ABU DHABI // Driving behaviour needs to change if laws are to be effective in improving safety and compliance, according to the experts.
Robert Hodges, a driver education and road safety expert, said new laws are beneficial but they will be workable only if motorists are willing to adapt their driving to them.
“The underlying problem, which continues to exist, is that the authorities need to change the attitude of drivers. The general driver attitude is to basically ignore most of the laws, and just do whatever you can get away with,” he said. “For instance, many drivers ignore the zebra crossings completely and put pedestrians at great risk. Drivers know that they have to give way to pedestrians but simply refuse to do so.
“In fact, drivers often accelerate towards people on crossings to bully them or have fun.”
Authorities have lowered the speed limit in residential areas to 40 kilometres an hour, and warned motorists against endangering the lives of pedestrians near schools and hospitals.
The move is among a raft of amendments to the law issued by Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior.
“In principle, having lower speed limits in residential areas is sensible and should reduce accidents,” said Phil Clarke, principal road safety consultant at Transport Research Laboratory UAE. “However, it will depend on compliance levels, and in the event of poor compliance, stricter enforcement.”
At present, in residential areas the speed limit is 60kph, rising up to 80kph on some roads. On motorways, drivers can drive at 120kph with a 20kph buffer.
“The new 40kph speed limit is very sensible and much needed, but it will not work unless enforcement is improved,” Mr Hodges said.
More police patrols and speed cameras combined with speed bumps, road markings that vibrate the car’s steering, and more kerb chicanes are needed to force drivers to slow down, he said.
A chicane is an artificial feature creating extra turns in a road to slow traffic.
The safe system approach would recommend that speed limits be 30kph instead of 40kph in residential areas, according to Michael Dreznes, executive vice president at the International Road Federation.
This approach works on the principle that it is not acceptable for a road user to be killed or seriously injured if they make a mistake.
“A pedestrian struck by a vehicle travelling at 32kph will have a 10 per cent probability of dying,” Mr Dreznes said.
“That same pedestrian hit at 64kph will have a 90 per cent likelihood of dying. A motorist impacting something at 30kph will experience about the same force that they would experience when they hit the ground should they drive their car off the top of a three-storey building.”
A new law that comes into force on July 1 requiring back-seat passengers to buckle up and one on mandatory child car seats are in line with international best practice, Mr Clarke said.
“It will depend on compliance and enforcement, which is difficult in practical terms, especially with heavily tinted windows,” he said. “In time, it should prevent a lot of unnecessary injuries and fatalities involving children.”
Mr Hodges agreed, saying police enforcement is key but increased window-tinting would not help.
“Allowing the amount of window tinting to be increased from 30 to 50 per cent will almost directly allow these law-breakers to continue breaking the law,” he said.
The new rule authorising traffic departments to create bus lanes was also welcomed by experts.
“This is in line with the bus priority lane operations done in a number of countries,” said Glenn Havinoviski, a US-based transport expert.
Mr Hodges said that while it was a good idea, it could be better if more intelligent traffic light systems were installed.
“These intelligent traffic systems can allow priority to buses at certain times of the day, or can create ‘tidal flow priorities’ depending on the direction of the morning and evening rush hours,” he said. This is already in place in Abu Dhabi, where there is a central traffic control system with sensors counting the volume of vehicles at signals to improve traffic flow at Abu Dhabi’s 125 main junctions. It has built-in capabilities to give priority to buses, ambulances and emergency vehicles.