x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Learn a lesson from calmer driving pace

Lowering of speed limits on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai road has lead to a drop in accidents. Other measures could have similar results in the capital.

In April of last year, on the recommendations of traffic analysts, Abu Dhabi Traffic and Patrols Directorate decided to reduce the speed limit on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai motorway. After the analysts had examined international standards and the general correlation between speed and the number of accidents, senior engineers at the National Transport Authority predicted that lower speed limits would have a "huge impact" on road-safety figures.

A year on, their predictions have come true. As reported in The National yesterday, accidents on the E11 are down by almost a third since the enforced speed limit was reduced from 160kph to 140kph.

With many fatal accidents still taking place, it is perhaps premature to celebrate. It is encouraging, however, that stricter measures have proved to be successful on one of the UAE's major, and most dangerous, motorways.

The headway must be transferred to the capital's city streets, where in many cases drivers speed along with complete disregard to their own and others' safety. It is not just speed limits and enforcement that are needed, but traffic-calming measures that naturally slow down drivers on those long city blocks.

Smart city planning can help quite a bit. Speed bumps in residential areas and near schools encourage responsible driving, and more are being built at right turns at traffic lights. In other areas, flashing caution lights sometimes work, although are often of minimal effect.

The capital is, however, completely lacking in pedestrian-controlled traffic lights. Zebra crossings are almost universally ignored. Allowing a pedestrian to trigger a red light would check headlong traffic mid-block, and quite likely save lives.

To be sure, there are limits to the infrastructure fixes that can be made to Abu Dhabi's existing traffic grid. The city's basic shape was planned in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and since then urban planning has come a long way. But there is no reason why infrastructure improvements that encourage slower driving could not be introduced in expanding projects such as Reem Island, Saadiyat Island and Khalifa City.

There are any number of challenges in the UAE's road safety campaign, which almost certainly starts with drivers' state of mind. Traffic-calming measures should discourage city drivers from breakneck speeds - and, it is to be hoped, encourage them to think about better driving behaviour.