Department of State GrowthTransport

50 km/h general urban speed limits

On 1 May 2002, general urban speed limits were reduced from 60 km/h to 50 km/h in Tasmania. The State Government introduced this important initiative to reduce both the number and severity of crashes in suburban areas in Tasmania.

The important thing to remember is if there is no speed limit sign, then it's a 50 km/h street. This will make your roads safer for you and your children.

By reducing the speed limit by just 10 km/h it is expected at least 80 Tasmanians will be spared death or serious injury.  Some of the more important roads will continue to have 60 km/h speed limits - these roads will be signposted. Your Councils have been involved in deciding which streets in your community are 50 km/h.

Our road rules are there to protect everyone, especially our more vulnerable road users - our children, our older community and pedestrians. Remember this simple rule and our roads will be safer: NO SIGNS, DRIVE 50.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why have 50 km/h speed limits?

50 km/h general urban speed limits were introduced to reduce both the number and severity of crashes in suburban areas. There are around 800 casualty crashes in suburban streets each year before 50km/h limits were introduced. 50 km/h speed limits create a safer road environment, especially for vulnerable road users such as the elderly, children and cyclists.

While media attention focuses on high speed crashes on highways, statistics show that 70 percent of all crashes (including 20 percent of fatalities) occurred on roads zoned at 60 km/h. Based on interstate survey results, Tasmania expected a reduction of at least 10 percent in casualty crashes in suburban streets from introducing a 50km/h general urban speed limit, resulting in 80 road users being spared death or serious injury each year. This initiative is about protecting our community.

By reducing this road trauma, as well as saving individual lives, there is a potential saving to the community and the State Government of $8 million each year.

2. How do 50 km/h speed limits reduce crashes?

A small reduction in speed makes a big difference to the chances of a crash occurring and the consequences of the crashes that do occur. The stopping distance at 50km/h is 12-14 metres shorter than at 60km/h, and this translates to reduced impact speeds and better chances that a crash will be avoided altogether. A pedestrian hit by a vehicle travelling at 60km/h has only a 15% chance of survival, whereas at 50km/h the chances of survival are better than 50%.

Australia's high urban casualty burden has come about because of a four-fold association between speed and road crashes. The higher the speed:

The greater the chance of losing control of the vehicle and consequently running off the road or into an on-coming vehicle;

  • The lower the chances of responding effectively to crash-threatening circumstances, particularly as a consequence of reduced response times and increased braking distances;
  • The greater the impact forces in the event of an accident and the more severe the casualty outcomes. Even small increases in speed can produce substantial increases in the amount of consequent energy to be dissipated; and
  • The more unpredictable the speeding driver becomes to other drivers and hence the greater the chances of causing an accident.
  • A reduction in speed to a maximum of 50km/h moderates these factors.

3. Where did the idea to introduce 50 km/h speed limits come from?

The National Road Safety Strategy 2001-2010, developed by the Australian Transport Council (which comprises Federal and all State and Territory Ministers with transport responsibilities), has a target to reduce the number of road fatalities by 40% by 2010.

Tasmania then developed the Tasmanian Road Safety Strategy 2002-2006, to set a strategic direction for improving road safety and reducing fatalities and injuries in Tasmania. During the development of the Tasmanian Strategy, the Government released the Tasmanian Road Safety Strategy Discussion Paper, early in 2001, for public comment and consultation and the Department of State Growth received responses from many individuals and organisations.

A number of major issues were of particular concern to respondents, with the introduction of lowered urban speed limits as the most significant of these issues (23.4% of respondents supported this measure). In addition, this initiative has been endorsed by Local Government and the Tasmanian Road Safety Council, which includes membership from the Local Government Association of Tasmania, RACT, Tasmania Police, the Coroner's Office, the Department of State Growth, Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) and the community.

On 17th December 2001, the Tasmanian Government approved the introduction of a 50 km/h speed limit in suburban streets.  The lower speed limit, which was introduced on 1 May 2002, is one of the most significant road safety initiatives to be undertaken in Tasmania in recent years.

The research evidence from Australia and elsewhere strongly supports the claim that a reduced urban speed limit will produce substantial road safety benefits.

4. Why is Tasmania (and Australia) heading in this direction?

Australia is one of the few countries to persist with a general urban speed limit of 60 km/h. Australia's decision in the 1970s to 'round up rather than down' from the 35 mph limit prior to metrication has cost many thousands of lives and serious injuries over the intervening years. Many countries that have urban speed limits not exceeding 50 km/h also have an average pedestrian fatality rate 30% lower than the average for countries with an urban speed limit of 60 km/h.

