Higher speed limits reducing accidents on rural roads

Few accidents stem from cars overtaking

A traffic-safety experiment conducted by the Danish road directorate, Vejdirektoratet, is proving that increasing the speed limit on certain rural roads has reduced the number of traffic accidents, according to Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

Two out of three traffic fatalities occur on country roads that normally permit speeds of 80 kilometres per hour. But since 2011, Vejdirektoratet has upped the limit to 90 km/hour on some stretches, which has resulted in fewer accidents due to a reduction in the difference between the cars obeying the speed limit and those exceeding it.

“If there is a large difference between speeds,then more people will attempt to overtake, so the more homogeneous we can get the speeds on the two-lane roads, the safer they will become,” Rene Juhl Hollen, a Vejdirektoratet spokesperson, said.

Accident statistics from Danmarks Statistik indicate that two-lane roads are overrepresented in serious accidents, and according to investigations by the accident commission, Havarikommissionen, speed is a contributing factor in half of all fatal accidents – two thirds of which occur on two-lane roads.

READ MORE: Transport ministry ready to build more motorways

Police give thumbs up
But speed is not the only factor in traffic accidents, and Vejdirektoratet believes that lives can be saved by increasing the speed limits. Nine years ago the speed limit on certain motorways was increased from 110 km/h to 130 km/h and this resulted in fewer traffic fatalities on those stretches of road.

The police were initially sceptical about jacking up the speed limit, fearing that people would drive even faster, but they’ve changed their tune based on the results from the ongoing experiment.

“The police are perhaps a little biased on this issue, but we’ve had to completely change our view now that the experiment has gone on for two years,” Erik Mather, the head of traffic police in South Zealand and Lolland-Falster, said.

Experts say that it’s too early to say whether the experiment, which will run until 2015, is a success, but there is no denying the statistics at the halfway point.

READ MORE: Elderly and electric bikes a deadly combination

More homogeneous traffic
The slowest drivers have increased their speeds, but the fastest 15 percent drive one km/h slower on average, despite the limit increasing from 80 to 90 km/h. While the average speed remains similar to before, the speeds are more fluid and homogeneous on the roads in question.

”It was what we were hoping for,” Hollen said. “It looks like we’ve found the appropriate speed on those stretches of road, so we will reduce the speed differentials and consequently decrease the number of people overtaking.”

A final report will be published in 2015, after which the Vejdirektoratet experiment is due to end.

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