x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 December 2017

Accidents on main Abu Dhabi-Dubai road fall after cut in speed limit

Positive results of a lower enforced speed limits on the E11 may influence police to further reduce it.

Signs highlighting the speed limit are positioned along the Abu Dhabi to Dubai motorway.
Signs highlighting the speed limit are positioned along the Abu Dhabi to Dubai motorway.

ABU DHABI // Accidents on the main Abu Dhabi-Dubai road are down by almost a third since the enforced speed limit was reduced a year ago.

There were 73 crashes in the first quarter of 2012, with the enforced limit at 140kph, compared with 105 in the first quarter of 2011, when it was 160kph.

Police said the positive results could be a first step to reduce the enforced speed limit closer to the official limit of 120kph.

"The studies will show us the next step and we will consider if there will be further reduction or not," said Lt Col Ahmed Al Zayoudi, head of the crash section for the Abu Dhabi police.

"If the number of accidents is too high, maybe they will reduce the speed further."

The were four deaths, five serious injuries, 32 medium injuries and 32 minor injuries in the first quarter of this year. During the same period last year, there were nine deaths, seven serious injuries, 54 medium injuries and 35 minor injuries.

Drivers travelling at different speeds is one of the biggest causes of crashes.

"Many people get confused and think the speed limit is 140kph so the de facto limit goes up by 20kph," said Simon Labbett, regional director of the Transport Research Laboratory. "Ideally, in a safe road environment, you want everybody travelling at the same speed. When the spread of vehicle speeds are substantially different that's when people start bumping into each other.

"The 140 is just a stepping stone to a lower enforcement threshold."

A continuing study by United Arab Emirates University has found that since the new enforced limit was introduced last April, there is less variation in the speed of traffic.

"It is effective," said Dr Kamran Ahmed, an associate professor in the civil engineering department. "It doesn't mean that the drivers are following the speed limit but from 160 most have cut back to 140. In future maybe they can reduce it more to 130. The main thing is enforcement."

Abu Dhabi police have pledged to increase motorway patrols and will continue their public-relations campaigns.

"If you want to achieve compliance you need to win the hearts and minds of drivers," Mr Labbett said. "Speed limits need to be appropriate for the environment and the level of risk."

The legal speed limit on the E11 remains at 120kph, and this is the recommended speed.

Liju Abraham, 30, a financial analyst who commutes between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, said the difference in the official and enforced limits means some drivers continue to speed while some drive too slowly.

"You still have people who travel faster than 140 but what I can say is that the number of cars that are travelling faster has reduced, almost immediately after the law was implemented," Mr Abraham said. "The speed limit is more controlled now and we can see police patrols on the side of the roads. There's always someone watching."

Signs on the E11 that display enforced limits send the wrong message to drivers, said John Hughes, a safety expert with the international traffic consultancy ARRB Group, who was recently based in Abu Dhabi.

"International best practice is that you do not advertise the actual speed at which the cameras are triggered," Mr Hughes said. "The message it gives to drivers is that it's OK to travel faster than the speed limit. It encourages a general disregard for the speed limit."

Technically, anyone travelling faster than 120kph is breaking the law.

Boyet Damot, 43, a Filipino engineer who has commuted for three years, has lowered his average speed to 120kph from about 140kph since the introduction of the new enforced limit.

But he finds that even those driving at the posted maximum are still hassled by speeding drivers.

"There are those people who are reckless, reckless drivers who ignore the speed limit," Mr Damot said.

"It has helped in reducing accidents but I think the government can do more. If there is a police presence I think people would behave more."

Many drivers feel safer on the roads since the enforcement of the 140kph limit.

"The aggressive, crazy drivers are almost non-existent now," said Eyad Khalil, an American project manager who has commuted between Dubai and Abu Dhabi for two years.

"Before they changed the speed limit we had so many crazy drivers driving at incredible speeds, tail-gating you, passing on the shoulder when you don't respond. This almost disappeared. I don't know how and why because everybody knows where the radars are.

"It's changed things dramatically, I must say."

Lower speed limits can actually decrease journey time by decreasing disruption and improving traffic flow. Lower speeds are also easier on the vehicle.

Mr Khalil was supportive of enforcing the legal limit of 120kph.

"There are problems with driving in this country," he said. "120 is really a good speed. I think all of these changes have shown people that it's not such a bad idea."

azacharias@thenational.ae