Brian Edwards Media

Let’s Have Labour Weekend Driving Rules Every Day Of The Year.

Pic: Sarah Ivey/Herald

On Saturday we drove up to Mangawhai for an overnight stay with some friends. There were numerous signs along the route reminding us that police were out in force over Labour weekend. We’d already been warned that for this one holiday period the cops’ usual 10k tolerance on speed limits would be reduced to 4K and that anyone caught exceeding that tolerance would end up paying a fine. 

It was pretty clear that the message had got through. Our journey in both directions was the most pleasant and stress-free I can remember in 46 years of driving in New Zealand. There were no snarl-ups. Tailgating was conspicuous only by its absence. Other than waiting for traffic lights to change, there were never less than four or five car-lengths between vehicles. On the entire journey we were overtaken no more than half a dozen times and then only by motorists doing 104 while we were sticking to the 100K. On passing lanes the right-hand lane largely remained unused. In a nutshell, drivers were obeying the law. And we got to Mangawhai in record time. 

The closest we’ve come to these sort of driving conditions is in Queensland, South Australia and Victoria. But the difference is that in these Australian states people drive like this all the time 

I’ve written about this before, but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to back up my argument with some first-hand New Zealand experience. And the argument is essentially that the concept of a widely known police discretion or tolerance in the area of road traffic law actually makes nonsense of that law. If we know that the police are unlikely to prosecute someone driving under  60K in a 50K area, or 110K in a 100K area then the de facto speed limits in those areas become  respectively 60K and 110K. Motorists then reason that if they are doing under 70K in a built up area or under 120K on the open highway, they are really only slightly over the speed limit and are unlikely to be prosecuted. 

And this is not just theory. It is what happens. We live in Herne Bay, a largely residential area where the speed limit is 50K. Yet 60K is probably the average speed in the area with drivers routinely clocking up 70K. Though there is a police station in Ponsonby’s Three Lamps with police cars parked out the back, I have never seen anyone stopped for speeding in the district. On the other hand, in the last month I have observed perhaps half a dozen motorists bailed up for talking on their cellphones. Something not quite right here. 

So while I rejoice in what happened on our journey this weekend, It makes no sense at all to me that that, three or four times a year, the police should enforce a 4K speeding tolerance, while sanctioning a 10K tolerance for the rest of the year. Accidents will of course always happen regardless of speed limits, and there will always be drivers for whom sanctions against drunk-driving or speeding will have no impact or merely present a challenge. But what was clear to Judy and me  over the weekend was that, overall, this exercise in promoting safer and more civilised driving worked, and that its only flaw was that it will be ended at midnight tonight. 

What needs to happen now is that police permanently extend this no-tolerance policy to anyone driving over the speed limit, other perhaps than in the interests of safe overtaking, and that, if they do in fact have a policy of not charging motorists travelling only slightly above the speed limit, they should keep it strictly to themselves.

, , ,


  1. Surely the point is not the margin of tolerance, 10k or 4k – it’s the act of enforcement. If the police actually patrolled more, so the chance of seeing a patrol car every time you drove was close to 100%, maybe every day would be this good. If people think there’s no chance of being spotted, they’ll push the limits.

    • Surely the point is not the margin of tolerance,

      I agree that without enforcement, nothing will work. I’m essentially saying the law should be the law, not a watered down version of the law.

  2. I dont mind this and agree.I do prefer to have cameras rather than hand held radar.Perhaps building cars which can do 180k+ really attempts to defeat the purpose of a speed limit.A technology which limits a cars speed(Perhaps 120k) may prove to have a greater benefit.

    • .A technology which limits a cars speed(Perhaps 120k) may prove to have a greater benefit.

      Interesting but would anyone buy the cars. I’ve driven rental cars which had a top speed regulator. Dangerous if you’re overtaking and find youself stuck in the oncoming lane unable to pass because the regulator stops you.

  3. The law makes no exceptions to the speed limit for overtaking.If all cars had a similar ability surely (apart from a few slower drivers )traffic should maintain a constant flow and the need to overtake would be limited.The Government would have to regulate to ensure as part of a regular inspection a governer was fitted and operating properly.
    When overtaking its the drivers responsibilty to ensure that it can be achieved in a safe operation.The rental firm should have ensured that you were aware of the vehicles limitations.

    • The law makes no exceptions to the speed limit for overtaking

      Well, if someone is doing 96K and I want to pass them, doing exactly 100K to achieve my purpose may mean I’m in the opposing lane much too long for safety. Better to zoom past at 105K and get back in the left hand lane as quickly as possible. And yes, I know, I should wait till there’s a kilometer of passing room before I try to overtake.

  4. I did some ad-hoc testing on long straight roads with a GPS a few weeks ago and discovered my car over-reads the speed by about 4 or 5km/h on the open road. ie. It said 100km/h, we were actually traveling at 96km/h according to the GPS, which I trust much more in this situation. It’s probably been this way for a long time, and doesn’t really bother me because I usually feel as if I’m going about the right speed that I’m used to when the car says 100.

    If it’s a psychological thing, perhaps we should all start expressing speed on roads in base 2. That way people can get their satisfying 3 digits of speed when they’re only traveling at 4km/h, which would be expressed as 100 in binary. :)

  5. In several long Australian journeys I have also noticed our cousins travel appear content to travel at the prevailing speed limit. This is despite there only being a rare sighting of a police car.
    In my last 2500km trip I saw only two working patrol cars, one laser and no mobile cameras – and I was looking! I am therefore not convinced that enforcement is the whole answer.

    What is noticeable is that all vehicles have the same speed limits – trucks included, so there is little of the NZ syndrome of one slow truck being followed by several impatient cars. All travel st the speed limit, on roads that are often no better than ours.
    I cannot help feel that the answer lies elsewhere than concentrating on speed and alcohol alone.