x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Reduce speed limit buffer on UAE roads, experts urge

Experts are proposing a reduction of the speed limit margin by 10kph and claim that along with additional training in hazard perception, accidents can be reduced.

A sign on Sheikh Zayed Road near Shahama, where the speed limit is 120kph … or up to 140kph.  Delores Johnson / The National
A sign on Sheikh Zayed Road near Shahama, where the speed limit is 120kph … or up to 140kph. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // You are in mid-city traffic, secure in the knowledge that despite the signs telling you to drive at 60kph, you are at no risk of a fine while sticking under 80kph.

So how much incentive – apart from the all-too-often ignored issue of your safety and that of other road users – is there for you to slow down?

Very little, say road-safety experts, who are pushing to eventually whittle down the 20kph buffer between the speed limit and radar detection to nil.

“It appears that we are encouraging drivers to speed, which is one of the challenges we are facing here in the UAE,” said Dr Akmal Abdelfatah, a traffic expert in Sharjah.

Experts believe that reducing the buffer by 10kph, coupled with more training for drivers in hazard perception, would help to reduce the risk of traffic collisions.

“We can gradually reduce the margin from 20kph to 10kph, then to 5kph, and eventually match the enforced speed limit with the posted speed limit,” Dr Abdelfatah said.

Last year’s national statistics showed there were 651 deaths and 7,743 injuries from road-related crashes. Speeding resulted in 87 deaths and 559 injuries.

“When a driver sees a 120kph sign on the road, he or she already perceives it as 140kph and will continue driving at that speed,” said Dr Abdelfatah.

He said motorists should learn how to estimate their speed by timing how long it takes to travel between two points on the road, and how to travel in difficult weather conditions.

Data collected on Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed motorway (E12) showed 75 per cent of drivers were exceeding the 100kph limit shown on roadside signs.

Dr Abdelfatah proposed eliminating the buffer zone so drivers could accurately perceive speed and distance when driving.

Glenn Havinoviski, a transport expert in Abu Dhabi, said a buffer for the speed limit was sensible because of speedometer errors in some vehicles.

But Mr Havinoviski said: “20kph is really the high end for such a buffer, while a 10kph buffer may have a more serious effect on reducing excessive speeds.”

Dr Salaheddine Bendak, an associate professor of industrial engineering at the University of Sharjah, agreed that the buffer sent the wrong message.

“The problem is that the current margin of 20kph is too big compared to international standards and gives the driver a wrong impression,” Dr Bendak said.

“Dropping it to 10kph across all the emirates would be beneficial and would enhance conformity with the traffic laws, based on research studies.”

It is the driver’s responsibility to always observe, identify and comply with the posted speed limit, said Khalid Al Mansoori, chief executive at Emirates Driving Company, the traffic school.

“However, the task of driving is complex and driver training research indicates that a human’s ability to concentrate on driving deteriorates after 20 minutes,” Mr Al Mansoori said.

“The challenge for law enforcement is to ensure that compliance with speed limits occurs in a logical way.”

He said speed limits ensured vehicles were travelling at similar speeds, and that drivers could anticipate and predict the movement of other vehicles.

“If other vehicles are travelling significantly faster, then the safety margin is reduced because drivers have less time to think and react,” Mr Al Mansoori said.

Dr Abdelfatah also suggested that local governments set a 50kph limit for urban or residential areas.

“It is 60 to 80kph in the UAE but people drive at 80 to 100kph, which is very dangerous,” he said.

Dino Kalivas, director of training at the driving school, said: “The correct wearing of seat belts for all drivers and passengers, respecting the posted speed limit and allowing a safe following distance should be seen as three priority areas of driver responsibility and law enforcement.”

He also recommended a law requiring mandatory child car restraints, and adopting a unified system for all police departments across the UAE to manage traffic flow, share data and co-ordinate to improve response times from call centres, service patrol and emergency vehicles.

rruiz@thenational.ae