highway

It was suggested at yesterday’s Dewan Rakyat session that the speed limit of highways should be increased from the current 110 km/h up to 150 km/h.

According to Lumut MP Haji Mohamad Imran, the cars driven by Malaysians these days were of high quality and had the ability to traveling at high speeds. The MP proposed that for the typical three-lane highway, the left lane be limited to 110 km/h, while the middle lane could be limited to between 110-130 km/h and the right lane be limited to 130-150 km/h.

The Deputy Works Minister Datuk Rosnah bt Hj Abd Rashid Shirlin replied that the current speed limits are 110 km/h on highways, 90 km/h for both inter-city roads as well as federal roads. These speed limits were set according to various factors such as road geometry, traffic flow density and accident risk.

Datuk Rosnah added that there are many other factors that can come into play such as whether a location is approaching a toll plaza, an interchange, an uphill or downhill section, an area with cross winds. For these sections, the speed limits would have to be further lowered compared to the usual 110 km/h limit.

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In response to this, the Lumut MP brought up perhaps one of the most famous highways in the world – the autobahn. Here’s where it gets a little odd – apparently since Germany is a developed nation and its autobahn has a reputation of supposedly having no speed limits, Malaysia should allow cars to travel faster in order to progress towards becoming a developed nation.

Datuk Rosnah said that was not possible as our existing speed limits were set according to Malaysian factors. She added that perhaps only 10% of cars in Malaysia were capable of being stable at high speeds, and the remainder 90% were everyday Joe cars. She then suggested that people who wanted to enjoy their car’s higher top speed do so at the Sepang track.

It’s true – 130-150 km/h in a Perodua Viva or an old Proton Wira versus a Volkswagen Passat is very different. The reality is that these two different “class” of cars share the same roads and a system that has double standards do not make sense.

However, she added that her ministry is in constant talks with the Ministry of Transport and PDRM as well as other agencies like MIROS on speed limits and would act on the advice of these agencies if necessary.

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Not all developed countries have highways with no speed limits. For example, in the USA with their long, wide and incredibly straight highways, the highest speed limit allowed is 137 km/h (85 mph), which is basically a 65 km stretch between Austin and San Antonio. This is the only place in the USA where you are allowed to drive at that speed, the limits are usually about 113 km/h (70 mph) elsewhere.

But apparently in the late 90s, Montana had no speed limits during the daytime hours. Laws basically just called for drivers to drive at speeds considered “reasonable and prudent”. All day long speed limits were eventually instated, but it’s interesting to point out that the fatality rate on Montana highways during the final months before the limits were put back in place were actually lower than the numbers after.

The theory is that drivers on roads with no speed limits pay greater attention to what’s happening on the road and spend less time worrying about speed traps and staying within a certain speed limit.

But that said, that’s the USA, with their long, straight roads and wide lanes. And Americans drive larger, more stable and more powerful vehicles – things like the Infiniti QX80 do not look out of place there and could even be dwarfed by the size of some of the larger pickup trucks.

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As for the Autobahn, yes it’s true that some sections do not have speed limits. But that’s the keyword – some sections. There are speed limits on the ramps, and limits are also enforced near interchanges. Generally, most of these limitless sections are in areas that have very low population density. Vehicles with a low top speed of less than 60 km/h as well as motorcycles and scooters with a small engine capacity are banned from the autobahn.

Speed limits can be dynamically enforced via overhead LED boards depending on factors such as weather, time of day, or even in efforts to reduce noise pollution. Because obviously 250 km/h in the rain with traffic around you could be a bad idea.

For sections with no speed limits, there is a recommended but unenforced speed limit of 130 km/h. If something ever happens, the driver can be deemed partially responsible because of what is deemed as “increased operating danger”. A study done in 2006 on a six-lane section of the A9 near Niemegk showed an average speed of 141.8 km/h for automobiles, with over 60% of road users exceeding the recommended but unenforced 130 km/h speed limit, but only 15% exceeded 170 km/h.

So what do you think readers – are our vehicles (types of cars and motorcyclists as well), road manners and highway geometry as well as condition ready for a higher speed limit on our highways, or is the current 110 km/h just nice? If you wish for a higher limit, what do you think is a reasonable new limit? Perhaps what we need is a minimum speed limit instead, which actually exists in some countries and are usually between 30 km/h to 60 km/h.