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  • Writer's pictureGrant McLachlan

Signs that voters want change

One sign that voters want change is when they don’t take the government seriously. A sure sign is when authorities won’t enforce government policy.

The anti-smacking bill of the last Labour-led government was ‘nanny state’ taken a step too far for many voters and authorities. I sense that the lowering of speed limits instead of investing in improving roads may be the demise of this Labour-led government.

For the first time since the lowering of the speed limit on the 79km stretch of the Napier-Taupo Road between Rangitaiki and Eskdale, I witnessed first hand what drivers and police thought of the change.

The new signs at Eskdale on State Highway 5

The first sign that things didn’t seem right was my Google Traffic journey time prediction. Despite only 43km of the 122km junction-to-junction was 100km/h, the average speed predicted for the journey was over 92km/h. This prediction took into account the speed of other traffic between where I was and my destination.

The second sign was when I reached the 80km/h “Safer Speed Zone” sign at Rangitaiki. I lowered my speed and set my cruise control. Within minutes, a queue formed behind me. At the next passing lane, I was overtaken by six vehicles.

The third sign was when the same six vehicles passed a police vehicle heading in the opposite direction. The six vehicles didn’t slam on their brakes. Despite all six vehicles driving in excess of the posted speed limit, the highway patrol vehicle didn’t flash its lights or display any attempt to enforce the new speed limit.

For the rest of the journey, I passed at least a dozen new 80km/h signs. I also passed at least a dozen hoardings protesting the new speed limit.

I did, however, come across three drivers keeping to the speed limit. The first was towing a piano in a trailer. The second and third couldn’t keep a straight course as they fiddled with their smartphones.

The previous time I drove on the same stretch of road, it was a mess. Potholes, ridges, slumps. One instance, if it weren’t for a wild turkey bathing in a pothole, my wheel would have been munted.

But for this journey, those problem areas had been fixed. In fact, the road was in better condition than 80 percent of the 100km/h stretches of state highway throughout the country.

And I would know. At the end of the first lockdown in 2020, I took advantage of the cheap petrol (~$1.64/l), no international tourist traffic, cheap accommodation, and excellent weather. I drove seven thousand kilometres, covering most of the state highways in the country. I thought it would be the last time I could enjoy driving our roading network. I was right, but not for the reasons that I thought.

The South Island leg of my 2020 road trip.

Whoever is advising this government on the “Road to Zero” strategy might claim to understand driver behaviour but they fail to understand voter behaviour. I doubt that they even understand driver behaviour.

I challenge anyone to drive between Taupo and Turangi. There are so many different speed limits, it puts your head in a spin. Whenever a speed limit changes to a lower level, driver distraction increases. The cruise control is set, smartphones come out, the driver looks at roadside distractions, and driving often becomes secondary.

Before the multiple speed limits, cornering signage sufficed. Signs describing the shape of corners, followed by recommended cornering speeds, and chevrons maintained driver attention and provided information to make safer decisions.

But the government would prefer to waste money on social-engineering advertising campaigns rather than road-engineering solutions. While crunching on popcorn at the cinema the other day, five of the ten adverts were different NZTA campaigns while the other people in the cinema were still tuned into their smartphones.

There are too many unintended consequences of lowering speed limits. The feelgood nature of lowering speed limits in hinterland areas and around schools only invites urban sprawl and congests roads. Google Traffic tells me that it is quicker to drive through the middle of Hastings than to drive around it.

In the end, voters would prefer to change a government than accept unnecessary change.

UPDATE: Within weeks of this article, opinion polls consistently showed Labour behind in the polls.


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