Why do Canberra speed limits change so often?

Genevieve Jacobs 26 November 2020 45
Speed limits

Speed limits can be varied and confusing. Photo: File.

As summer approaches, ACT police are warning us that more Canberrans than ever have been caught speeding. They say, rightly, that speed kills and is a factor in many accidents.

But is there something more at play?

My weekday commute to work from the northside to Region Media‘s inner south offices takes about 20 minutes and involves at least a dozen speed zone changes.

I start at 60 km/h on Wattle St and then it’s 50 km/h turning into Miller St. It’s 60 km/h on Macarthur Avenue then becomes 80 before I turn onto Belconnen Way. On the Parkway it’s 60 km/h for the on-ramp, then 90 km/h while merging, before the limit rises to 100 km/h. I take the Cotter Rd off-ramp and it’s 80 km/h again.

McCulloch St in Curtin begins at 60 km/h and falls to 50 km/h. On Carruthers St, it’s 60 again. And there’s a 40 km/h stretch outside Alfred Deakin High and the Woden School before Denison St becomes a 60km/h zone again.

All within a pretty ordinary suburban commute, and without roadworks.

I’m a law-abiding citizen who drives a lot back and forth to the family farm. I value and need my licence. Every point I’ve lost in the last three years has been in the below 10 km/h range.

Police are right to be concerned about excessive speeding and warn us about the very real dangers of people travelling at almost twice the speed limit on the Territory’s roads. But my points have been lost when there is a speed van over the hill or tucked behind a tree not far after the speed limit changes unexpectedly (you can find the criteria for siting mobile speed vans here).


READ ALSO: Speed limits up for review as government moves to make roads safer


Why on earth do the ACT’s speed zones vary so much? And how much of the ACT’s apparent speeding epidemic is created by speeding offences of less than 10 km/h above the limit?

I cop the fines. I pay up, I accept I am in the wrong. I set the speed limiter on my car and remind myself to observe every change carefully.

But the cynical journalist in me can’t help wondering whether the varying speed zones and the current multiplicity of mobile speed cameras also have a handy secondary purpose in our perennially cash strapped economy: revenue.

More than 20 years ago, Monash University looked at speed limits around Australia. They noted that varying speed limits were effective where the public understood and valued the reason for them – for example, outside schools.

The study evaluated the ACT’s 130 school zones, finding that “speeds were significantly reduced from approximately 60 km/h to 46 km/h, (however) general compliance with the 40km/h speed limits was not attained”, although the overall reduction was considered a worthwhile safety improvement.

More recently, a research paper from the Queensland University of Technology called for a nationwide reduction to 40 km/h in all suburban streets to save pedestrian lives.

But that’s not a rationale for multiple speed zones within a couple of kilometres on major roads, or streets where the speed limit varies by 10 km/h for no apparent reason.


READ ALSO: “Baffling and reckless” speeding offences in 2020 already eclipse 2019 total


Surely compliance would only be enhanced by a much simpler system of limits, whatever that might be? Why can’t we decide on one speed limit for residential streets, one for busier city roads and one for major connecting roads?

The ACT introduced a policy of listing the whereabouts of all mobile speed cameras back in 2016. But at the time of writing, that site had not been updated since September 2019.

I’m not making an argument for increased speed limits. I accept speed can be dangerous and is a factor in many accidents.

But is a bit of consistency and simplicity really too much to ask for?


What's Your Opinion?


Please login to post your comments, or connect with
45 Responses to Why do Canberra speed limits change so often?
rossau rossau 8:11 am 04 Dec 20

Canberra drivers can’t turn, can’t give a right-of-way and are ignorant! Here’s the evidence:
1. When turning left they’re turning only when they can move far right into a lane for their turning right many kilometres down the road. In doing so they block the egress of other drivers onto the same road.
2. When turning right, they swerve into the outermost left lane so to obstruct all other vehicles turning left with a legitimate access to that lane.
3. When driving on 90 kmh and greater roads, they don’t keep left.
4. When giving way to pedestrians at intersections, they’re clueless but I blame that somewhat on the laws which give pedestrians no rights.

ChrisinTurner ChrisinTurner 4:43 pm 03 Dec 20

If the police travelled around in unmarked cars obeying the speed limit, they would discover how many idiots will try to get past them at 20 km/hr plus above the limit.

Tolga Altinbas Tolga Altinbas 4:39 am 01 Dec 20

Because one is a roadwork sign. And the other one is always there on the pole

Matthew Windebank Matthew Windebank 6:21 pm 30 Nov 20

That photo explains everything. When works are underway with a reduced speed limit you are supposed to 'bag' or cover the existing speed signs. Both signs are valid. The 40km speed limit is only valid until you get to the 60km sign. Police can't enforce the 40km beyond the 60km sign. This happens everywhere in the ACT. Anyone who's done a traffic management plan would know this is one of the basics.

Valerie Foster Valerie Foster 7:58 am 30 Nov 20

Too many speed changes in too many areas. It is revenue raising.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 8:37 pm 29 Nov 20

An overly literal (or, perhaps selectively so) approach to the application of the criteria for different speed zones might have something to do with the seemingly inexplicable changes to speed limits on what look like similar stretches of road.

That, combined with the fact that the location of speed vans always seems to have much less to do with immediate deterrence and warning than with entrapment, suggests a conflicted approach on this issue.

