Speed limits in Australia
Speed limits in Australia range from 10 kilometres per hour (6.2 mph) shared zones to 130 kilometres per hour (81 mph). Speed limit signage is in km/h since metrication on 1 July 1974. All speed limits (with the sole exception of the South Australian school and roadworks zones which are signposted at 25 km/h) are multiples of 10 km/h – the last digit in all speed signs is zero.[disputed ]
Australian states and territories use two "default" speed limits. These apply automatically in the absence of 'posted' speed restriction signage. The two default speed limits are:
- within built-up areas, 50 kilometres per hour (31 mph), except for the Northern Territory which remains at 60 kilometres per hour (37 mph)
- outside built-up areas, 100 kilometres per hour (62 mph); two exceptions are Western Australia and the Northern Territory at 110 kilometres per hour (68 mph)
Common speed zones below the default built up area 50 km/h limit are:
- Shared zones (signposted areas where pedestrians and motorised traffic share the same space) are 10 kilometres per hour (6.2 mph)
- School zones are variable speed zones, with a 40 kilometres per hour (25 mph) limit applying during gazetted school terms (which may include pupil-free days) and at specific times of the day when children are expected to be present. In South Australia, the limit is 25 kilometres per hour (16 mph). A minority of school zones have flashing lights to indicate when the lower speed limit applies.
- 40 km/h zones. A number of local governments have implemented lower speed limits, typically 40 km/h, in certain areas, such as shopping precincts, or even in whole suburbs such as Balmain and Rozelle in Sydney.
Common speed zones above the default limits are:
- Many sub-arterial roads are zoned 60 kilometres per hour (37 mph)
- Major connector roads and smaller highways are zoned 60 kilometres per hour (37 mph), 70 kilometres per hour (43 mph), 80 kilometres per hour (50 mph) or 90 kilometres per hour (56 mph).
- Some highways and freeways are zoned 110 kilometres per hour (68 mph)
- The Stuart, Arnhem, Barkly and Victoria highways in the Northern Territory are zoned 130 kilometres per hour (81 mph).
The "END" speed limit sign is increasingly used throughout Australia to signal the end of a posted speed restriction, or built-up area 'default' speed-limit leading to the jurisdiction's 'rural' default speed limit. It contains the word "END" and a number in a black circle beneath this, representing the ceasing speed-limit. It is typically used where, according to AS1742.4 the road beyond has certain hazards such as hidden driveways, poor camber, soft edges and other hazards where the road authority feels a posted speed limit sign might be too dangerous or otherwise unwarranted. It is intended therefore to invoke particular caution. This sign is used as a direct replacement for the slash-through speed derestriction signs common in Europe and elsewhere.
Speed limits are enforced in almost all areas of the country including the Northern Territory. Tolerance is from 8% to 10% in most states but only 3 km/h in Victoria, an issue that has caused much controversy in that state, especially in light of the fact that previous Australian Design Rules specified that vehicle speedometers may have up to 10% leeway in accuracy. This was updated in 2006 to require that the 'speed indicated shall not be less than the true speed' Detection measures used are radar, LIDAR, fixed and mobile speed cameras (using various detection technologies), Vascar, pacing and aircraft.
Default speed limits by state and territory
Despite introduction of model national road rules by the states in 1999, Western Australia and the Northern Territory retain different default speed limits. The table below indicates the default speed limits along with typical school zone limits and the highest zone in each locality.
In the external territories, and in some special cases (such as Lord Howe Island, NSW), the speed limits may differ significantly from those found across the rest of the nation.
|State / territory||School zone||Built-up area||Rural area||Highest speed zone|
|Australian Road Rules||number on school zone sign||50||100||number on speed-limit sign|
|Australian Capital Territory||40||50||100||100|
|New South Wales||40 on all roads||50||100||110[dead link]|
|Queensland||40 on roads 70 km/h or less
60 on roads 80 km/h and some 90/100 km/h
80 on roads 110 km/h and some 90/100 km/h
|South Australia||25 on roads 60 km/h or less||50||100||110|
|Tasmania||40 on roads 70 km/h or less
60 on roads 80 km/h or more
|Victoria||40 on roads 70 km/h or less
60 on roads 80 km/h or more
|Western Australia||40 on roads 70 km/h or less
60 on roads with 80 km/h or 90 km/h
|Cocos (Keeling) Islands||--||30||50||50|
|Norfolk Island||30||30 - Kingston Foreshore
40 - Burnt Pine Central Business District
|30 - Norfolk Island National Park
50 - Other Areas
|Lord Howe Island||--||--||--||25|
Historically, Australia operated a simple speed limit system of urban and rural default limits, denoted in miles per hour. The urban default, which prior to the 1930s was 30 miles per hour (48 km/h), applied to any "built up area", usually defined by the presence of street lighting. This limit was progressively increased to 35 miles per hour (56 km/h) over the next 30 years by each of the states and territories, with New South Wales being the last to change in May 1964. Outside of built up areas, a prima facie speed limit applied. In New South Wales and Victoria, the prima facie speed limit was 50 miles per hour (80 km/h). In the 1970s however, most state prima facie speed limits were gradually replaced by absolute limits. An absolute speed limit of 70 miles per hour (113 km/h) was introduced to Victoria in 1971. This was subsequently reduced to 60 miles per hour (97 km/h) in late 1973. South Australia introduced an absolute speed limit of 60 mph in 1974.
