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Australian Autobahn Pilot Project Proves Successful
Return of 171 miles of highway without speed limits has not affected safety in the Northern Territory, Australia.

Northern Territory, AustraliaDriving the barren roads of Northern Territory, Australia is faster and safer than ever. In February, the Country Liberal Party government fulfilled a campaign promise by creating a one-year trial restoration of speed limit-free roads on a 126 mile stretch of highway between Alice Springs and Barrow Creek. Officials deemed the test so successful -- there were no speed-related crashes -- that they recently extended the limit-free zone to a total of 171 miles, adding a section south of the Ali Curung Rail Overpass.

According to government statistics, most road deaths in this region were attributed to not wearing a seatbelt, 63 percent, or use of alcohol, 31 percent, not speeding. Between 2001 and 2011, there were six fatalities and 62 serious injuries on the stretch of road, none of which were directly related to speed. Officials decided to beef up patrols to counter drunk driving instead of running speed traps.

"We are bringing responsibility back to motorists -- they need to be able to drive to the road conditions and their capabilities," Transport Minister Peter Styles said in announcing the pilot project. "Open speed limits mean driving to the road conditions -- everyone should drive within their own capabilities, the condition of the road, prevailing weather conditions and the standard of their vehicle."

Between 1991 and 2006, rural roads in the Northern Territory had no speed limits. The Labor government imposed a speed limit of 80 MPH beginning at the end of 2006. After the change, the number of accidents increased, contrary to the predictions of speed limit advocates. Returning to the unrestricted highway has long been a goal of the Country Liberal Party, which stands for less intrusive government policies, private enterprise and individualism.

To prepare the road for high-speed travel, the transportation department repainted lane markings, upgraded signage and removed obstructions such as trees from the roadside. The government also set 80 MPH speed limits near roadhouses or truck stops that are set far back from the road. Limits drop as slow as 50 MPH when they are near the road.