Changing speed limit leads to proportional changes in average speeds which may affect the number of traffic accident occurrences. It is however critical and challenging to evaluate the impact of a speed limit alteration on the number and severity of accidents due primarily to the unavailability of adequate data and the inherent limitations of existing approaches. Although speed is regarded as one of the main contributory factors in traffic accident occurrences, research findings are inconsistent. Independent of the robustness of their statistical approaches, accident frequency models typically use accident grouping concepts based on spatial criteria (e.g. accident counts by link termed as a link-based approach). In the link-based approach, the variability of accidents is explained by highly aggregated average measures of explanatory variables that may be inappropriate, especially for time-varying variables such as speed and volume. This thesis re-examines accident-speed relationships by developing a new accident data aggregation method that enables improved representation of the road conditions just before accident occurrences in order to evaluate the impact of a potential speed limit increase on the UK motorways (e.g. from 70 mph to 80 mph).
In this work, accidents are aggregated according to the similarity of their pre-accident traffic and geometric conditions, forming an alternative accident count dataset termed as the condition-based approach. Accident-speed relationships are separately developed and compared for both approaches (i.e. link-based and condition-based) by employing the reported annual accidents that occurred on the Strategic Road Network of England in 2012 along with traffic and geometric variables. Accident locations were refined using a fuzzy-logic-based algorithm designed for the study area with 98.9% estimated accuracy. The datasets were modelled by injury severity (i.e. fatal and serious or slight) and by number of vehicles involved (i.e. single-vehicle and multiple-vehicle) using the multivariate Poisson lognormal regression, with spatial effects for the link-based model under a full Bayesian inference method.
The results of the condition-based models imply that single-vehicle accidents of all severities and multiple-vehicle accidents with fatal or serious injuries increase at higher speed conditions, particularly when these are combined with lower volumes. Multiple-vehicle slight injury accidents were not found to be related with higher speeds, but instead with congested traffic. The outcomes of the link-based model were almost the opposite; suggesting that the speed-accident relationship is negative. The differences between the results reveal that data aggregation may be crucial, yet so far overlooked in the methodological aspect of accident data analyses. By employing the speed elasticity of motorway accidents that was derived from the calibrated condition-based models it has been found that a 10 mph increase in UK motorway speed limit (i.e. from 70 mph to 80 mph) would result in a 6-12% increase in fatal and serious injury accidents and 1-3% increase in slight injury accidents.
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.