With the onset of metrication in 1974, speed limits and speed advisories were converted into kilometres per hour, rounded to the nearest 10 km/h, leading to small discrepancies in speed limits. The default urban limits of 35 miles per hour (56 km/h) were converted to 60 km/h, an increase of 3.7 kilometres per hour (2.3 mph). The rural defaults of 60 miles per hour (97 km/h) and 65 miles per hour (105 km/h) became 100 kilometres per hour (62 mph) and 110 kilometres per hour (68 mph) respectively. The prima facie 50 mph limit in New South Wales became a prima facie limit of 80 km/h. Signage changed from a North American-style black and white textual sign to a design based on metric signage in use in New Zealand with black number in red annulus (or circle) on white, itself a derivative of the European standard number in red circle design.
New South Wales introduced an absolute speed limit of 100 km/h in 1979. The Northern Territory introduced an absolute speed limit of 110 km/h in 2007.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the 60 km/h urban default limit was progressively lowered to 50 kilometres per hour (31 mph) nationally for reasons of road, and especially pedestrian, safety. However, many existing roads, especially subarterial roads in urban areas, have had 60 km/h limits posted on them. Queensland's Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (Speed Controls) states that 60 km/h is the general minimum speed limit for traffic carrying roads. The Northern Territory has retained the 60 km/h limit; however, 50 km/h is also a common speed limit (particularly in residential areas).
There has been a campaign by some organisations, such as the Australian Wheelchair Association, to lower the default urban limit further, to allow wheelchairs to be used on public roads, with most such proposals calling for 40 kilometres per hour (25 mph) or 30 kilometres per hour (19 mph) limits. Some local government areas have unilaterally applied lower limits, such as the City of Sydney introducing 30 km/h zones in many areas. In other areas, special 40 km/h zones have been introduced in "high pedestrian activity" areas.
Often the start of rural default 'limits' or prima facie allowances were signalled by use of the speed derestriction sign, catalogued R4-2 in AS1742.4. (2009 edition has dropped from reference the R4-2 speed derestriction). The speed derestriction sign (//) had developed 'different meaning' over time at state and territory level, although its contract-meaning under "The United Nations Convention on Road Traffic, Signs & Signals" where the sign is catalogued "C,17a", is; "End of all local prohibitions imposed on moving vehicles" and has never changed. In the Northern Territory, they designated the end of speed restrictions. In Victoria they meant that the rural default speed limit applied, whilst in New South Wales, they indicated that the prima facie 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) limit applied.
New South Wales's prima facie 50 mph limit, often signed by derestriction signs, was only enforced in cases where a driver's speed could be demonstrated to be excessive or dangerous in the context of prevailing road conditions. This was somewhat similar in principle to "reasonable and prudent" limits in other jurisdictions. This led to the widespread but misleading belief that no limit applied, and that derestriction signs indicated an "unlimited" limit. This belief, coupled with repeated studies showing 85th percentile speeds in excess of 120 km/h on major routes, comparatively high road tolls, difficulty in prosecuting speeding offences, and the variance in meaning of the derestriction sign across states, led New South Wales to harmonise its rural default limit to 100 kilometres per hour (62 mph) in 1978. The use of derestriction signs in New South Wales was officially discouraged, and on state controlled routes, 100 km/h signs were progressively used instead.
By the 1990s, most states had discontinued use of the derestriction sign, mainly for reasons of disambiguity. In most cases, these have either been replaced with definite specific limits, or "END limit" signs on roads where a specific limit is inappropriate or otherwise impractical. However, in some areas, local governments have continued to use the deprecated signs on locally controlled rural roads.
The Northern Territory continued to use derestriction signs to indicate unlimited limits until 2007, when an open road default limit of 110 kilometres per hour (68 mph) was introduced, along with 130 kilometres per hour (81 mph) limits on the Territory's four major highways.
- NSW speed zoning guidelines. Roads and Traffic Authority NSW. 2011. p. 9.
- Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 18/03 – Instrumentation) 2006
- "School Crossings Report". ACT Government. TAMS. Retrieved 9 April 2009.
- "Driving". New South Wales Government. Roads and Traffic Authority. Retrieved 21 December 2008.
- Road Users' Handbook (pdf). Northern Territory Government. ISBN 1-920772-83-9. Retrieved 22 June 2008.
- "Speed Limits". Government of South Australia, Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
- Max Cameron (October 2009). "Economic Evaluation of the Introduction of Lower Rural Default and National Highway Speed Limits in Tasmania. Table 1: State Road Network roads designated for speed limit reductions. Traffic parameters and mean speeds for each road category.". Monash University Accident Research Centre. Retrieved 2012-09-15. "Rural roads with 110 km/h speed limits...Divided Category 1 Trunk Roads 67.3 (km in length)... 110 (km/h free mean speed for cars and light commercial vehicles)...Undivided Cat. 1 Trunk Roads 238 (km)...105 (km/h free mean speed for cars and light commercial vehicles)"
- Drive Safe. A handbook for Western Australian road users., Government of Western Australia, Department of Transport, 2013-01-11, p. 47, retrieved 2013-02-15
- "A Review of Rural Speed Limits in Australia". Commonwealth Government of Australia. Commonwealth Department of Transport. Retrieved 27 March 2009.
- "Queensland Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices". Queensland Government. Department of Main Roads. Retrieved 27 March 2009.
- "Unlimited speeds in NT axed". The Sydney Morning Herald. Drive. 6 November 2006. Retrieved 28 May 2008.
- Wilson, Ashleigh (3 November 2006). "Speed limits end free rein". The Australian. Retrieved 28 May 2008.
- Metric Motoring (1973) – Original television advertisements explaining the conversion to metric speed limits. From the National Film and Sound Archive.