X. Sun, Y. He, S. Wang, Y. Wang, H. Wang, S. Xie

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Pages: 31-42

Using design speed as a primary consideration for selecting the speed limit of a freeway has been a common practice since the opening of the first freeway in China about 20 years ago. This practice has been widely questioned and challenged in recent years by the public, freeway operators and law enforcement. Speed limits solely based on the location specific design speed in many newly completed freeways in the country have been under intensive public scrutiny, particularly at locations where the operating speeds are much higher or lower than the speed limits. One key consideration in establishing speed limit is the operating speed that closely relates to driver behavior, vehicles’ mechanic properties, and the design speed. Driver behaviors vary greatly by a host of factors, including cultural background and stage of the economic development. Undoubtedly different social, economic and cultural environments contribute to significant variation in driver behaviors. The methods used by developed countries in speed limit selection may not be suitable or at least not entirely applicable to situations in developing countries. Thus, as the part of a project sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Communication, the goal of this study is to investigate the relationship between speed limit and operating speed under different freeway environments. The principal findings from the study are: (a) operating speed is only loosely associated with speed limit, (b) for a given speed limit, the average speed varies greatly depending on the characteristics of the location, (c) standard deviation of operating speed distribution on freeways in China is generally much bigger than that on a typical freeway in developed countries, and (d) there are huge speed gaps between small and large vehicles. The last two findings represent a big safety problem for freeway transportation. The combination of speeding and slow running vehicles on freeways significantly lowers freeway capacity as well. The unique speed characteristics observed by this study prompts a few suggestions on speed limit and speed management.

Keywords: operating speed; speed limit; the 85th speed percentile; and speed distribution

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