x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Speed limits to rise in Abu Dhabi 'to make roads safer'

Some roads to see top speed raised from 60kph to 80kph from January, with limits on narrower highways reduced in an effort to match speed with road conditions and traffic volume.

ABU DHABI // The speed limit on some roads in the capital is to be increased by a third, in an attempt to make them safer.

The decision comes after a study to assess the ideal speed limit in relation to the nature of each road and the volume of traffic.

The reasoning is that if the limit is too low, some drivers will follow it while others do not, leading to widely varying speeds on the same road, and more accidents.

Traffic on Airport Road, for example, is currently limited to 60kph, too low, experts say, for a wide, four-lane highway. Conversely, some roads are too narrow for their current limits.

Dr Atef Garib, a traffic expert with Abu Dhabi police, said: "We want the driver to be able to identify the speed limit without having to look at the signs. The speed limit should be in harmony with the road.

"This can be done in many ways, it's not just about changing the sign. For example, if it is a very long road where speed should be reduced, a roundabout can be added, to give drivers an alert."

Limits on other roads are likely to be reduced when the changes are implemented in January.

Dr Garib was speaking at a workshop held yesterday by the Department of Economic Development, at which officials from the police, municipality and Department of Transport discussed the causes of traffic accidents and possible solutions.

He said: "I like to think of accident causes as a three-legged chair. It's not just the human factor that causes them, but also the road condition and the vehicle."

John Hughes, regional manager for the Middle East at the Australian Road Research Board, said that if there was a significant difference between the average speed and the speed limit on a road, the restriction needed to be examined.

However, he said that the number of cars on the road, surrounding land use and presence of pedestrians and cyclists also need to be taken into consideration.

"I can't say it will necessarily be safer if speeds are increased or decreased, but generally accidents at higher speeds are far worse than accidents at lower speed," Mr Hughes said.

He was not present at the seminar and stressed that he had not seen the details of the proposal.

Dr Ibrahim al Abed, senior researcher at the Department of Economic Development, said accident rates continue to rise, resulting in economic, social and human loss.

"There is an accident every four and a half minutes in the emirate," he said. There were a total of 116,487 accidents last year, an increase of 149 per cent since 2005. The number of deaths was also dramatically higher, up 144 per cent to 1,704.

The estimated cost of deaths and injuries in the UAE last year was around Dh16.61 billion. Cutting the toll by 30 per cent would save some Dh26bn over 10 years, according to Dr Gharib.

He said: "In the UAE eight deaths result from every 100 accidents, which is a lot compared to countries like the UK, Sweden and Switzerland, where the rate is around three deaths to every 100 accidents."

More radar cameras will also be installed, with an extra 500 in addition to the current 168 fixed cameras and 30 "snipers".

A traffic patrol monitoring and management system will also be in operation by the beginning of next year. The system, which consists of a camera, computer and GPS, will be installed in patrol cars, linking them directly to the chief's computer in his office.

"This way the patrol officer's boss can monitor his moves and the action on the road, so he can guide the officer as to what action to take and immediately send aid if needed," Dr Gharib said.

Participants at the workshop voiced concern about the lack of a traffic awareness culture. Dr Gharib is convinced the answer is to get the message across early. "In the West, they started teaching mothers about road safety, so they can teach their children before they even go to school," he said.

As a first step, Abu Dhabi police are discussing with an institution in New Zealand how best to teach road safety in schools.

"A group of traffic police officers will be chosen to go on a regular basis to give lessons to children in schools in co-ordination with the Abu Dhabi Education Council," Dr Gharib said. Classes will start from as early as kindergarten.

Those who accumulate black points will be able to reduce them by attending traffic lessons and then taking a simulator test. "In other countries, they have the drivers attend the sessions only, but we will also test them to make sure the point gets through to them," Dr Gharib said.

hdajani@thenational.ae