Road maintenance and repair is a standard procedure for the safety and mobility of all road users. However, the process of building better and safer roads can be dangerous. Studies show that crash rates increase during roadworks in comparison with pre-work periods. Vehicle crashes around roadworks in Australia cause approximately 750 injuries and 50 deaths per year.
Roadworks can be a cause of driver frustration, as they cause frequent stops and increased travel times; the driver may also perceive a lack of work activity and the inappropriateness of reduced speed limits. Road safety experts at TranEx Group understand the hazards and frustrations of roadworks and highlight that the importance of minimising the risks to both road workers and motorists.
Common types of worksite incidents
According to workers, the most common types of accidents at roadworks include public vehicle intrusions into a work area, reversing of machinery and work vehicles, rear-end crashes and public vehicles hitting traffic controllers.
The main causes of these incidents include distracted drivers, road workers ignoring or misjudging reversing beepers or ignoring spotters’ instructions, motorists ignoring the signage or traffic controller’s instructions, and motorists violating speed limits.
Major cause of worksite incidents
Speeding is the major cause of crashes on road work sites. A study of driver speeds in Queensland worksites found that 76-98 percent of vehicles speed when they approach worksites, with 66-89 per cent of drivers speeding as they pass work areas. The high rate of non-compliance to different roadwork signs indicates a significant threat to road workers and motorists.
Interestingly, a study in the US found that motorists reduced speed when there was a visible police presence. However, the study found little impact on motorists who received higher penalties for speeding by roadworks.
Safety measures and controls
Safety measures and controls separate into four categories:
– Informational measures, including warning and speed limit signs, variable message signs (VMS), regulatory speed limits and systems for speed feedback.
– Educational measures, which transfers road safety knowledge through driver training and public awareness campaigns.
– Physical measures, including narrowing lanes, rumble strips and reducing the proximity of workers to traffic by using automated hand-controlled traffic lights and anti-gawk screens.
– Enforcement measures seem to be the most effective means to reduce speeds of vehicles passing roadworks; however, they require a greater allocation of resources. One of the measures that produce the most significant effects is a police car with flashing lights and a speed camera.
In addition, a study conducted in the UK compiled common safety measures suggested by road workers. They included active police enforcement with speed feedback systems, anti-gawk screens that reduce the distraction of the driver and protected workers from projectiles, driver education and driving license tests that raise awareness of roadwork hazards, and penalties for violation of stricter traffic rules around roadworks. Other suggestions included better visibility of workers and signage, the use of portable robotic flagger or traffic lights, speed bumps and speed limits.
Roadwork related crashes in Australia cost more than $400 million each year. Maintaining roadwork safety not only avoids injuries and accidents, but also saves unfortunate and avoidable expenses.