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‘Greater police presence and new technologies needed to reduce drivers’ speed’

ABU DHABI // Experts have called for more police presence, the use of new technologies and effective publicity campaigns to reduce speed-related crashes on the country’s roads.

The Fourth UN Global Road Safety Week, which will run until May 14 and has the theme Save Lives #SlowDown, focuses on managing speed and what can be done to address this key risk factor in road traffic deaths and injuries.

In high-income countries, speed contributes to about 30 per cent of deaths on the road but in some low to middle-income countries it accounts for up to half of all road crashes, according to the World Health Organisation.

Despite significant strides in cutting speed and increasing safety on the UAE’s roads, much more can be done, experts said.

“Police should not just rely on cameras but increase in-person enforcement of speeding violations,” said Glenn Havinoviski, associate vice president of US traffic management company Iteris.

“Repeat offenders should be issued stiffer fines and anyone under 21 caught speeding at 20kph or over should have their licence suspended for six months.”

A key problem is the speed differential, which is one of the causes of motorway accidents, said Phil Clarke, principal safety consultant at Traffic Research Laboratory UAE.

“On a 120kph limit road, there will be some vehicles travelling at 140kph and others at 80kph and 100kph,” he said.

“The closing speed of vehicles often leaves insufficient time for a driver to react to something unexpected occurring ahead, such as a vehicle changing lanes.”

In its 2015 World Health Organisation Global Status Report on Road Safety, which is based on UAE data from 2013, the organisation suggested cutting maximum urban speed limits to 50kph.

Authorities have since lowered the speed limit in residential areas to 40kph, as part of a raft of amendments to the law issued by Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior.

The new law comes into effect on July 1.

Currently the speed limit in residential areas is 60kph, rising up to 80kph on some roads. On motorways, the limit is 120kph with a 20kph buffer.

Structured and better targeted education and awareness campaigns aligned to enforcement and publicity could improve compliance with speed limits, said Mr Clarke, a former senior UK police officer and road death investigator.

Other recommendations include increased use of cameras to measure average speeds and appropriate speed enforcement thresholds.

Thomas Edelmann, founder of Road Safety UAE, said young motorists should be educated on the dangers of speeding in “a compelling, creative and hard-hitting manner”.

“It is not enough to promote ‘Don’t Speed’,” he said. “Enforcement should also be strengthened. We see a lot of new stationary radar units but we need more undercover patrols, mobile radar units and new technologies such as average speed radars.”

Michael Dreznes, executive vice president at the International Road Federation, suggested the use of in-vehicle technologies such as devices to govern and limit speed.

“It always baffles me why we continue to manufacture cars that have speedometers that show speeds up to 200 or 240 or even 320kph,” he said.

“Someday autonomous vehicles’ speeds will be controlled by the speed limits on the roads. Until that happens, we need to post the right speed limits based on the road environment.”

Meanwhile, Mr Clarke acknowledged the UAE’s efforts to enforce speed limits. “Road authorities across the UAE have installed traffic-calming measures such as speed humps in residential and commercial areas,” he said.

“The police are very active in enforcement of speed limits and, on many of the major roads, have increased the number of speed cameras, standalone radar and use of patrols, including unmarked cars to combat speeding.”

The Ministry of Interior’s traffic-safety goal is for the UAE to achieve a reduction in road deaths from 5.99 per 100,000 people in 2015 to three by 2021. The long-term goal is to achieve zero fatalities on the road by 2030.

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