A national survey has shown that Nelson is one of the only parts of New Zealand where motorists obey speed limits, with more than half of the country's drivers routinely breaking the 50kmh limit.
The Ministry of Transport's annual speed survey has revealed 56 per cent of Kiwi motorists had lead feet when driving on urban streets last year.
Drivers in the Bay of Plenty, Auckland and Southland were the worst offenders, travelling at an average of just over 54kmh through 50kmh zones.
Nelson-Marlborough, Wellington, Taranaki 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 roadworks, so the driver's choice determined speed.
The fact 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. Others being looked at were road design and improved vehicle technology, including cars that automatically slow down entering 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 is more respect for the speed limit today than there was 17 years ago.
The 1996 survey showed 82 per cent of Kiwi motorists flouted the 50kmh speed limit and 56 per cent did not adhere to the 100kmh rule.
Automobile Association motoring affairs general manager Mike Noon suspected a lot of the 50kmh speeding occurred on arterial roads, which he said should have a 60kmh limit as they do in Australia.
Motorists tended to drive as fast as the design of the road would allow, so lowering speed limits did not necessarily mean vehicle speeds would follow suit, he said.
- The Nelson Mail
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