Why scrapping unrestricted speed limits in the Northern Territory is a stupid decision

Fiat Panda in Northern Territory

Stephen Corby fires up over the planned reinstating of speed limits on the Stuart Highway.

How often do governments do the right thing? Frankly it’s such a vanishingly small number that you could count it on the fingers of one hand, if you were a duck.

Stopping people from smoking in pubs is one good example that those of us who aren’t silly enough to suck down cancer sticks at $2 a pop could agree on, so let’s try to imagine our surprise if, after a change of government, a new party announced it was rescinding them.

Revoking laws that make perfect sense brings to mind the kind of political genius that has seen the COPs (Conservative Ostrich Parties) cutting back on global-warming research.

And yet it is a Labor Government that has thrown out good sense, good results and, most vitally, what its people want by announcing it will reinstate 130km/h limits on the Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory, in a move that will have locals swearing even more prolifically than usual (and believe me, their inability to construct any sentence, even one asking their kids to pass them the milk, without at least two profanities is profound and unique).

Fiat -Panda -driving -Northern -Territory -unrestricted -speed -limitsFor many moons, the NT had no limits at all on its highways, and the people were delighted with this rare, Germanic outbreak of good sense, which reflected the fact that it’s a big, big place, and that people have to travel vast distances on largely empty roads with perfect sight lines.

The logic thus follows that if you can complete your eight-hour journey in six hours, you’re far less likely to die of boredom and fatigue-related injuries.

Unfortunately, the last time Labor was voted in, back in 2006, it decided that logic could go to hell, and that what the locals wanted was not its concern, which is, to be fair, the kind of approach often favoured by both sides of politics.

Remarkably, the Country Liberals - who certainly sound more conservative than Pauline Hanson in an ankle length dress and a cowboy hat - made the brave move of reinstating the open limits in 2014 on a 200km stretch of the Stuart north of Alice Springs and, after everyone was very sensible and Absolutely No One Died, despite the horrified predictions of the Nanny Staters, in the next 36 months, the derestricted zone was extended by a further 100km in July this year.

Stephen -Corby -driving -Fiat -PandaWheels visited, in a Fiat Panda, obviously, to find out what the locals thought almost immediately after the change and, while we were much entertained by their colourful turns of phrase and love of drinking VB from cans, we were also hugely impressed by how sensible they were about the whole speeding thing.

From their point of view, the derestricted idea is nothing to do with speeding for the sake of speed, or fun, and they’re not the types to drive Porsches or Lamborghinis anyway. But in their high-kilometre Holdens and hardworking SUVs, they appreciate being able to sit on 150km/h, to cover ground quickly but safely. Any faster, they reckon, and the fuel use just gets too extreme, and expensive.

That little stretch of the NT seemed like a tiny, empty corner of Australia that actually made sense, at least in that one way (to be fair, living there at all, with that weather and those flies and all that nothingness, makes little sense). Speed did not kill. A national limit of 110km/h was (expletive) ridiculous. Even the police seemed quite nice, and strangely sensible.

Fiat -Panda -on -Stuart -HighwayAnd yet here comes Labor, making a political point rather than a logical one. It’s their policy to bring back 130 limits, they say, it always has been. So there.

Frankly, they’ve hinted, the NT locals (who voted for them in huge numbers to be fair, with an 18 per cent swing against the Country Liberals, clearly based on other issues) should think themselves lucky they haven’t bowed to what would obviously be serious pressure from Federal authorities to bring in a 110km/h limit across the Territory.

That’s the stupidly slow limit that West Australians have to put up with, despite the NT’s top cops telling Wheels that the WA rozzers were watching the trial with great interest, desperate to a least move to 130km/h themselves, on their remote, empty and open stretches of highway.

Yes, we realise a move to 130km/h on busier roads like the Hume (which is still virtually empty compared to Italian Autostrada, which cope with that exact limit somehow) is a huge ask for terrified and cowed Australians to get their heads around. And that politicians who have the will to even try are few and very far between.

