Speed limits need to be reduced across the UAE if the country is to decrease the number of severe accidents on its roads, some of the region's leading road safety experts have said.
A decision last year to increase the speed limit on the majority of Abu Dhabi's roads, after buffer zones that allowed motorists to drive 20kph faster than the displayed limit were removed, was a missed opportunity, according to Daniel Albuquerque, assistant professor of transport engineering at UAE University.
Speaking to The National, on the sidelines of the annual Gulf Traffic conference in Dubai, Mr Albuquerque suggested it would have been better to remove the buffer zone without increasing limits.
“The roadsides in Abu Dhabi were not designed to handle those increased speed limits,” he said.
“Even a minimal increase in speed results in an increase in the severity of a crash.
“The difference in crash severity can be the difference between life and death.”
The buffer zone policy remains in place across the rest of the emirates. At the time it was argued that abolishing the buffer zone was a positive move because would remove any confusion over the speed limit for motorists.
Mr Albuquerque presented a report about Abu Dhabi’s roadside design and how suitable it was in terms of driver safety.
The report contained data from the sites of more than 1,000 road accidents over a four-year period.
“The roadside areas in the emirate are populated with massive rigid objects such as utility poles, traffic signs and palm trees,” he said.
“If you can’t remove these obstacles then you must consider reducing the speed limit because the roadsides are not designed to cope with such high-speed traffic.”
Saleh Jafar, president of Gulf for YASA road safety, agreed with Mr Albuquerque’s assessment, saying speed limits should be reduced by 20kph nationwide.
“The UAE’s speed limit is very high compared to other countries because of the high standard of the roads but that’s negated by the heavy volume of traffic.”
He said he would welcome the return of the buffer zone in Abu Dhabi, however.
“The buffer zones are there for a reason,” he said.
“You might exceed the speed limit by a few kilometres and need a second or two to readjust.”
He said it was human nature to need buffer zones, which was why they were common all over the world.
In the UK, the National Police Chiefs Council recommends officers do not prosecute until the driver is at least 10 per cent above the speed limit.
It varied from state to state in the US. Some areas prosecute drivers who travel as low as 1km above the speed limit with others allow up to 5km difference.
In Saudi Arabia, drivers have a buffer of up to 10kph above the speed limit, unless travelling at 140kph or more when the buffer zone is reduced to 5kph.
“There is an urgent need to drop the highest speed limits in the UAE by at least 20kph,” Mr Jafar said.
“It is so much harder to regain control of a car travelling at 140kph if anything goes wrong.
“We live in a very hot country where tyres explode all the time because of the heat, if you’re travelling at 140kph when that happens there are going to be problems.”
Mr Jafar said one of the best ways to reduce road accidents would be to improve public transport networks.
“While the UAE has one of the best road networks in the world there are too many people using it,” he said.
“There are too many cars on the road because there are not enough public transport options beyond Dubai Metro.