Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Honey, you got to slow down

- David Levinger, Mobility Education Foundation

The Obama Administration and the world at large can learn a lot from other practices at the leading edge about speed mitigation. Traffic safety research supports the adage that “speed kills.” In State Highway Safety Plans mandated by the 2005 SAFETEA-LU legislation, many states have targeted “speeding” as a top priority. There is an important difference between this focus on “speeding” and a focus on “speed” in traffic safety and congestion management. When law enforcement agencies target “speeding,” they focus on extreme behavior, but ignore the normative behaviors.

Federal policy makers and transportation leaders can have tremendous impact on safety, congestion, and road construction costs by learning from many international efforts to mitigate traffic speeds to benefit of all roadway users. Here are several effective and inspiring innovations:

Lower limits for residential areas. Residential streets should have maximum speed limits of 20 mph (presently states have minimum speed limits of 25 mph or 30 mph). (EUROPE)

Due Care provision. Implement driver training to a national standard of "Due Care". This requires drivers to yield to anything obstructing their path, even if that thing should be yielding right of way to the driver. (UK)

Home Zones/Woonerven/Living Streets. An American pilot programs should be launched to make neighborhood streets conducive for community interaction and safer children to play next to. (UK & THE NETHERLANDS)

Enforcement should be at 4 mph over the limit. US enforcement agencies typically provide a lenient 10 mph buffer before they enforce speed limits. This means that the defacto speed limit on a 25 mph residential street becomes 35 mph. New Laser RADAR increases accuracy, and has resulted in countries formally adopting policies to enforce at 4 mph over the limit. (SWEDEN)

Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA). ISA is an in-vehicle system that informs, warns and discourages the driver to exceed the statutory local speed limit. (SWEDEN)

Dynamic Variable Speed Limits. The M25 in London and highways elsewhere actually vary their speed limits for maximum flow and safety. (UK, FRANCE, others).

Lower speed standards for urban highways. Present standards make US highway replacement cost-prohibitive. Introducing a new “urban highway” classification with lowered speeds through dense urban areas would eliminate the need for wide shoulders and travel lanes, saving Billions of dollars in construction costs, increase fuel efficiency, and reduce the toll of traffic noise. Compliance with a 50 mph speed limit is achieved via automatic photo enforcement. (EUROPE)

URL Refs:* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_limit#Variable_speed_limits
* http://dx.doi.org/10.3141/2078-15
* http://publikationswebbutik.vv.se/upload/4314/2008_109_an_independent_review_of_road_safety_in_sweden.pdf

David Levinger, david@mobilityeducation.org is President of the Mobility Education Foundation, in Seattle, WA, USA

Editor's note: Click here to read a good earlier piece under this same title by Robert Winkle which originally appeared in the New York Times on 13 November 2005
Contribution by the author to the world wide collaborative project “Messages for America: World-wide experience, ideas, counsel, proposals and good wishes for the incoming Obama transportation team”. See www.messages.newmobility.org for latest version of this report of the New Mobility Agenda.

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