In a break with a time honoured tradition, practised for as long as the Gregorian calendar has been in existence, I have actually been keeping up with my New Year’s resolution. Unlike the rest of you who are, at this very moment, casting shamefaced glances in the direction of unstretched spandex and a mountain of empty beer bottles, I shunned the stereotypical pledge of pain and abstinence for one of greater pleasure; to get out there and start doing some quality road trips around this beautiful country we get to call home.
Since completing my New Year run up to Cape Reinga, I’ve ventured north to Kai Iwi Lakes, south to Tongariro and even further south to Queenstown. But Easter presented a new opportunity as the current Mrs Grimley and I saddled up and headed east to the idyllic seaside resort of Waihi Beach. If I’m being honest, we actually intended to go to Mt Maunganui, but a lack of forward planning meant we arrived about three months after all the accommodation had been booked and had to beat a hasty retreat north to the one bogless, creature-comfort free chalet that hadn’t been snapped up by people with greater foresight.
But it did present me with my first opportunity for a drive along the Pokeno to Mangatarata section of SH2 since it had the speed limit reduced to 90kph at the end of last year. Thanks to a prevalence of camper vans and agricultural rolling road blocks this has never been a piece of road where excessive speed has been a particular issue for me, but neither has it been one where I’ve felt like the abilities of myself or whatever car I’ve been driving have been challenged on the occasions I’ve been able to make it to three figures.And this serves to highlight what I’ve always thought – that speed limits are completely ridiculous.
If we’re being honest, any person entrusted with a motor vehicle, which is essentially a tonne of killing machine in the wrong hands , should have a sixth sense as to what is appropriate at any given time for themselves, the conditions and the car. Regardless of what the last sign might have said, it should be blindingly obvious that when passing a primary school at whatever time they deign to kick the sproglets out, the best course of action should be simply to get out of the car and push it. And likewise on a nice summer’s day on a long, straight stretch of road – State Highway 1 between Drury and the Bombay Hills for instance – limiting yourself to 100kph in a car that will easily double that speed in complete comfort is as pointless as giving a lecture on the theory of relativity to a cow.
By taking away a speed limit you take away the challenge of meeting it where conditions aren’t suitable and the frustration of driving in circumstances where it is inappropriately low. Despite the seemingly contradictory evidence of bungee jumpers, sky divers and their ilk, the human instinct for survival is a strong one and I’m prepared to bet that without the guidance of a road sign, most would take a pretty conservative approach to entering a completely unknown corner.
Even the most ardent road safety nutter would have to acknowledge that speed by itself has never killed anyone. The key contributing factor has, and always will be, the person behind the wheel who failed to recognise that what they were doing simply wasn’t right. With proper driver education – and the severest of punishments for those who recklessly endanger others – it should be perfectly possible for drivers to get out there and do their thing without constant input from speed signs.
It would certainly add a liberating feel to the next road trip, being completely free to put your foot down. Particularly if you knew that all those around you were doing the same thing on the correct pedal at exactly the right time.