Thursday, May 16, 2013

Poor Driving Takes Its Toll

So ran yesterday's headline in the UAE's 7DAYS newspaper. I don't suppose anyone is in the least bit surprised by this revelation, nor by the fact revealed in the sub-headline: "Motorists not leaving space and drivers darting out into traffic among the two million offences recorded in 2013"

Maybe the magnitude of the problem comes as a surprise. Two million in four months? That's six million a year, and says nothing of the additional legions of drivers who, according to anecdotal evidence, do it with impunity. I wonder how many of the quoted two million involved a camera?

But there are some interesting comparisons to be made. I have a published dead tree edition of Dubai Road and Transport Authority's Traffic Accident Facts in Dubai 2005.

As the 2013 figures are incomplete, I've assumed in my assessment that the number of crashes may be trebled to represent a full year. I've also considered only four types of crash, and only those that resulted in death or injury, because that's all that were reported in 7DAYS.

  • Total number of crashes has increased by around 30%. This stands to reason. Since 2005 there has been an increase in UAE population, car ownership, and traffic congestion despite new roads having been constructed and opened. I guess most crashes actually occur in town where the number of new roads is minimal.
  • Crashes involving red light violations decreased from 19% to 15%. I suspect that this is within the bounds of statistical error. If it isn't, perhaps the increased use of red light cameras has had a small effect, reducing the number of amber gamblers and drivers who run red lights.
  • There's been a huge drop in speed-related crashes from 35% to 13%. I would attribute this to the widespread use of enforcement cameras; there's one every 1000m along the main Dubai to Abu Dhabi highway between Jebel Ali and Ghantoot, for example. But a more congested traffic network will also tend to keep vehicle speeds down. I don't like speed cameras (what motorist does?) but I concede their effectiveness.
  • Crashes involving 'not leaving space' increased from 21% to 29%. I assume that this is the term used to describe tailgating and the crash that inevitably results when a vehicle ahead unexpectedly slows down. Given the combination of increased congestion and speed cameras, what's likely to happen? I reckon some impatient late-for-work will drive extra close to the car in front in a futile attempt to travel faster than everyone in all five lanes. And as all drivers lack Jedi reflexes, when something does go wrong up ahead - road works, puncture, breakdown - there is a coming together. Someone did it to me outside Arabian Ranches, and it's frightening.
  • Sudden joining of roads without waiting for oncoming traffic to pass has risen from 25% to 43%. I thing this is a way to describe not stopping at Stop or Give Way lines. Happens to me all the time when I'm on my invisible motorbike. But I suspect the rise is related again to increased congestion and tailgating. Given an absence of sensible gaps in the traffic, you can either wait at the Give Way line until the end of time or shove into an inappropriately small gap. 
The last two items above may be direct consequences of the third item. Effective speed enforcement along with congestion drags speeds down to below the posted limit, but these factors increase incidences of tailgating and merging collisions.

What's to be done about it? Education and enforcement, that's what. Speed cameras are a quick (and lucrative) fix for the speed problem, even though the majority of crashes are not attributable to inappropriate speed, and even fewer involve exceeding posted limits, but do nothing to address their undesirable side-effects. 

Compare with that other tool of law enforcement: the Policeman. Motorists generally don't speed past the Plod, but neither do they tailgate, ignore red lights and Stop signs, or hoon all over the road. Especially if he's Judge Dredd.


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