Why local roads are critical to our daily lives

Road markings on local roads save lives. The most improved roads in the UK are largely made safer by simple, low-cost measures such as lines, signs and safer surfaces. They provide vital visual clues for night drivers when street lights are switched off and keep our children safe around schools. When used well, they can do away with dangerous and unsightly street clutter; and they will be central to driverless or partially autonomous cars.
Low-cost road safety solutions such as enhanced road markings and ‘intelligent’ studs are saving lives at key locations across the UK. The Road Safety Foundation’s report ‘How safe are you on Britain’s roads’ shows that inexpensive improvements alongside routine maintenance has helped reduce fatal and serious crashes by 80 per cent on 15 sections of UK roads.

On those 15 ‘most improved’ roads, 237 people were killed and seriously injured in the three years before the actions were taken. But in the three following years, deaths and serious injuries had fallen to 52: an incalculable saving in human misery and an economic saving of £25 million – which translates to just £110,000 per kilometre.  
All of the roads were managed by local authorities, and most of the remedial measures on the sections of road were road marking and signing improvements and resurfacing.

Thanks to low cost improvements on just these 15 roads, more than 300 people in the UK are alive today, or have avoided serious injury.

Local Authority Budgets
These schemes can be replicated across the UK, especially on the ‘most persistently high risk’ roads where improved central white lines and edge lines to guide road users pay huge safety dividends. Road safety markings and wisely positioned high-friction surfaces are among the most effective ways of improving the safety of Britain’s roads – tools readily to hand for highways directors of local authorities.  
But there is a deeply worrying and growing schism at the heart of UK roads-funding. In stark contrast to Highways England budgets, local authority funds continue to be subject to powerful local pressures and politics. Their budgets cannot be ring-fenced, despite the obvious benefits of safer roads for all if this was the case.
The result of this is starkly revealed in LifeLines, the RSMA’s a comprehensive study into the condition of road safety markings across the UK, which surveyed over 7,000 kilometres of roads for its report published in 2014. It revealed that half of markings on local authority roads either need urgently replacing, or scheduling for replacement.
LifeLines found that 47 per cent of markings on dual carriageways and 50 per cent of markings on single carriageways fall short, and only 12 per cent of local authority markings were rated as ‘excellent’, compared to 17 per cent of Highways England roads.

We now have a patchwork quilt effect across the UK, with different authorities maintaining roads to differing standards, depending on budgetary constraints. We see a stark example of the effects of suspending road marking contracts in Northern Ireland following severe cuts to maintenance budgets. In 2010 and 2011, the Province had one of the lowest road deaths per 100,000 population in Europe. But figures from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) showed road deaths increase from 57 in 2013 to 70 in 2014.

Age concern
Maintenance of our road network and road markings has other far-reaching implications. A survey carried out by the Institute for Ageing at Newcastle University for the RSMA recently revealed how vital road markings can be for those whose eyesight isn’t what it once was. Four in ten drivers say they have reduced driving in the dark over the past five years, or stopped altogether.
Additionally, 55 per cent of drivers questioned in the study said they would be happier driving at night if there were better road markings and signs, with 41 per cent saying ‘better street lighting’ would help, so with rising pressure on roads authorities to turn off street lighting at night to save money, road markings should be better maintained, to compensate.
Giving up driving is one of the key factors responsible for a fall in health and wellbeing among older people, leading to them becoming more isolated and inactive. We all have to accept that as we get older our reactions slow down and this often results in people avoiding any potentially challenging driving conditions and losing confidence in their driving skills. Staying mobile is key to the wellbeing of older, healthy drivers who have the right not to be deterred by poor road conditions, especially as the number of drivers over 70 will grow by half, by 2030.
At the other end of the age spectrum, keeping clear safety zones around schools is increasingly challenging for local authorities, with different initiatives being adopted around the UK – ranging from simple ‘Park and Stride’ schemes to ambitious ‘no go areas’ at key times of the day.

Blurred lines
Last year we saw a bid by then Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, to relax the rules on parking on double yellow lines, but of course these road markings are designed to improve the safety and efficiency on our highways, and in the vast majority of cases there is very good reason why double yellow lines have been laid. 20mph limits are becoming increasingly mainstream across the UK, and the European Transport Safety Council called for 20mph to be EU-wide in residential areas and those with high numbers of pedestrians and cyclists. But too often motorists simply aren’t getting the message. So now’s the time to consider further positive steps to reinforce the benefits of 20mph with a more considered approach to road markings - both permanent and temporary.
Working with roads authorities, the RSMA wants to pioneer the use of higher visibility, coloured, 20mph roundels in suitable areas as a clear reminder to motorists that they are travelling through sensitive neighbourhoods. The coloured markings would replace the current white markings - and help reduce the forest of signs. It works for the Congestion Charge roundel in London - why not for the safety-related 20mph speed limit too? Different-coloured centre-lane markings to catch motorists’ eyes in 20mph areas should also be trialled.
The RSMA is also exploring the idea of different markings for bus lanes, for example road studs that change colour in line with the hours of operation, to make it clearer to motorists when they can - and can’t - drive in bus lanes. This will help smooth passenger transport, and help eliminate unnecessary fines for motorists.

Self-driving cars
By 2025 at least half the travel on Europe’s roads will be in vehicles which can read the road ahead including markings and signs. But vehicles, like drivers, cannot function if basic road markings and signs are non-existent, obscured or confusing. This means putting an end to the differences in even the most basic, internationally agreed safety signs and standardising the width of white lines and the amount of light they reflect – and ensuring the edges of major roads are marked.
A consultation on standardising road markings on major roads across Europe recommended EU adoption of the simple and memorable: ‘150 x 150’ standard with lane and edge markings a consistent 150 millimetres wide, and markings in the dry should reflect light at 150 millicandela – the measure of light reflectivity.
As well as recommending clear, common standards for road markings and traffic signs on major rural roads, the report calls for an independent survey of Europe’s major roads to assess the scale of action needed to meet these standards. But on local roads, despite best efforts of local authorities and utility companies, the challenges seem almost insurmountable. Roadworks, potholes, worn road markings, burst mains and failed traffic lights are just some of the real obstacles to the future of self-driving cars.
Is the government’s motive on autonomous vehicles driven by economics or safety? If the former, we must focus on mass movement – primarily of freight – over long distances; if the latter, the emphasis must be where safety improvements are most needed: rural A-roads.  Neither of these issues is being addressed by driverless car trials in urban streets.
Getting the basic network in shape first is fundamental to success. The reality of cars that can read roads is with us. It would be a huge step forward if we could have roads that can be read easily by humans – who currently make up the vast majority of road users. Road users can highlight failed road markings by reporting them online (www.comparethemarkings.com). Every input alerts the relevant local council to carry out repairs, and local authorities can see how their roads fared in the survey.

Further information

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