Less Haste

On Speed Limits

Dr K Shangula here argues that the speed limit of 120km/h on Namibian roads should be reviewed. He asserts that,

The speed limit of 120 kilometres per hours was set many years ago. It was appropriate and in line with the technology at that time. The speed of 120 km/h is most probably equivalent to 160 km/h according to the current technology. The maintenance of the 120 km/h speed limit on a highway makes drivers unnecessary traffic offenders. A law which the majority of citizens do not observe is not necessarily a good law.

He’s right, to an extent, in that the safety features of cars have become much more advanced and safer in recent years. Part of that drive towards improved technology has been adaptation to harsh high-speed European, East Asian and North American traffic.

The fabled German Autobahn even has no posted speed limits in places, leading speed demons to argue that if it works there, then surely if these modern sedans are so safe, then we must introduce higher speed limits — and even minimum speeds — on Namibian roads.

I can think of no idea more foolish.

Offhand, I can think of the following good reasons to stick with 120km/h limits:

  • Most Namibian highways have two lanes only. This is generally no problem on more remote roads where traffic density os low, but on stretches where density is relatively high, such as the stretch between Okahandja and Windhoek, higher speeds for sedans are irresponsible and dangerous.
  • The main danger derives from speed differentials. The higher the difference in speed between two vehicles on a road, the less predictable the situation rapidly becomes, leading to exponentially higher risk.
  • Impunity is a problem. If someone is willing to speed by travelling 140km/h in a 120km/h area, then what is to say that they will still travel 140km/h in a 150km/h area? Won’t they be tempted to travel 170?
  • Animals, both wild and domestic, don’t care how safe your suspension and brakes are, and remain dangerous. This would be fine if it remained between the driver and the animal, but the driver takes not only their life in their hands, but also the lives of any passengers, and also the lives of other road users. The horrific crash on the Rundu road a few years ago, where a truck his a minibus, was caused by one of the vehicles swerving to avoid a donkey.
  • Travelling at a higher speed requires a higher level of concentration, leading to more fatigue. If I choose to travel at a lower speed because it’s more relaxing, then that is my prerogative. The only way I cause an ‘unsafe obstruction’ when I travel at 120km/h is if the driver behind me is driving aggressively, impatiently, becoming emotionally involved, and (frankly) driving unsafely. Nobody is making (for example) Dr Shangula overtake me in a dangerous place, except Dr Shangula himself. Patience is a virtue, especially in traffic.
  • Travelling at a higher speed requires more fuel. I guess it’s unproblematic if the driver isn’t responsible for the costs of his own petrol; I observe that Dr Shangula is an employee of the State. If I choose to travel at below the posted speed limit in order to conserve fuel, that is my prerogative.
  • As Dr Shangula correctly observes, the rules, laws and etiquette of traffic interaction are not well grasped by many Namibian drivers. There is no guarantee that a ‘training programme’ will change this; the problem is systemic. More rigorous traffic law enforcement — without even singling out taxi drivers — is definitely in order.
  • Many Namibians can’t afford the kinds of cars which permit safe travel at over 100km/h, let alone 120km/h.
  • Higher average speeds on a road require more maintenance to the road. How that works out can be seen on the Okahandja – Wilhelmstal road.

Please don’t think I’m simply panning Dr Shangula’s suggestions; I think it’s good that people are thinking about the problems facing the Namibian driver.

I really like the idea of a compulsory traffic interaction course that goes beyond book learning, and I think a we could avoid re-inventing the wheel by looking at how European countries handle these things.

But do I think that travel will become safer by increasing speed? No, I do not.

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About lidlesseye

Mouthing off about photography, and occasionally important things too.

Posted on January 17, 2010, in Culture. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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