A road safety expert in the US has declared the unthinkable: that "artificially low speed limits make roads less safe".
He also said that modern speed limits have not kept pace with the abilities of drivers nor the safety standards of modern cars and has called for speed limits to be raised.
Assistant Professor in Transportation Engineering at The University of Texas, Stephen Boyles, made the declaration in a paper published by the University on the eve of 4th of July holidays in the US.
Professor Boyles said this particular 4th of July was significant, as it was around this time 20 years ago that US Congress repealed the National Maximum Speed Limit Law.
This law limited American drivers to 88km/h (55mp/h) on highways - a limit many motorists deemed too low and simply ignored, backed by police who offered a generous tolerance to those who did.
Professor Boyles said the decision to repeal the Maximum Speed Limit was a “triumph of good engineering over good intentions”, and that road safety had improved in the years since.
“But that was then, and this is now,” Professor Boyles said. “Nowadays, artificially low speed limits actually make roads less safe. In fact, on many roads in Texas and across the nation, the speed limit ought to be raised.”
Professor Boyles said the speed differential between drivers obeying the limit and those that weren’t is too high; creating a danger more significant than if the speed limit was raised.
The professor called on law-makers to place some trust in drivers, saying most of them travelled at a speed that was safe for them regardless of what the speed limit was.
A Texas highway actually has America’s highest speed limit at 85 MPH (136km/h), and Professor Boyles said motorists were more than capable of driving at this speed.
Professor Boyles said the widely-accepted practice of setting a speed limit based on the ‘85th percentile’ of traffic speed should be adopted more often.
“That is, only about one out of seven cars should be driving faster than the speed limit. Any more than that and the speed limit should be raised,” Professor Boyles said.
The professor said drivers would respect the speed limit if it were more realistic, and lead to a higher degree of respect for police enforcing the limit.
Northern Territory Open Speed Limit Trial To Expand
A 12-month trial of an open speed limit on a 200km section of the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs showed no change to road trauma statistics in that area, despite calls from the AANT and medical professionals that the government would have ‘blood on its hands’.
The Territory’s former Labor Government introduced a blanket 130km/h speed limit upon taking office in 2007, and the open speed limit trial introduced by the now Liberal Government is viewed by many as simply being a reversal of that action.
As such, the government will now look to expand the open speed limit to cover a longer section of the Stuart Highway, along with reintroducing open speed limits to sections of the Barkley Highway.
Open speed limits on these sections will replace the current 130km/h limit, and the NT Government is considering other sections where an open limit could be introduced.
"There are sections that, with a little bit of work, some additional signage, some widening of corners and so forth, could be brought up to a level where you could go to an open speed limit," NT Transport Minister Peter Chandler said, speaking with the ABC.
"Territorians are basically doing the right thing. [Prior to the trial] the average driver drove between 130 to 140km/h. The latest survey basically says that drivers are still doing that ... perhaps they've lifted their speed by a few kilometres an hour but still between 130-140."
Mr Chandler said no death on the trial section of the Stuart Highway was attributed to speed since the trial was introduced, and that he believed motorists were driving to the conditions.
New South Wales Roads Minister Duncan Gay said last year that the state should consider raising the speed limit on some of its roads from 110 to 120km/h. To date, this new speed limit has not been implemented on any NSW road.
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