Analysis: Changes in speed limits part of bigger plan

Many have questioned the wisdom of allowing Israelis to drive faster than they already do given that higher speeds lead to more casualties.

Traffic jam on Ayalon 311  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Traffic jam on Ayalon 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The transportation minister’s decision to increase the speed limit on a selection of the nation’s roads raised eyebrows when it was announced on Sunday.
After all, Israel, like many other countries, is battling against traffic accidents. It is well known that higher speeds lead to more casualties and many questioned the wisdom of allowing Israelis to drive faster than they already do.
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However, the ministry’s decision, as well as the timing of its announcement, was far from arbitrary.
After two years of research by a team of experts, the ministry aims to strengthen the driving public’s faith in the fairness of the law and provide a more justifiable bedrock for future enforcement.
The decision to increase speed limits from 100 kph to 110 kph on the major highways and from 90 to 100 kph on secondary ones, was based on a study by a team of 10 transportation engineers performed in consultation with a steering committee of 30 experts from a wide range of bodies, including the police, the National Road Safety Authority, the National Roads Company, the municipalities, engineering consultants, planning committees and advocacy groups.
The team produced a 100-page report examining the issue of speed limits, aided by a wealth of studies conducted abroad on the same issue.
The study gave the authorities the tools to determine the appropriate speed limits depending on the type of road, its condition and its use, while examining a variety of considerations, including things like financial, environmental and social factors.
As the study says, there are many roads in Israel that are of a relatively low standard, where current speed limits are too high, and other roads that are at a high standard of engineering, but don’t allow for higher speeds. The report aims to provide the formulas for correctly assigning speed limits, in hopes that if the drivers see more consistency and logic to the limits, they will be more likely to obey them.
According to a different study, conducted in 2004, a large portion of Israeli drivers exceed the speed limit at times when traffic allows it, with up to 95 percent of them exceeding the limit at times.
While the new decision won’t likely change the behavior of speed demons, like the young man caught driving 240 kph a few months ago, it will mean that those of us who exceed the limit by 10 or 20 kph won’t be flagged and fined by the police and may even change our attitude towards speed limits in general.
The other side of the speed limit question is the issue of enforcement.
When there is no efficient and consistent enforcement by the police, drivers can ignore the speed limit, trusting that their chances of being caught are slim, as is largely the case.
But the transportation’s minister’s decision to increase speed limits is only half of the equation. The other half is the Traffic Police’s new digital traffic camera project.
Sixty new digital cameras are being placed these days on major highways across the country. They represent a vast upgrade from the cameras currently operating, which are slow, imprecise and run on regular film. The new ones are digital, can take a nearly endless amount of photos, have better range and resolution, and can automatically send their photos for review, with the fine arriving in the offender’s mailbox 72 hours after the picture was taken.
The 60 cameras currently going up are part of a 12-year project, at the end of which there will be 300 such cameras spread out across the country at intervals of 15-20 kilometers.
Once complete, Israel will have a network that enables preventative enforcement and not just the reactive variety. Combined with speed limits that people can swallow, it just may lead to more compliance with the law and, who knows, maybe even a shift in Israel’s driving culture.