Guarding Against Excessive Speed in 2022 (II)

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Last week, I reminded you of the provisions of the National Road Traffic Regulations which spells out the speed limits for various categories of vehicles on our roads. While the law specifies 100km/h for private cars on the expressway, the same law specifies a speed limit of 90km/h for taxis and buses. Trailers and Tankers have a maximum speed of 60km/h and 45km/h for towing vehicles, while in a build-up area, the speed limit could be between 20km/h and 30km/h to 50km/h, but the current global campaign is to achieve a maximum of 30km/h in built up areas.

Despite this prohibition on speed, excessive speeding remains on the increase even though research findings indicate that at a speed of 100km/h, your vehicle does 28 metres per seconds. This is why I need to again remind you that road traffic crashes yearly kills 1.35 million people, meaning that an average of about 32 – 42 people are killed daily on the world’s roads while 20 million to 50 million people are injured or disabled in road collisions.

According to the World Health Organization, 90 per cent of these deaths occur in low and middle income countries where 5,098 people or 81 per cent of the world’s population lives and own about 20 per cent of the total number of vehicles in the world. Nigeria has its fair share of this madness called road traffic crashes. This explains why the leadership of the FRSC is constantly rejigging various strategies, such as the deployment of technology to enhance enforcement, the driver’s licence scheme, standardisation of driving schools and the Road Transport Safety Standardisation Scheme, RTSSS, among others to redress the trend.

Meanwhile, the WHO maintains that the African Region tops the worlds road accident index with the highest mortality rate of 28.3 deaths per 100,000 populations. More than half of all global road traffic deaths occur among young adults between 15 and 44 years of age. It notes that 73 per cent of all global road traffic fatalities are males. Vulnerable road users- pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, it further notes, account for a much greater proportion of road traffic collisions in low income and middle income countries than in high income countries.

As a response to this epidemic, the WHO report on Road Traffic injury identifies a number of risk factors influencing crash involvement which amongst others are inappropriate and excessive speed, presence of alcohol, medicinal or recreational drugs, fatigue, travelling in drunkenness, what we call night travel, defects in road designs, layout and maintenance, having youth driving in the same car and poor eye sight of road users. The same report identifies non-use of seatbelt and child restraints, inappropriate or excessive speed among other factors influencing crash severity.

The column is today still focusing on the effects of speed on crashes and crash severity and the need for Speed enforcement because WHO identifies speed enforcement, mandatory seat belt for adults, child seat belt or restraints, alcohol and drugs control as the three most vital road safety interventions that work. The global concern is over speed enforcement especially in built up areas which is why the United Nations is clamoring for a speed limit of 30km/h in built-up areas. Speed is at the core of the traffic injury problem. The physical layout of the road and its surrounding can both encourage and discourage speed. However, crash risk increases as speed increases especially at road junctions and while overtaking. A good number of road users are guilty of this even though we would rather blame the other driver for our errors.

We must always remember that the higher the speed of a vehicle, the shorter the time a driver has to stop and avoid a crash. We must equally note that a car travelling at 50km/h will typically require 1.3 meters in which to stop, while a car travelling at 40km/h will stop in less than 8.5 metres.As a driver, you need to know that an average increase speed of 1km/h is associated with a 3 percent higher risk of a crash involving an injury.

A vehicle travelling at 5km/h above a road speed limit of 65km/h results in an increase in the relative risk of being involved in a casualty crash that is comparable with having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05g/dl as contained in the WHO document. For car occupants in a crash with an impact speed of 80km/h, the likelihood of death is 20 times what it would have been at an impact speed of 30km/h.

It is because of the grave risk involved that countries the world-over, including Nigeria set and post speeds limit, because controlling vehicle speed can prevent crashes from occurring and reduce the impact with which they occur, thus lessening the severity of injuries sustained by the victim. In Nigeria, the maximum speed on the expressway is 100km/h for private cars and 90km/h for taxis and buses while at built up areas such as commercial and residential areas, 50km/h is the speed limit. However, a safe conscious driver is always counselled to adhere to the common sense limit by adjusting his speed to suit the environment, his mental state, vehicle condition and level of expertise. A drive across most Nigerian roads would shock you, even at built up areas, the appropriate speed is not posted to guide motorists. Since human behavior is dictated by the structures, it is important that apart from posting speed in relevant traffic regulations, our road signs must also reflect specific speed allowed. Countries like France and the Netherlands have employed this approach and seen it work especially in France where speed was used to reduce death by 20 percent.

However, it must be noted that setting and posting speed limits must be accompanied by sustained vehicle enforcement of these limits. However, we must note that to solve the speed problem or other traffic behavior, there must be a change in infrastructural design, which makes surveillance easy and effective.

The use of speed cameras is also good but it is a highly cost effective means of reducing road crashes. The introduction of traffic calming measures whose objectives among others include slowing speed, reducing frequency and severity of collisions, increased safety for non-motorized users is also good traffic-calming measures such as narrowing streets, giving priority to pedestrians and bicyclists. Meanwhile, speed breakers (road humps) roundabouts, which are often backed up with speed limits of 30km/h, approved speed can also be imposed on traffic through design features that limit the speed of the vehicles. Speed level can also be affected by developing a safer infrastructure- this can involve modifying the road environment to reduce traffic flow and vehicle speed, thereby providing protection from crashes and reducing injury rate. Such measures include segregating high speed and low speed road users, or discouraging vehicles from entering certain areas.

But before we crucify the government or FRSC for not doing enough, we must reflect on our responsibilities as citizens and corporate players. The speed watch challenge, an initiation designed by Essex Police and South End-on Sea Borough Council in the United Kingdom to demonstrate to pupils the dangers of speeding vehicles through hands-on, real life experience is a pointer. The three stages process allows pupils walking to measure speed of vehicles using speed detection cameras (speed guns) and other facilities. The novelty is that the pupils are given the opportunity of speaking to the driver caught speeding who in most cases were embarrassed as they were unable to justify their actions to the pupils. Similar examples abound in even African countries such as South Africa and Ghana.

My take is that since experts agree that risk taking is embedded in genes, to change the driving habit, we must change our structures. This is because if we design roads for high speed in the city, some drivers will speed. But while we wait for change in infrastructure, the cheapest is for you to drive by the speed limit, ensuring that seat belts and child restraints are used. That’s the way we can collectively keep death off our roads.