ABU DHABI // The number of accidents on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai motorway has dropped by almost a third since the speed limit was cut by 20kph.
Police began enforcing a strict 140kph limit on April 17. Since then there have been 62 traffic accidents on the Abu Dhabi stretch of the road compared with 90 in the same period last year.
The reduction is a direct result of the reduced speed limits, increased patrols and rigorous enforcement of the law, police say.
The official speed limit is 120kph, but before April 17 drivers could reach 160kph on the Abu Dhabi stretch without triggering speed traps. Since then, drivers exceeding the 140kph limit by even 1kph can face fines.
Lower speed limits being implemented across the emirate would help to reduce the death rate to zero by 2030, Col Jamal Al Ameri of Abu Dhabi traffic police said.
The enforcement limit on the motorway leading from the capital to Al Sweihan, for instance, was also reduced from 160kph to 140kph. Enforcement of the new limit began yesterday,
Heavy vehicles are limited to 80kph on external roads. The speed limit for light vehicles on all roads in Abu Dhabi is whatever is posted plus a 20kph buffer, but there are plans to reduce the buffer to 10 per cent of the official speed limit by 2013.
John Hughes, regional manager of ARRB Group Limited, a road safety consultancy, said the benefits of reducing the speed limits were expected.
Mr Hughes said he had noted considerable improvement on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai motorway. "Speeds of traffic in the fast lane are much more consistent," he said. "There are fewer people coming up behind you and flashing their lights."
Previous speed gaps between drivers abiding by the law and those racing 40kph over the limit posed a significant risk, he said, and the new limit-enforcement rates are closer to international standards.
In New Zealand, where the death rate on the roads is 10 per 100,000 people, according to 2009 figures from the World Health Organisation, the speed limit in inner-city motorways reaches 100kph, with a maximum buffer of only 10kph.
According to 2009 WHO figures, the death rate in the UAE is 37.1 per 100,000, and the global average is 18.8 per 100,000.
Drivers say they have felt the impact as radars and patrol officers allow no leeway. Hassan Ali, a Palestinian information technology consultant who commutes daily from Dubai, said he had to be extra-cautious on the motorway so as not to be caught off-guard by a radar.
"So far this year, I already have about seven speeding fines - four in Dubai, and three in Abu Dhabi," he said.
Until recently he was not careful about observing the speed limit on the Abu Dhabi portion of the road. "The moment I reached the border, I'd step on it. I'm still used to doing that, and now I'm facing the consequences."
He said traffic officials were taking the right steps. "This should have been done a long time ago. Unfortunately, it's the only way people will truly learn.
"They need to feel the repercussions, and unless, God forbid, they're in an accident, the only other way is to make them face penalties.
"Education is equally important, but can only do so much, especially in the short term."