Road safety in reverse

Long exposure shot of a highway at night showing moving red lights in one direction and white lights in the other
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Road safety in reverse

Making sure our roads are safe and efficient involves more than just looking at performance indicators. In a recent article in Maaleht exploring the implications of the car tax, titled “Car Tax – Filling State Treasury at the Expense of Economy and Public Health?” the author highlighted the findings of a Swedbank forum survey. Not surprisingly, the majority indicated that the car tax did not influence their behaviour, asserting that car ownership was unavoidable. Paradoxically, the public sector continues its advocacy for alternatives – the use of public transport and car rental services. Despite claims that the car tax accommodates those in scattered settlements, the reality remains that multiple cars depart from homes in small towns, settlements, and villages across Estonia daily, as daily activities often demand travel in diverse directions.

Over the years, Estonia has invested substantially in the construction of major routes such as Tallinn-Tartu and Tallinn-Pärnu, aiming to enhance traffic fluidity and safety. The intention, in part, is to redirect intercity transit from smaller roads to main routes for improved safety.

However, effective management of these investments requires not only financial commitment but also meticulous attention to adhering to the terms of use. In challenging road conditions, users instinctively opt for major roads known for better maintenance, ensuring their safety even if it means covering a longer overall distance. While the state communicates this as a safety measure, discrepancies between the perceived safety and the presented solutions pose a significant risk.

The recent winter of 2023 serves as a lively reminder that significant investments in major ones alone do not guarantee intended outcomes. Competent and continuous management of all processes is imperative. Inexplicably, sections of the Tallinn-Tartu 2+2 route exhibit temporary speed limits of 80 km/h on electronic signs, while all around smaller roads with lower maintenance levels have everywhere limits of 90 km/h. Similar inconsistencies are observed on the Tallinn-Pärnu route, where a 2+2 section has a speed limit of 90 km/h, while the connecting 2+1 section allows 100 km/h. As is known, the 2+2 road section is, in terms of throughput and other parameters, the safest among traffic solutions on Estonian roads.

I found myself in a similar situation several times on the Tallinn-Tartu and Tallinn-Pärnu 2+2 highways, where as a driver, I felt that the car’s wheels were not in contact with the road surface, but rather, the traffic was moving on a slushy layer, especially on the second lane through the undulations. The state hotline 1247 assumed that there was a snowstorm in the area, giving road maintenance the right to act differently from the maintenance class requirements.

In reality, there was no snowfall, not to mention a storm, and as I continued in the same time frame, turning off from the main Tallinn-Tartu route towards Paide, the road was completely clear of snow and marked with salt, so the difference arises from management decisions.

The functioning of society hinges on agreements that all parties must adhere to. If a driver exceeds the speed limit, fines follow. Similarly, if a road fails to meet maintenance standards, the maintainer is subject to agreed fines. However, the monitoring of maintenance requirements lacks precision compared to speed control, exposing a risk that responsible parties seem willing to take. According to the law, the road owner is accountable for safety.

It is extremely sad to see the head of the Transport Authority explaining after tragic accidents that the vehicle operator did not choose the correct driving speed. What is the correct driving speed? If maintenance level requirements are not met, is 10 km/h compared to the maximum allowed speed on lower-class roads the correct driving speed? Or is the correct driving speed related to the driver’s safety assessment depending on the road class?

In conclusion, the solution lies in fulfilling agreements, which are intricately tied to effective process management. If the state invests significantly in constructing major routes and directing traffic to them, the agreed-upon basis for safe traffic flow must be met. Particularly, in the current climate of reduced funding for infrastructure, it is crucial to keep traffic within planned corridors, preventing dispersion that could overload lower-class roads.


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