5. Why a Statewide 50 km/h speed limits model?

A number of other Australian jurisdictions have implemented reduced urban speed limits, and various models have been applied. Victoria has implemented a Statewide reduction, WA has announced a Statewide reduction, while NSW and Queensland have implemented reductions in limited areas or specific municipalities.

The Statewide model simplifies the approach for motorists, as all urban roads are 50km/h unless they are signed at a higher speed. Arterial roads where the speed limit remains at 60km/h or higher are identified by signs. A Statewide approach also makes it easier to educate the community about the change, and prevents motorists having to watch for changed speed limits as they cross municipal boundaries.

Similar to the situation prior to 1 May 2002, there is a default speed limit and suburban streets are not signed, but now you are asked to remember this simple rule, "No signs - Drive 50".

6. Has there been any evaluation of the effectiveness of 50 km/h speed limits in Australia?

A 50 km/h default speed limit in built up areas was introduced in Victoria in January 2001 and WA in December 2001. As in Tasmania, if there is no sign, the default speed limit is 50 km/h.

Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) in Victoria has conducted an independent evaluation of the new speed limit's effectiveness. MUARC investigated casualty crash data reported by police on streets in both Victoria and WA rezoned 50 km/h and examined it against data collected in other speed zones.

Both reviews found sustained reductions in crashes, including serious casualty crashes.   50km/h speed limits are producing significant road safety benefits to the Victorian and West Australian communities. 

Tasmania has conducted n evaluation of the introduction of 50 km/h after two years of operation.  While there are limitations on the data available this evaluation shows a strong positive effect of 50 km/h general urban speed limit, with a significant reduction in casualty crashes.

7. What do I need to know about 50 km/h speed limits?

The State Government went to great lengths to ensure that motorists did not suffer any confusion about speed limits when general urban speed limits were reduced to 50 km/h on 1 May 2002. The State Government has undertaken an extensive public education campaign supporting the introduction of 50 km/h speed limits, "50 in our streets saves lives".

Under the new scheme, very few 50 km/h signs will be used. The key message for drivers is that if you do not see a sign in built up areas, you must assume the speed limit is 50 km/h. Major roads that will keep the 60 km/h limit will have a large number of 60 km/h limit signs but other roads will not generally be signposted. The message to remember is "No sign, Drive 50".

In short:

  • The "default" speed limit for urban streets changed from 60 to 50 km/h
  • The 50 km/h speed limits applied from 1 May 2002
  • Major roads that retain the 60 km/h speed zone are signposted at 60 km/h.

8. How does it affect my area?

All 29 councils, in conjunction with the Department of State Growth, developed road hierarchies. A road hierarchy is a well-designed network of arterial and collector roads, which will retained a 60 km/h speed limit. These roads continue to service residential precincts and transport associated industries. All road hierarchies are adequately signed, so you will know you are in a 60 km/h speed zone. If there is no sign assume it is a 50 km/h zone and drive at 50 km/h.

Some councils produced information for residents within their municipality. The common sense approach taken by councils will help motorists to quickly adjust to the changes. The implementation process for 50 km/h urban speed limits was successful in terms of co-operation between State and Local Government.

9. Won't 50 km/h speed limits increase travel times and cause traffic congestion?

The following information is based on research conducted in other Australian jurisdictions, and provided by Austroads.

Studies have indicated that most people support reduced speed limits in their own streets. If the needs of those who live in local streets are to be given greater weight than those who drive through them, the speed limit in that street should be lower than that applying to the arterial network. Otherwise, not only are the needs of drivers taking precedence over residents' needs, but there will be little scope for lower speeds in the local network.

Both the time spent and distance travelled in local streets is relatively small for most drivers, so the disadvantages to drivers of lower speed limits should be relatively small. In practice the parts of the journey when a driver is delayed (by other traffic, negotiating corners, or giving way at intersections) will be largely unaffected by a lower speed limit.

The people likely to be disadvantaged by a reduction in speeds in local streets without any compensating gain in amenity are drivers who use local streets to avoid arterial roads whenever possible, even for longer journeys. A South Australian discussion paper points out that, to the extent that such people observed a lower speed limit, their journey times will be affected more than a similar journey on the arterial network.  However, these are the very people who cause much of the traffic problem in local streets, which in turn makes expensive traffic calming treatments necessary. Keeping out of local streets, because of increased travel times, might represent a cost to these individuals but would be a benefit for the rest of the community.

