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Critics concerned traffic speed monitoring could lead to unsafe situations

Sign indicating an automatic speed camera ahead along Tallinn-Tartu Highway.
Sign indicating an automatic speed camera ahead along Tallinn-Tartu Highway. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

This Friday will mark the start of the Transport Administration's average speed measurement project along four Estonian highways. Critics, however, believe the project could give rise to unsafe situations on sections of highway beyond those being monitored.

With hopes of improving road safety and thereby reducing the number of traffic injuries and fatalities, the Transport Administration will begin measuring average traffic speeds along stretches of four different Estonian highways starting this Friday.

In the course of the project, traffic speeds will be measured along the Tallinn-bound side of a nearly five-kilometer stretch of Tallinn-Narva Highway, the Ääsmäe-bound side of a 13-kilometer stretch of Ääsmäe-Haapsalu Highway, the Tallinn-bound side of a nearly five-kilometer stretch of Tallinn-Tartu Highway as well as the Pärnu-bound side of a nine-kilometer stretch of Tallinn-Pärnu Highway.

"These locations because we're utilizing existing speed cameras that have been located on our roadsides for years and years already," said Priit Sauk, director general of the Transport Administration.

"We have developed, upgraded their software, and so we'll be measuring speeds between existing posts," Sauk explained. "In other words, what we're actually measuring is time — we'll divide it by distance traveled, and then we'll get the average speed."

Indrek Sirk, an attorney specializing in traffic law, says that such monitoring has both upsides and downsides. He noted that other countries' experiences have shown that it does help reduce traffic deaths somewhat, making the option worth considering.

"On the downside, this means that a fairly large number of road users will likely start driving at slower speeds than permitted, and for those road users who are used to and know how to drive at exactly the speed limit, this will mean significantly more jittery traffic," Sirk acknowledged.

The attorney highlighted that this may also mean that drivers could end up passing other vehicles in more dangerous circumstances, for example taking longer to do so for fear of exceeding the speed limit.

Automotive journalist Karl-Eduard Salumäe, meanwhile, finds that a bigger concern than speeding is the fact that cars travel on the roads at very different speeds.

"Everyone's risk appetite is different," said Salumäe. "Those who are jumpier will pass longer lengths — several cars at once. I'm not convinced that in the case of a — figuratively speaking — dense swarm of bees stuck back to back like that that they wouldn't still have the itch to pass [them]. I believe they would."

No vehicle or driver data will be registered in the course of the project, and no fines will be issued for drivers exceeding the speed limit. The results of the project will be revealed in late November.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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