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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Safer driver behaviour must go hand-in-hand with speed reduction

End of the 20kph buffer zone will help save lives

The hectic roads of Abu Dhabi. Silvia Razgova / The National
The hectic roads of Abu Dhabi. Silvia Razgova / The National

It never takes long for newcomers to Abu Dhabi to figure out that, when it comes to speed limits on the emirate’s long and temptingly straight roads, things aren’t always what they seem. They quickly deduce that when the sign says the limit is 120 kilometres per hour, it’s possible to notch up just under 140kph without getting snapped by roadside speed cameras, thanks to a 20kph buffer zone.

But all that is about to change. After a lengthy warning period, Abu Dhabi will finally scrap the speed limit buffer, to the relief of traffic and accident officials. As of today, 120kph will mean exactly that and fines will be issued to anyone travelling over the limit.

Thanks to a sometimes intoxicating mix of open roads and the availability of fast cars, coupled with slow trucks and drivers from around the world, each with their own set of road habits from their home countries, the UAE’s highways present a challenge to the average driver.

In 2013, the World Health Organisation put the number of road deaths as high as 10.9 per 100,000 in the UAE. That figure is thought to have dropped to 5.7 in the most recent figures but more clearly needs to be done. Speed was the key factor in more than half the 525 fatal crashes which happened last year. When the buffer zone on the main Abu Dhabi-Dubai road was cut from 160kph to 140kph in 2011, the number of accidents fell by a third.

The authorities are right to make a move that leaves no room for doubt about the actual speed and which will doubtless make roads safer and save lives.

There could be other benefits ahead. As with increasingly restrictive parking regulations, reducing speed limits will make commuting by car less attractive and could persuade drivers to switch to alternative forms of transport. For now, clarity over the first few weeks of the new system is vital.

Any sudden and major change in the rules governing behaviour on the roads can be dangerous if it leads to driver confusion. New signs are needed and an awareness and education campaign about safer driver behaviour must go hand-in-hand with the new measures, to ensure a seamless transition.