Why the government’s 20km/h slower speed limit is a terrible idea

The South African government recently proposed reducing the speed limit on the country’s roads, which experts have said is a terrible idea.

The gazetted proposals include:

  • Reducing the speed limit on public roads within urban areas to 40km/h.
  • Making every public road outside an urban area, other than a freeway, an 80km/h zone.
  • A speed limit of 100km/h for freeways when they pass through residential areas.

The new proposals also include limiting the time that heavy vehicles, including trucks, will be allowed to operate. Roads in urban areas will be off limits to heavy vehicles between 06:00 and 09:00 and 17:00 to 20:00 on weekdays.

This would not apply in cases of emergencies, or to any fire-fighting, rescue, medical, or other response vehicles.

Just a bad idea

Chief Economist at the Efficient Group, Dawie Rood, said the focus of the government shouldn’t be on the speed limit, but on driving skills, better policing, and better transport infrastructure.

“The authorities are not policing adequately,” said Roodt.

He said by focusing on a speed reduction, the government was shifting the responsibility of safe roads from themselves to the public. Roodt compared the scenario to the inability of the government to control high crime levels, and the drive to then target legal gun ownership.

Besides the extended travelling time of motorists, which would affect their lives and their productivity, Roodt said the limiting of heavy vehicles would have an even worse effect on SA’s economy.

“We don’t need to limit the time trucks are on the road, we need to fix the rail systems,” he said.

Previous attempts by the government to reduce the speed limit were opposed by Roodt and South African businesses, he added.

Justice Project South Africa’s Howard Dembovsky said if the speed limits were changed, the only result would be an increase in the “already disproportionately high existence of speed cameras and violations captured on them”.

“Deploying more speed cameras to make more money is as easy as pie and we have no doubt that the traffic authorities and their contractors will be throwing a party,” said Dembovsky.

“Reducing speed limits and installing measures to prevent higher speeds around schools and in densely-populated suburbs makes enormous sense. However, reducing the general speed limit on a blanket basis is simply nonsensical and will not have any effect on reducing injuries.”

Licence renewal will require “an evaluation”

The government proposals also include a section on licence renewal, which requires motorists to be evaluated by examiners through “observation, inquiry, and practical test”.

Dembovsky said, if put in place, this would cause “mayhem”.

There are multiple problems he said, including the fact that only registered driving licence examiners may test persons for their driving licenses.

“There is nowhere near sufficient capacity in driving licence testing centres to handle this. The time that would be wasted in making a booking and then doing the test would have a severe impact on the economy, with all of the people, many of whom are economically active.”

“It is our view that if this provision goes ahead, corruption, which is already rife, will multiply by unimaginable proportions.”

Speed reductions may save lives

Arrive Alive’s Johan Jonck said although he believes speed is not the main cause of accidents in SA, and a reduction may not significantly reduce accidents on the road, it will reduce the trauma motorists and pedestrians suffer from a crash.

“The proposed reduction should be seen as specifically aimed at the lack of pedestrian safety. In SA the pedestrian crash fatalities are exceptionally high at 35-40% of road fatalities – hence the speed reduction in urban areas and freeways going through urban areas,” said Jonck.

He said effective traffic enforcement will be needed to implement these proposals, and corruption and bribery would have to be rooted out.

“Saving lives is the most important objective from the side of traffic enforcement. The ability to reduce unnecessary time on the road can be more significantly addressed through engineering, such as building more infrastructure.”

More on government proposals

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Massive e-toll price cuts announced

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Why the government’s 20km/h slower speed limit is a terrible idea