Can increasing the speed limit for trucks actually reduce accidents?

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We are always in a rush, looking to save time. Yellow light? Speed up to clear it. But be safe and travel within the stipulated limits are you could find your self in trouble. This brings me to the topic of speed limits. Would increasing it just a little more still maintain the the level of accidents?

The brilliant chaps in the government review the limits on a regular basis and this is important as it reflects actual travelling speeds. On several roads, the speed limits may be set too low, resulting in motorists being fined for driving at speeds that are probably safe.

My understanding of the speed limit is that it represents the maximum speed at which a vehicle may travel safely along a certain road. However, this does not seem to be the case on our roads here in Singapore. Along certain long stretches without traffic lights, such as Thomson Road and Lornie Road in Singapore, vehicles are cruising at average speeds of about 10kmh to 20kmh above the limit.

When it comes to reducing traffic deaths, one common-sense move is reducing the speed limit. There’s clear evidence that an increase in speed leads to an increase in crashes, and the likelihood of surviving a crash drops as speed goes up. Cutting the speed limit has the extra upsides of reducing emissions and encouraging people to get out of their cars entirely and take mass transit.

On the flip side, there is the autobahn with no limits. Stretches of the motorway, most famously referenced by Top Gear, currently have no speed limit although the advisory limit stands at 81mph. The autobahn system, with a total length of 12,845km, has often been the topic of debate in the past and is a guaranteed catalyst for road safety groups, environmentalists and politicians.

But of course, countries differ. Not only in their standard of driving but in the total lengths of motorway, average flows of vehicles, geographical situation (i.e many use Germany’s autobahns to cross over into other countries) and their overall transport infrastructure.

For many countries rural road fatalities account for the highest proportion of road deaths. Rural roads killed five times more people than motorways in Germany between 2007-9, accounting for 60% for road deaths, versus 12% for motorways.

A 1991 case study used in the ETSC report illustrates the results of introducing a speed limit. A 130km speed limit was introduced on a 167km section of the A61 in Rheinland-Pfalz combined with a ban on overtaking heavy good vehicles. The result of both these measures was a 30% reduction in fatal and severe injury accidents.

While speeding kills, there is a difference between driving at more than 100kmh and at 80kmh. Along certain roads, motorists need to peer constantly at their speedometers to keep within the speed limits, for fear of being caught by a speed camera.

Yet Britain is raising the speed limit for trucks on some highways, and it expects to save lives. It seems counterintuitive, but there’s solid reasoning behind the change. The country’s Department for Transport says allowing trucks to drive 50 mph on single carriageway roads (what we in the states call two-lane highways) will limit congestion and reduce overtaking. That’s because the current limit, adopted in the 1960s, is just 40 mph. That’s a full 20 mph slower than everyone else on the highway, a gulf that prompts drivers to cross the center line to pass slowpoke trucks, a potentially risky move than can lead to crashes.

The government’s logic is simple: If trucks are moving along at higher speed, other drivers will be less likely to get frustrated and less eager to pass them whenever possible. The increased speed limit will “reduce delays and congestions,” says Transport Minister Claire Perry, who announced the new rule. The change applies to trucks over 7.5 tons on single carriageway roads in England and Wales, except where lower local limits are in effect. It will take effect early in 2015.

There’s another benefit to letting trucks drive faster: Higher speeds mean less wasted time, which means more money. The Department for Transport estimates the trucking industry will save £11 million per year ($18.7 million) once its drivers can hit the gas. No word on whether or not that counts for the extra fuel trucks would burn, but it’s a safe bet the industry big wigs thought of that before heralding the rule change.

Interesting that by going against the common vein of thought, it actually results in a better outcome. It’s time to get the limits right.


Interesting reads:

https://www.wired.com/2014/07/uk-raises-truck-speed-limit/

https://www.chicagolawyer.com/do-increased-speed-limits-prevent-accidents/

https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/may/13/speed-limits-reduce-number-road-deaths

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