EXPERT: No limit road speeds in the Northern Territory will lead to more deaths

Between Alice Springs and Kulgera in the NOrthern Territory. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Reintroducing no limit speed zones on major highways in the Northern Territory will eventually lead to more road accidents and deaths, according to an expert writing in the Medical Journal of Australia.

The territory reintroduced speed limits in 2007 but began a trial for open speeds on a 200 km stretch of the Stuart Highway in February last year.

David Read, from the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre at Royal Darwin Hospital, wrote that Northern Territorians were already three times more likely to die on the roads than the rest of Australia.

“Among NT road users, alcohol usage is high and seatbelt usage is low,” Read writes. “Additionally, NT roads are almost invariably single lane and unseparated, many are unsealed, they are subject to the extremes of weather and are also exposed to wandering livestock and wildlife.”

Victims of car accidents might not be found for hours because of the remoteness of the country, and risks for indigenous communities are higher “as cultural and linguistic differences are a barrier for driver licensing and training”.

In 2007 the NT government introduced speed limits of 130 km/h on the four main highways and 110 km/h on other rural roads. In February 2014, open speeds for a 200 km stretch of the Stuart Highway were introduced on trial.

Read says the government’s argument that open speeds reduced fatigue is inadequate.

“While combating fatigue is important in improving road safety, swapping one risk factor for another is not the solution,” he writes.

“The literature suggests that the piecemeal reintroduction of open speeds on the highways of the NT will eventually result in an increased number of fatalities and serious injuries.”

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