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Why 40 could be the new 50

You’ve probably heard 60 is the new 70, or 20 is the new 30, but it usually means looking younger. Now speed limits are doing something similar. Researchers from Queensland University of Technology are suggesting a new, local street speed limit of 40kmh – all over Australia.

There are many reasons why 40 may be better than 50.

Local streets have a more diverse and vulnerable mix of traffic, including pedestrians, cyclists and people on motorised mobility scooters. For example, if a vehicle crashes at 50kmh:

  • The driver has 10% or less chance of being killed
  • A cyclist or pedestrian has 50-80% chance of being killed.

Travelling at slower speeds means drivers have longer reaction times, more distance for breaking and less chance of crashing.

Trips won’t take longer

People might think that travelling at 40kmh instead of 50kmh means their trips will take longer. In fact, in most urban journeys under 20 minutes, lower speeds do not lengthen travel time and may even reduce it because traffic flows more smoothly.

Some experts have called for an even lower limit of 30kmh on local roads.

Road safety consultant, Bruce Corben, says driving at 30kmh in a busy pedestrian environment compared with 40kmh, is estimated to reduce the risk of a pedestrian dying by nearly 80%.

However, not everyone is in favour of slowing down.

It’s just too slow

Some people think lowering the speed limit to 40kmh in Melbourne CBD was just another way of raising money. Although the top three earning speed cameras between July and September 2015 were in 40kmh zones, that does not necessarily prove the point as drivers take a while to adjust to new limits.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Brisbane has spoken out against reducing the limit to 30kmh in Brisbane, in spite of a submission by cyclists. He said 30kmh would be “ridiculously low and virtually impossible for motorists to comply with” and added, at that speed, cyclists could be going faster than cars.

Austria, Ireland, Netherlands, Switzerland and UK have already introduced 30kmh for many local streets and these countries are so-called leaders in road safety. The first city to introduce this speed was Buxtehude, in Germany in 1983.

You could argue that conditions in European cities are not quite the same as in Australia. They are often more crowded with pedestrians and drivers in narrow streets that were not designed for motor vehicles.

There is at least one good reason to slow down. Drivers who collect demerit points and speeding offences on their licences will certainly pay more for a green slip.

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