Claims that Victoria’s State Labor Government plans to introduce blanket speed-limit reductions across 80 percent of the state’s rural road network are “simply untrue”, according to the state government.
Minister for Roads, Road Safety and the TAC Jaala Pulford said lowering regional speed limits across the board is not a government plan, but she hasn't ruled out speed limit reductions on some roads to help stem a spike in the state's road toll.
The Minister was responding to a report in the Weekly Times newspaper, which claimed Victoria could the first state on the Australian mainland to lower the default speed limit on rural ‘C’ roads* to 80km/h.
The idea to reduce speed limits was originally raised at the Road Safety Summit held in Melbourne last month, but it took Ms Pulford several days clarify that there would be no blanket change after the issue was raised in parliament last week.
The Transport Accident Commission has also failed to rule out the move, pointing to a 50 percent increase in Victoria’s road toll compared to the same time last year.
TAC road safety director Samantha Cockfield noted of the 151 deaths on Victorian roads so far this year, 92 have happened in rural areas. Of the 92 rural road deaths, 69 have happened in speed zones of 100km/h or more.
“Speed remains the single most important factor in crash and injury risk,” Ms Cockfield told the Weekly Times.
The prospect of speed limit reductions on some roads prompted inevitable criticism from the shadow rural roads minister Roma Britnell, who described the idea as a "cheap and lazy option".
“This is a government that is being tempted to take the easy option, to slow people down rather than actually fix the roads,” Ms Britnell said.
“Improving road surfaces and increasing safety features on high-risk sections of roads where accidents are happening would be a much better tactic to take."
Ms Britnell’s criticism was partly echoed by Victoria’s peak motoring body, the RACV.
The organisation’s general manager for public policy Bryce Prosser said the causes of accidents need to be assessed followed by practical solutions to address them, but conceded the organisation wasn’t against reducing speed limits on some roads where required.
“RACV believes all speed limits should be fit for purpose. Where roads do not meet an appropriate safety standard every effort should be made to improve conditions," he said. "Until that can be achieved, reduced speed limits could be considered.
“But any attempt to lower speed limits on rural roads must be discussed at a local level. Country drivers don’t want to be dictated to from the city.”
For its part, the State Government has defended its work in making the state’s roads safer, with Ms Pulford pointing out its $1.4 billion Towards Zero strategy.
“The largest proportion of that is on an infrastructure program upgrading hundreds and hundreds of intersections, and installing safety barriers on our most dangerous roads,” Ms Pullford told Parliament.
But Ms Britnell said not enough of that money was being used to address the poor quality of the state’s rural roads.
“Labor has been in government in Victoria for all but four of the past 20 years – they have overseen a continued degradation of the rural road network and have failed to appropriately manage and maintain it," she said.
“And it’s only going to get worse, with Labor using money for road maintenance to fix damaged wire rope barriers, reducing spending on rural road upgrade projects by $220 million and taking $2 billion out of the TAC to prop up their mismanaged state budget.
“This is a government that is being tempted to take the easy option, to slow people down rather than actually fix the roads.”
The Minister hit back at her opposite number’s criticism, telling WhichCar: “While Roma Britnell tries to score cheap political points off made-up figures and mistruths, we’ll get on with delivering what we said we would.”
“The budget clearly shows that spending on regional road maintenance has doubled since Roma and her Liberal and National mates were in government.”
“We are rolling out safety barriers across Victoria because we know they save lives.”
* According to VicRoads, 'C' roads are generally two lane sealed roads with shoulders. 'C' roads provide important links between population centres and between these centres and the primary transport network. An example of a 'C' road is the Geelong-Portarlington Road (C123).
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