Create stronger deterrents to speeding

Published on Jan 05, 2023 04:32 PM IST

Urban India needs to create stronger deterrents to speeding that goes beyond legal enforcement by focusing on building infrastructure that safer by design. Safer roads encourage walking, cycling and public transport, to ensure a more livable, vibrant and accessible city for all.

Incidentally, data from the past few years attribute nearly 60% of road traffic crashes in India – which also result in 57% of fatalities – to speeding. (SAKIB ALI/HT PHOTO)
Incidentally, data from the past few years attribute nearly 60% of road traffic crashes in India – which also result in 57% of fatalities – to speeding. (SAKIB ALI/HT PHOTO)
ByMadhav Pai, Ojas Shetty and Dhawal Ashar

In October, a shocking road traffic incident – wherein a speeding car crashed into three stationary vehicles and an ambulance, leading to five fatalities and several injuries – was caught by CCTV cameras on Mumbai’s Bandra-Worli sea link. Such was the impact of this 3 am tragedy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences to the victims’ families the following day. Barely over a month earlier, a similar speeding incident was cited as the reason for the death of a Tamil Nadu MLA’s son and six others when their car crashed against a boundary wall in Bengaluru’s semi-residential locality, Koramangala. In both cases, the visuals of mangled cars told the horrific story of unrestricted speeding on Indian roads today.

Incidentally, data from the past few years attribute nearly 60% of road traffic crashes in India – which also result in 57% of fatalities – to speeding. Speed is often perceived as a measure of improved mobility. However, setting and perspective strongly influence our preferences and judgments of appropriate speeds. The safe speed we favour as a driver or passenger travelling long-distance on an interstate highway is different from our perception of speed if we were pedestrians crossing a busy urban street.

Speed management in India involves reviewing and revising speed limits, deterring speeding through surveillance and fines, and conducting public awareness campaigns. Cities tend to apply a common yardstick to addressing urban, peri-urban and intracity speeding. Unfortunately, this largely translates into the setting of speed limits that are often uninformed measures.

Typically, city expressways see posted speed limits of 60km/hour while arterial roads have limits of 40 km/hour and peak hour traffic, within cities, barely scrapes past the 20km/hour-mark even if speed limits are set higher. To detect defaulters, cities employ Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) or Over Speeding Violation Detection (OSVD) cameras. However, motorists learn the locations of these cameras/speed guns and modify their driving behaviour while still speeding at locations outside the influence zone of the cameras.

Speeding occurs across a city – on expressways, arterial roads and even residential areas – where overlooked road design elements, such as a wide turning radius, end up posing significant speeding risk. A more nuanced approach to speed management can greatly benefit our cities. Speed assessment, that goes beyond surveillance, is critical to managing speeds and reducing road crash fatalities. For example, does road design facilitate or hamper the envisioned traffic flow? We need a clearer understanding of how to move people safely, what causes motorists to overspeed in the first place.

Getting design speed right is critical since speed is the primary factor in the likelihood of a crash. An increase in the average speed of 1 km per hour results in a 3% higher risk of a crash and a 4%-5% increase in fatalities. This speed at which at least 85% of vehicles drive (85th percentile of the distribution of observed vehicular speeds) under free flow conditions is considered whilst setting speed limits.

Free flow speeds are speeds at which drivers can drive unimpeded by traffic control devices (such as signals or rumble strips) or even by other vehicles on the road. In contrast, the speed at which 95th percentile of motorists’ drive, in free flow conditions, is the design speed of the road. The design speed is an outcome of the geometric design of the road and factors in key elements such as the lane width, median type, sight distance, street lighting, turning radius etc.

Streets in India continue to be overdesigned for speeding with speed limits determined somewhat arbitrarily. For instance, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link has a posted speed limit of 80 kilometres per hour (kmph). However, the stretch is designed to allow speeds up to 120 kmph. In other words, the “design speed” of the Sea Link “encourages” speeding.

Speed limits and design speeds should ideally be the same to avoid speeding and non-compliance. Traffic flow must be periodically reviewed to ensure the design speed and the desired speed limit are aligned. Traffic personnel need to be empowered to measure design speed. If the design speed exceeds the desired speed limit, then corrective action must be undertaken to reduce speeding. Such measures include tightening turning radii, limiting the number and width of lanes, introducing trees, vegetation and other street elements to reduce sight distance and deploying traffic-calming measures such as rumble strips and speed humps, among others. Bringing down design speed successfully slows down traffic as drivers become more aware of associated risks.

Urban India needs to create stronger deterrents to speeding that goes beyond legal enforcement by focusing on building infrastructure that safer by design. Safer roads encourage walking, cycling and public transport, to ensure a more livable, vibrant and accessible city for all.

Madhav Pai is Interim CEO, WRI India. Ojas Shetty and Dhawal Ashar are senior associate and programme head, sustainable cities and transport, respectively, at the same organisation.

The views expressed are personal

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