Japan raising speed limit to 120km/h to make highways safer
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While all the speed-limit talk in Auckland is centred around making it lower, things are moving in a different direction in Japan as it prepares to lift the speed limits on two arterial highways from 100km/h to 120km/h.
The move by Japan's transport ministry and National Police Agency comes after they commenced a trial in March 2017 that indicated that increasing the speed limit to 110km/h on a small selection of roads that included the country's oldest expressway, the Shin-Tomei, had little measurable impact on the amount of accidents. The decision to add another 10km/h to the limit is, for now, a year-long extension of the existing trial.
The amount of case study overlap between this case from Japan and current discussions in New Zealand — specifically those concerning the move to lower limits around Auckland City to 30km/h in certain places — is minimal. However, it's one of many global examples that highlight how speed in isolation isn't boogeyman some lay it out to be.
Japan's road-toll situation is an enviable one. They have one of the lowest traffic deaths per capita of any country; with the road toll ending at 3532 last year, after being as high as 16,000 a year in the 1970s. New Zealand's road toll last year was a comparatively small 373 people last year, but that number represented a nine-year high, and consider too that Japan's overall population of 128.8 million people dwarfs our 4.7 million.
There's something inherently backwards about the road toll rising in current times. Cars have never been safer, with advances in structural safety and technological safety now successfully trickling down to popular best-selling entry level platforms like the Toyota Corolla and Suzuki Swift. On paper, New Zealand's driver education system is more thorough than it's ever been before.
It's not to say that New Zealander's necessarily speed more than drivers in Japan either. Speaking to Newsweek in 2017, University of Tokyo traffic management and control expert Oguchi Takashi said that many drivers on the expressways with raised limits used to ordinarily break the speed limit anyway.
“Even before changing the limit, it was suggested by data that the 85 percentile speed was already around 120 kph without any higher accident risk tendency in certain sections on expressways,” he said.