The potential impact of lowered urban speed limits on public transport vehicles was considered. Assuming a speed limit on bus routes was reduced from 60 km/h to 50 km/h, bus travel time would increase by a maximum of 8 to 10 seconds per kilometre of travel within local streets. Based on this estimate, the travel time on a typical route of 14 km length, 6 km of which is within local streets, would increase by 50 to 60 seconds at most over the whole route.

Delivery vehicles, taxis and other public vehicles are subject to similar influences and only have their travel times increased in proportion to that part of the journey spent travelling at speeds greater than 50 km/h off the arterial system. This is likely to be small. Australian studies indicate that, based on an estimate of 15,200 million kilometres for travel on urban local streets, when averaged over the entire population, a delay of between 5 and 20 seconds per person per day will be experienced.

Mobility is maintained due to arterial and collector roads retaining a 60 km/h speed limit. When all factors are taken into account, research indicates that individual drivers are relatively unaffected by the introduction of 50 km/h speed limits in urban areas.

10. Aren't reduced speed limits bad for the environment?

It is, in fact, likely that reduced speed limits reduce noise and vehicle emissions as well as providing safer access to roads for vulnerable road users.

The question of which speed limit produces more emissions is a complex one. Research results are, as yet, inconclusive. Research indicates that under normal suburban driving conditions where cruising opportunities are limited, higher speeds produce the potential for more emissions as acceleration tends to dominate differences in different cruising speeds.

The driving phases (acceleration, cruise, deceleration and idle) during the journey become critical in the consideration of emissions. The length of the street is emerging as a critical factor and the type of emission being considered is also important. Engine cold starts also create increased emissions and again the mix of driving phases whilst the engine reaches a stable operating temperature is critical.

It has also been demonstrated that on local streets, maintaining a steady speed of 50 km/h used 4.2 per cent less fuel than it did at 60 km/h. This equates to a saving in total fuel consumption of between .04 per cent and .3 per cent. Although the expected benefits from reduced fuel consumption are therefore small, they nevertheless support the case for using speed limits rather than physical devices to lower speeds.

As with air emissions, measuring noise emissions is not entirely straightforward. For a single average passenger vehicle passing a point at a constant speed, each 10 km/h increase in speed increases the noise by 3dB(A). Therefore, vehicles passing a house at 60 km/h are likely to be louder than vehicles travelling by at 50 km/h. One aspect of acoustics is that sound intensity is logarithmic. In order for apparent loudness to double there has to be a tenfold increase in the traffic volume. The nature of the noise itself is a complicating factor. Freely flowing vehicles in a residential street are unlikely to cause any unusual disturbance, however a heavily accelerating vehicle in the middle of the night is likely to generate complaints. Therefore the time at which the noise occurs and the nature of the noise are the important factors when considering annoyance.

11. Aren't tourists confused about 50 km/h speed limits?

It's unlikely that interstate or overseas visitors to the State are confused by the new speed limits. Most of Australia, and much of the rest of the world, now has 50 km/h speed limits. Signage, advising that there are 50 km/h speed limits in suburban areas in Tasmania, has been installed at entry points to the State, and at various other sites around the State.

12. How can I be expected to watch the speedo and drive safely?

Driving is a complex task and demands our full attention. The introduction of 50 km/h speed limits does not make driving any more difficult. Initially, it may take motorists a while to get used to driving at 50 km/h in suburban areas, but it soon became second nature.

Licensed drivers are expected to be able to handle a multitude of complex tasks when driving, (including monitoring the vehicle's speed) without reducing their ability to scan the road environment, assess hazards, identify risks and decide when to slow down, when to overtake, when to change lanes, and make other decisions about driving.

13. Why is the Government so concerned about speeding?

Some people will remember when drink driving was socially acceptable. Since Random Breath Tests were introduced in 1983, and the legal blood alcohol content for drivers was reduced from 0.08 to 0.05 BAC, the community has changed its perception about drink driving. Drink driving is no longer acceptable.

Road safety practitioners' research indicates that speeding is as dangerous as drink driving, but the community generally feels that it is acceptable behaviour to speed to some degree. It is important that we, as a community, change the way we think about speeding. The Government is working to achieve this change. Since speed cameras were introduced in 1993, there has been a significant reduction in crashes. Recent laws mean that you can lose your licence for three months or more if you speed in excess of 38 km/h above the posted speed limit. The introduction of 50 km/h speed limits is the next step in reducing crash incidence due to speed.

14. Where can I get more information?

For more information about reduced general urban speed limits, contact Service Tasmania on 1300 135 513 or international +61 3 6233 8011.