If it truly was all about safety, and safety alone, things would be done differently and Canberra drivers could focus more on what they and other drivers are doing and have less concern about unexpectedly varying speed limits and expensive enforcement of those limits.

iamthat iamthat 8:27 pm 29 Nov 20

Counter intuitively, removing all traffic signs and lights makes the roads safer for all users. https://www.dw.com/en/european-towns-remove-traffic-signs-to-make-streets-safer/a-2143663-1

Tracey Smith Collins Tracey Smith Collins 5:43 pm 29 Nov 20

Yes it is al revenue, a lot off roads hav slower speeds then needed, it sux but they also in the rule book state drive to the conditions , that’s what I do . Drive an enjoy

Trev Astle Trev Astle 5:23 pm 29 Nov 20

Private enterprise road workers put up the road works speed limits and leave up when they aren't working, are away on weekend off. ACT Govt is not policing this or they would cover up the signs when not in use. More revenue raising, I suppose!

Mark Chapman Mark Chapman 2:34 pm 29 Nov 20

I just wish that "road-work" speed limits were only signposted when there is actual roadwork going on, not just a few witches hats and no workers or change to the road surface.

Brian Woodbridge Brian Woodbridge 2:26 pm 29 Nov 20

Good story

Samuel Gordon-Stewart Samuel Gordon-Stewart 2:26 pm 29 Nov 20

In my view we would be better off abolishing speed limits. Focus on enforcement of driving manner and behaviour rather than arbitrary speed limits. We could expand the scope of the dangerous/reckless/furious driving laws to assist with this.

Frankly, if you need a number on a sign on a pole to make the decision about the appropriate speed and manner of driving for the conditions, you shouldn’t be on the road.

    Tracey Smith Collins Tracey Smith Collins 5:44 pm 29 Nov 20

    Samuel Gordon-Stewart agreed with you 1000+ %

Futureproof Futureproof 1:27 pm 29 Nov 20

I’m convinced that Canberra drivers are taught to turn left at the last minute from the right hand lane. Seen it too often not to think that’s what driving instructors must teach

    rossau rossau 8:11 am 04 Dec 20

    Thank you.
    Now, both supportively and contrarily: Canberra drivers can’t turn, can’t give a right-of-way and are ignorant! Here’s the evidence:
    1. When turning left they’re turning only when they can move far right into a lane for their turning right many kilometres down the road. In doing so they block the egress of other drivers onto the same road.
    2. When turning right, they swerve into the outermost left lane so to obstruct all other vehicles turning left with a legitimate access to that lane.
    3. When driving on 90 kmh and greater roads, they don’t keep left.
    4. When giving way to pedestrians at intersections, they’re clueless but I blame that somewhat on the laws which give pedestrians no rights.

Chris Olsen Chris Olsen 12:34 pm 29 Nov 20

Reckless driving kills, assuming you won’t have a crash or die because you’re doing the speed limit is a fallacy. Drive safe, drive smart, don’t be a clown who stares at their speedo instead of watching the road. Just in case any holier than though type suggest I’m encouraging appending, clearly I’m not, just pointing out a fact.

Michael Collins Michael Collins 11:26 am 29 Nov 20

Do you really think this is more common in the ACT? Speed limits change the way you’ve described in every city. 60 to 50, then back to 60, then 80 – it happens everywhere. Move on.

Glenn Beaumaris Glenn Beaumaris 10:40 am 29 Nov 20

The author trots out the line that speed kills and then admits to speeding! It's a shame that the riot act has jumped on the bandwagon of simplifying the causes of accidents to one thing.

Rusty Baird Rusty Baird 10:03 am 29 Nov 20

A conspiracy theory? Seriously!?!? Are you sure speed cameras aren't spreading covid too?

Avril Pounds Avril Pounds 9:35 am 29 Nov 20

My biggest gripes are roadwork signs where there is no roadwork and being tailgated whilst trying to obey the posted speed limit.

    Vash Alston Vash Alston 10:38 am 29 Nov 20

    Avril Pounds Yes! They leave the signs up for consistency, but instead it leads to complacency because people can see the pointlessness of the limit.

    Chris Olsen Chris Olsen 12:30 pm 29 Nov 20

    Avril Pounds They are meant to be covered when no workers are present unless the road condition is obviously not conducive to a higher speed, but they rarely bother to cover them.

Vickie O'Malley Vickie O'Malley 9:32 am 29 Nov 20

I don't think it's revenue - if it was there'd be a van on our street every day. With a speed limit of 60 most vehicles travel at 80, including the buses.

    Vickie O'Malley Vickie O'Malley 9:56 am 29 Nov 20

    Tama Ra they know. Police can't be here all day every day.

Regan Kevill Regan Kevill 8:44 am 29 Nov 20

Coppins Crossing between the bridge and William hovel changed about 7 times ranging between between 40 - 80. That's ridiculous

    Regan Kevill Regan Kevill 8:57 am 29 Nov 20

    Michele Woods exactly.... nightmare

    Colin Trinder Colin Trinder 9:29 am 29 Nov 20

    Speed limit on Dryandra St in Lyneham was lowered 'temproarily' to 50k when the GDE was being constructed ...

    Vash Alston Vash Alston 10:36 am 29 Nov 20

    Regan Kevill I was going through that section last Friday. Cruise controlled it. Two police vehicles (one unmarked with uniformed officers inside) happily overtook me doing at least 80 through those roadworks.

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

 Top
Region Group Pty Ltd

Search across the site