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Does reducing traffic speed save lives? Yes, but there is a LIMIT

Updated: May 14

Victorians tend to be pathologically concerned with safety. Just look at our response to COVID, the way kids’ playgrounds are designed (less fun in the name of risk), and how bureaucrats red tape everything they can put their hands on.

While safety is desirable and will always win votes, we have clearly entered the zone of diminishing returns – where the results don’t match the claims.


The Yarra Council announced last week that it has made all streets it can, 30KM an hour, to prevent serious injury to pedestrians and cyclists.


Between 2017 and 2020, the City of Yarra commissioned a 30 km/h speed limit trial by Monash University’s Accident Research Centre, against the backdrop of the (apparently worrying) number of serious and fatal accidents experienced by pedestrians on streets – a number that is strikingly low in comparison to other rare causes of death as recently reported by the ABS.


The Monash pre-trial final report, however, reveals that this supposedly scientific approach is anything but. For example, the report notes that one of the objectives of the study was to “provide supporting evidence and justification to trial a 30 km/h area wide speed limit.” (p. 7). What kind of respectable scientific endeavour starts with the desired conclusion first and justifies it after the fact? Further, the pre-trial report lists under its “Implementation Recommendation” section:

  • Principally, the need for patience, time, commitment, endurance, constant positive advice, and strong support by the Council;

  • Workshops among the key stakeholders are critical to ensure ongoing support by these organisations and resolution of any major issues that might arise during the program;

  • Workshops among the community are an important means of ensuring a collaborative approach between the council and residents in the trial regions;

  • Letter drops, marketing materials, slogans, and simple brochures to promote the program and knowledge why it is important for the residents in the trial areas;

amongst others.

What kind of scientific approach focuses on making sure the experimental subjects are nudged towards the acceptance of the trial for which you wish to objectively evaluate its acceptance? Moreover, the recommendation of needing “patience, time, commitment, endurance, constant positive advice, and strong support by the Council” is a damning statement that can easily be translated as “make sure you drill the trial long enough until the people accept it”. The language and evidence used in this pre-trial report speaks volumes of how the Accident Research Centre already started the process with the desired outcome in mind – an exercise in simple confirmation bias.


But this is hardly the icing of the cake. The subsequent final report shows that the data in the report is simply at the service of the narrative, rather than guiding it.

Why would this report show the percent of speed observations before and after the trial and between treatment areas, and without any hints to variations (e.g. standard deviation) in measured speed between observations? Would basic statistical tests conducted over the actual measured speed data (and without breaking it down into speed groups) reveal non-significant findings that were not palatable to report?


A highlight of the report states that there is a 4% reduction in the risk of sustaining a severe injury when a pedestrian is hit by a motor vehicle. But this figure is simply the calculation over the real reduction in the risk, from 0.24% before to 0.23% after treatment. Yes, a meagre difference of 0.01 points in that scale. This is akin to me stating that a car experienced a ten-fold increase on its speed (wow!), but without giving you the details and context that the car went from going from 1 km/h to 10 km/h and, in both cases, the car is barely moving in the greater context of pedestrian safety.


Context is key, after all, and in this case is not only key, but critical: if we take into account that the Victorian Transport Accident Commission reports an average of 35 pedestrians killed each year on ALL Victorian roads, and compare it to the latest ABS population estimate for Victoria of those who can be argued to be pedestrians (those 15 years old and over, ~5,334,000 people), we are talking about a fatal injury rate of ~0.06 deaths per 10,000 Victorian pedestrians. If we compare it to the Australian Department of Health and Aged Care definition of “rare disease” (less than 5 in 10,000 people), pedestrian fatalities constitute one of the rarest diseases Victoria suffers.


A 10 km/h speed reduction trial, with studies, media, campaigns and work worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, for a meagre return in safety improvement and barely half of people who live, work, or own a property in either the treated or untreated areas actually supporting the trial in the end. Don't worry about the confected narrative.

This is the textbook definition of a bad investment, which is simply the consequence of putting the ideology and pre-conceived ideas of what is desirable in terms of safety before the data was even collected. The initial reactions to the proposed trial uttered by the people at large and can be read in the pre-trial report – that the motivation underpinning the change was revenue raising, that the travel speeds are already suitably slow due to congestion, and that a 40 km/h speed limit is already appropriate in highly pedestrianised areas – ring truer than ever.


But never let the evidence get in the way of designing policy to appease your lobby groups, in this case pedestrian and cyclist lobby groups who have their own personal interests to look after and have no qualms in steering the management of the wider community to realise their ambitions. They have (for now at least) successfully lobbied the Council into perpetuating the hatred towards cars that characterises some inner-city activist groups, and against the wider context that the inner city desperately needs visitors and customers. These people if they are like most Melbournians, will choose to drive their cars instead of taking our woeful public transport system to get to the city, and will scorn at the idea of limits being lowered to 30 km/h Council-wide while the rest of Victoria still keeps 40 km/h as a limit in highly busy areas – limits that apply only on the busiest areas, rather than everywhere they think they can get away with. Especially now knowing that this is done to appease lobby groups, rather than saving lives (which it does not because most people agree 40 km/h is already safe enough).


How can we trust our Councils when they choose to ignore the data, the wider community, and the broader context of the policy discussion to appease their lobbyists and against the evidence and the desires of the population they are supposed to represent?


Shame on Yarra Council.


Now I bet this is the NORM and STANDARD in most Council officers “expert reports”.

I'm off to expose some more baseless decisions.

More links here:

You can find the reports in the last link under resources at the bottom of the page

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7 comentarios

Geoff Schaffer
Geoff Schaffer
5 days ago

Has anyone looked at our true and only Constitution Act 1900 Imperial not the fraudulent one created by Gough Whitlam. We had a referendum in 1989 re a third level of Government which was rejected by the people twice, so do councils have any legal right? All councils have ABN and act as trading companies so why not request a contract before doing any business with them?

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Yes stacked evidence. Also insane and controlling. Could they just do the job they were designed for and leave the rest to the state, otherwise get rid of them and sve millions.

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Just another council’s revenue stream through issuence of speeding fines. This is surely a good way to confuse drivers who will have to alter their speed between 40 km per hour to 50 km per hour to 30 km per hour.

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Toward the latter part of the 19th century, a series of laws required motorists, both in the United Kingdom and the United States, to have a person walking in front of their vehicle carrying a red flag to warn other road users of the potential danger. Well give it time I can see councils sending out red flags to every houshold. Towards zero sanity.

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Contestando a

...For the sake of our "safety", soon well be expected to drive... on the spot...

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if Victorian state government legislation does NOT recognize 30KMPH as a speed limit, then how can an infringement be given for not obeying said signage limits? surely this is not actually enforceable? would love to hear further details on this.

Also, given that the default limit set by the state is 50KMPH unless signed otherwise, there is going be a hell of a lot of signs needing to be erected. That will be an attractive edition to the local vegan panorama.

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