‘Ridiculous’: Police chief dismisses 30km/h trial as an answer to soaring road toll

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Victoria Police’s chief commissioner has dismissed as “ridiculous” a Melbourne council’s plan to cap speed limits at 30km/h across two inner-city suburbs in a bid to reduce serious crashes.

Shane Patton said that despite Victoria’s concerning road toll, fatalities weren’t happening on inner-city streets, but in the country and on rural roads, and lowering the speed limit in the City of Yarra was not the answer.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton.Credit: Chris Hopkins

“I just think that’s ridiculous … 30 kilometres,” Patton said on ABC radio on Thursday morning. “Thirty kilometres isn’t the answer, in my point of view. I think no one’s going to obey it … it’s ridiculous.”

Yarra City Council voted on Tuesday to expand a trial of reduced speed zones in Fitzroy and Collingwood to all suburban streets, excluding the busier thoroughfares of Johnston, Nicholson and Hoddle streets and Victoria Parade, which are managed by the Department of Transport and Planning.

The councillors’ unanimous vote means a 30km/h speed limit could be rolled out across the suburbs as early as February next year. The motion still requires Victorian government approval.

However, Patton said he was not aware of any robust evidence which indicated dropping the speed limit by a further 10 kilometres in the City of Yarra was going to be effective in reducing road trauma.

There have been 193 crashes on the suburban streets of Collingwood and Fitzroy over the past five years.Credit: Jesse Marlow

“Society has to accept to a degree that something is going to achieve an outcome, and I’m not aware of any evidence … that by dropping it [the speed limit] another 10 kilometres — so people can’t get out of third gear, if they’re in a manual car — is going to make any difference to road trauma,” he said.

But a joint submission by the Victorian Government Road Safety Partnership to a state parliament inquiry into road trauma earlier this year referenced research supporting the benefits of lower speed limits.

The group includes Victoria Police, the Transport Accident Commission, the Department of Justice and Community Safety, and the transport, justice and health departments.

“A pedestrian or cyclist struck at 50km/h experiences a 90 per cent chance of being killed in the impact compared to a 10 per cent chance of being killed if struck at 30km/h,” the submission said.

“Successive studies have shown that 30km/h is the maximum impact speed for a healthy adult before death or very serious injury becomes increasingly likely.”

The submission references government data showing that every year before the COVID-19 pandemic, on average, two pedestrians were killed in crashes in 40km/h zones, six died in 50km/h zones and 15 died in 60km/h zones.

TAC head of road safety Samantha Cockfield also told the inquiry during a public hearing in August that 30km/h zones had been adopted in other parts of the world “with some really quite great success”.

“Speed really is the underlying issue that we have … with our vulnerable road users and what we need to really start addressing,” Cockfield said.

Yarra has maintained its decision was made after a growing global body of evidence showed lowering the speed limit to 30km/h could save lives and prevent serious injury.

The trial could exclude tram routes, including Brunswick, Gertrude and Smith streets, if traffic signal or timetable modifications were required. However, these streets would be added to the trial as early as possible.

Earlier this week, Yarra councillor Claudia Nguyen said slower speeds saved lives.

“Research shows that a pedestrian is at least twice as likely to be killed by a car travelling at 40km/h than at 30km/h,” she said.

The City of Yarra also published a review of Victorian road crash data for the five years leading up to the implementation of its existing 30km/h trial and the five years since, which showed a 51 per cent reduction in all crashes and 70 per cent reduction in serious crashes.

The data showed there had been 193 crashes on Collingwood and Fitzroy’s suburban streets in the past five years.

Police were set to hold an emergency meeting this week to discuss this year’s road toll, which, at 258, is at a 15-year high.

The council has been contacted for further comment.

With Alex Crowe

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