiths said. "As we move forward, technology will probably be the main operating solution."
Leo Mortimer, the ministry's land transport safety manager, said that while motorists breaking the law was a worry, the data showed there was more respect for the speed limit today than there was 17 years ago.
Automobile Association motoring affairs general manager Mike Noon suspected a lot of the 50kmh speeding occurred on arterial roads, which should have a 60kmh limit.
$11 million in speed tickets
Motorists copped $11.5 million in speeding tickets this summer during the police's 4kmh tolerance period.
More than 298,000 people were issued tickets in December and January. That was more than double the 137,467 issued the previous summer, when the 4kmh limit was in place for only two weeks.
However, drivers were speeding less enthusiastically this summer, so the total fines issued were only $3m more than the previous summer. Most drivers earned $30 tickets for exceeding the limit by less than 10kmh. Bigger fines of $80 were saved for those up to 15kmh over the limit.
Drivers' modest speeding was a mark of the success of the 4kmh message, national road policing manager Superintendent Carey Griffiths said.
"While police would prefer not to issue any infringements, the fact that most people were ticketed in the 5kmh to 10kmh bracket, and not at higher speeds, indicates that more and more drivers are slowing down."
This summer's road toll was 42 deaths, 15 fewer than the previous summer.
The 4kmh tolerance will be imposed again over the Easter and Anzac Day holiday period, from 4pm on Thursday, April 17, till 6am on Monday, April 28.
Police were yet to decide whether a 4kmh tolerance should be the norm, Griffiths said.
- The Dominion Post
If you had a choice, which would you prefer on Christmas day?Related story: Sun takes a Christmas holiday