THE LEGAL measures governing the current speed limit go as far back as 1956. Much water has passed under the bridge since then. As such, we welcome Works and Transport Minister Fitzgerald Hinds’ disclosure that the matter of the 80 kilometre per hour speed limit is under review.
Last week in Parliament, the minister was careful not to rule out raising the maximum speed. At the same time, he was not precipitous.
A decision like this cannot be made rashly. It must be done on the basis of advice from technical experts at the Ministry of Works. And it must factor in a range of complex issues.
The introduction, at long last, of speed guns has brought the matter of reforming the 80 kph limit to the fore. With the police now having the capability to track speeds precisely, motorists are afraid of being found on the wrong side of the law. The truth is, many routinely are. They find their speedometers inching over the 80 kph mark frequently. While there is no excuse, this sometimes happens almost inadvertently. Otherwise careful drivers may feel the implementation of the new limit harsh. This is compounded by the fact that speed guns have an in-built margin of error which means some arrests are premised on the finest sliver of a breach.
But changing the speed limit is no simple matter.
For a start, there is no single speed limit. There are several. Different limits apply to outside and inside of what are called “built-up” areas.
Further, the minister may by order impose a special speed limit with respect to any road or in relation to any class of motor vehicle. Additionally, public servants play a role in this process. The Chief Technical Officer (Works) may impose a special speed limit with respect to any bridge.
The result is a menagerie of limits, all collectively referred to as the “speed limit”. Ordinary cars on the highway cannot exceed 80 kph, while in built-up areas they must go no faster than 50. Different classes of vehicles (tractors, omnibuses, private cars with trailers) have different speeds.
Adding to the complexity is the fact that under the Special Speed Limits Order of 1979, there is a limit of 65 kph for the Priority Bus Route; 50 kph for the Lady Young Road; 25 kph for a portion of the Eastern Main Road; 25 kph for a stretch of the Paria Main Road on the North Coast. Similar speed limits are in place for a portion of the Manzanilla- Mayaro Road and at Mayaro Beach.
So when people lobby for an increase in the limit, are they calling for increases across the board or only on highways? Will increases in some sections not have systemic implications for others? At the same time, raising the speed limit is a tempting proposition because road conditions have improved drastically since 1956.
Additionally, cars are far more sophisticated and powerful. They also have a large array of safety features.
Further, an argument has been put forward that raising the speed limit could help reduce traffic.
However, indiscipline remains a problem. While roads have improved, in some areas conditions are bad.
If we look further afield, our 80 kph limit is actually higher than what exists in other countries. For example, the vast majority of states in the USA have a speed limit of less than 80 kph. In the UK, the speed limit is higher, at about 113 kph. But in that country there is a move to reduce this given the environmental impact of cars.
Ultimately, whether the speed limit is 80 kph or 50 kph, if the person behind the wheel is unsuitable, the carnage on the nation’s road will continue. Speeding cars don’t kill people. People kill people. Cars — at whatever speed — can be dangerous in the wrong hands.
It’s good to have the speed limit under review. Still, we should keep the brakes applied for now. There is much more groundwork left to be done. And as some are found of saying, hurry dog eat raw meat.
CREDIT: Newsday TT, Editorial