By Rhea Dasent, Federated Farmers Regional Policy Advisor
Federated Farmers supports road safety as a priority in its submission on the Regional Land Transport Plan for Hawke’s Bay. Ensuring road maintenance is adequately funded and actually carried out will complement the safety strategy.
Many rural councils are falling further behind in essential maintenance of roads, which shortens the lifetime of the asset and increases potential accidents. Feds is deeply concerned with news from Local Government NZ this week that the Land Transport Fund for 2021-24 may be as much as $500m short for highway and road maintenance, and public transport.
Historic chronic under-investment in rural roads is leading to unsustainable rates increases. Hastings is proposing to increase rural rates by 40% over six years. This is unacceptable and a result of kicking the renewal can down the road too many times.
Under-investment is a result of councils prioritising nice-to-haves over core functions like road infrastructure – a topic that Federated Farmers has submitted on to Annual Plans and Long Term Plans for decades.
Feds has also raised concerns that roadside barriers may actually reduce safety, when frustrated drivers use unsafe passing manoeuvres to get past slower moving agricultural vehicles. It is better for tractors and the like to have the space to pull over and allow other vehicles to pass.
A safety aspect that is important to our members is reliable road access for emergency services, and evacuation routes for rural residents and livestock. Members want to be sure about safety and accessibility for their essential farm workers either returning home, or coming to work in the event of a flood cutting off a road or bridge.
Federated Farmers does not support a reduction to speed limits on rural roads as a method to address safety, because it increases travel times, including for transporting livestock and getting goods to market. Most rural drivers already use sensible speeds for the conditions, and there are plenty of education campaigns on this topic.
The existing open road limit of 90km/h for vehicles towing trailers already addresses this safety issue of speed.
As for driver education, licence testing for our young drivers needs to be affordable and accessible for rural communities. Access to this service was removed from rural towns in 2012. It was noted at the time that this was not a solution to decreasing the number of accidents involving youth.