But surely the roads in the NT, which even a Fiat Panda can cruise 

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  • As usual, Stephen talks sound common sense. A pox on pollies everywhere, for ignoring the wishes of the people and real-world scientific data. Gay marriage? Yes please, Dahling! Voluntary euthanasia? How dare you, you unChristian swine! Unrestricted speed limits? But where will we get our revenue if not from speed cameras???
  • I want road laws based on science, not political ideology. Labor has stared down factual scientific data showing a decrease in the road toll where derestricted zones were implemented compared to the 130km/h sections. In a territory as vast as the NT, having an open speed limit through its entirety (as was the case before a previous Labor Government brought in restrictions) will decrease the fatigue related deaths and accidents resulting from boredom and lost concentration due to unnecessarily long travel times on high quality roads designed to accommodate a much higher speed. Let common sense laws prevail over PC zealotry.
  • Did Corby not finish this story? Looks like the last paragraph, or sentence, has been chopped off!!
  • I love Corby's rants - just love 'em. Invariably I find myself agreeing with him in most things, especially the idiocy around speed limits. I think back to the media-led and enthusiast-carried cause of 'V8s 'til '98' campaign that kept the wonderful motor even past '98. CORBY!! . . . another campaign like that is sorely needed to make pollies understand logic ONCE & FOR ALL so please can you and/or some other high profile journos with some clout get moving on this rather than talk (no offence intended). Get Morely into gear and a few others and run a campaign - God knows you guys have the voice and tools to make it happen - the media connections. Seems a no-brainer to me and easy given the resources at your disposal. Otherwise we'll be TALKING about it all in the year 2198 and in electric toys doing 40kph down the expressways! You know its true! PLEASE!
  • @ceedot - Well written and appreciated - thanks. Love to do it myself but My Significant Other is part of the problem this article addresses (mindset). Constant source of grief for me. To read comments like yours is bitter sweet for me.
  • I have been lucky enough to live thru the 60s and 70s. Yes, back then in SA, we had no speed limits on most country roads. I have fond memories of the old man cruising a 100mph (160ks) while driving to Broken Hill to see the rellys. A forlorn and inhospitable journey into nothingness with only 1 or 2 petrol stations open. Driving at the draconian speed limits would kill anybody, I havent been up there for years, but I doubt people drive at 110kph all the way. Even when I had my nice Oz performance car in the 1980s (Charger), I would often drive at 140-160kph, on the SE Freeway, because the road is made for it, and the car is capable of it, and it make you a better and much safer, alert driver while doing it. The worst and most Dangerous drivers, are the one that stick on or just bellow the speed limits, hogging the outside lane, and being total dilettantes and a danger to all sensible road users. Excess speed does'nt kill on Australian roads, its FATIGUE and INATTENTION that cause the most problems, with drinking/drugging equally to blame.
  • Hi guys My wife and I were lucky (?) enough to travel down the original 200k stretch of "unlimited heaven" about 18 months ago. Travelling around 180+ for that stretch was the highlight of my 40 year driving career. Points to note: My wife felt completely safe in those conditions due to a very wide road with very little traffic , expansive views to either side which were cleared about 50 metres and driving a modern performance vehicle (XR6T). However the main thing I noticed was the absolute concentration I needed in those conditions. When we drove into South Australia a few days later and back to a limit of 110k that concentration was gone and boredom and frustration settled in. I know where I felt safest.....
  • When there were open speed limits in the NT, there were low fatalities. Then the speed limits were lowered, and the fatalities doubled. Then the restrictions were lifted on certain stretchs of the highway, and no fatalities. When someone unfortunately dies on those ex-deresticted sections of highway (most likely due to fatigue), the family should sue the NT government since here has been proof that raising the speed limit reduces the road toll. Question: Does any NT Lawyer think they could win the case?
  • I lived in NT for many years when we had open speed limets it was great working remote stations and comunties and most weeks it was not uncomin to travel betwee 2000to3000KLM a week paid to see the country bring back open speed limets it is safer for the long distance we have to travel on a dayley bases
  • politics like this should never play a role in setting maximum speed limits! Speed limits/Maximums should always be based on science and engineering along with safety records related what is being done currently with open speed limits today........ Putting back a numerical maximum based just on Political Ideas !NOT SCIENCE & ENGINEERING! Over the today Drive To Conditions safely allowed today which is based on actual science & engineering based maximums today !Will Cost Lives! It will also bring in a lot of money for those in power from the re-instated numerical maximums.....which in the end is the real reason they doing it....
  • @Ryan Oboviosly you don't live in the Territory or you wouldn't have brought politics into it as the open speed limits used to generate good revenue here, then labour changed it & CLP got in & done trails which saw revenue starting to come back for the Territory now the Berrimah line is put back up in the first week, just to let you know born & bred Territorian for over forty years speed was not always a factor on our roads it was alcohol & unroad worthy vechiles.
  • I can understand the frustration but why bring your political bias into it. Immediately discredited anything you had to say after you waffle on about climate change. How can anyone take you seriously. The laws are stupid, but labor are the ones who always bring in the point to point and fixed cameras, always the one who raise the fines and lower limits. Historically they do this because they waste money and need more income. These laws will change back when a few people die and fingers start being pointed.
  • I have driven all over Australia and there is no doubt what you say is true. But part of me wonders about whether driving standards are up to the higher speeds. I live in Sydney and there has been in the last couple years a very noticeable fall in driver standards. There is no easy answer to this fall but I believe it is part to do with and change in the way policing is done. The RMS has mandated that the Highway Patrol sits on the motorways out of Sydney during peak times. The modern police car has automated two processes that reap huge revenues. That is speed and rego checks. The car is parked, set the alarm and the copper sits on Facebook and waits for the trap to go off. The road death rate has gone up since the introduction of high visibility policing was introduced. The other problem is when people immigrate to Australia they are allowed to drive on an international license for 5 years. I know of two who have done this and failed when it was time to get their NSW license. For both of them it was because they did not know our road rules. Something to ponder.