Inspectors in this year's EuroTest inspection of 50 motorway road work zones in eleven European countries were frequently forced to hold up the red card: a grand total of 13 times. Eleven candidates received a rating of "Poor" and two received a devastating rating of "Very poor". Three road work zones, however, came through with flying colours and were rated "Very good" and another 18 sites were rated "Good". These road work zones were followed by 16 test candidates which were rated "Acceptable".
For the second time round, this year's winner is from Austria Just as in the first inspection in 2005, the proud winner this year was an Austrian road work zone: the 1.5 kilometre short road work zone near Enns on the A 1 (Linz - Vienna). Signs were provided here to inform motorists about the reason for, the length and duration of the road work. Flashing lights were also in place to warn motorists in advance. The speed limit was gradually reduced well ahead of the road work zone. Other plus points: very wide and clearly marked lanes, safely separated two-way traffic and clearly visible post plates with arrows to guide motorists in the lane reduction. The only point of criticism here was that the very good separation of the work area was interrupted for a short section of the way.
Coming up behind this year's winner are two "Very good" ratings which went to the UK and the Netherlands: The almost three kilometre long road work zone near Enfield on the M 25 (Watford – Dartford), which even provided a free tow-away service, and the road work zone near Vianen on the A 27 (Utrecht – Breda). The latter, a road work zone of just one kilometre, demonstrated an unusual but certainly attractive solution; traffic was guided across a bridge over the work area.
Last place in this year's test goes to Spain, for the second time For the second time since 2005, last place went to a Spanish road work zone which, having failed to receive even half the possible number of points, lagged far behind: the test candidate on the CM 42 (Madridejos – Toledo) near Toledo. Just four kilometres long but no end to the shortcomings: whether signs, lane markings, the condition of the road surface, or the dangerous separation of two-way traffic and the work area, as well as the lack of lay-bys and even lane reduction. In this case, the right (slow) lane was closed so that slower traffic is forced to merge with faster traffic on the other lanes. There were two lane reductions one after the other in the direction of Toledo and an exit was located in this area in the direction of Madridejos. A positive and unique feature in this year's test was that motorists were forced to slow down due to speed bumps installed on the road surface.
Another "Very poor" rating went to the around 2.5 kilometre long Slovenian road work zone near Vrhnika on the A 1 (Ljubljana – Koper) .
On the negative side: Safety-relevant equipment and information The inspectors identified the most serious shortcomings in the safety-relevant facilities and equipment category. This category triggered a storm of "Poor" and "Very poor" ratings, a total of four countries (Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Spain) failed on average to make the 50 percent mark. All too often, there were no lay-bys or even continuous emergency lanes which broken down vehicles can use, not to mention emergency phones which can be used to call a breakdown service or notify the emergency services if necessary. Signs informing motorists of speed traps were far and few between even though according to scientific findings these signs do in fact result in better adherence to the speed limit.
There was also a lack of information when it came to the reason for, the duration and total length of the road work zone. This information was often lacking at the beginning of the road work zone and only appeared in the road work zone itself or was printed so small that it was impossible for motorists to decipher when driving past. And the remaining length was a well-kept secret at very many of the road work zones inspected. The consequence of this is that scores in the information category hit rock bottom in many countries. Slovenia took the biscuit with a grand total of 0, scoring a new negative record. However, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland and Spain did not fair all that much better. Croatia, on the other hand, managed to reap 100% of the points available in this category.
Mediocre: Driving safety as well as Signs and lane markings These two categories (Driving safety and Signs and lane markings) did not fair too badly but they didn't do all that good either considering that two ratings in each of the categories fell below the 50 percent limit. But the good news here is that road surfaces were found to be in a perfect condition almost everywhere. However, motorists were challenged by very narrow lanes, especially in Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands, but also at times in Germany, Slovenia and Croatia. In Slovenia and Croatia, and in some places in Germany and Austria, an unpleasant change in the lateral slope of the lane makes driving difficult in the taper area. Another dangerous feature found in Croatia and at one road work zone in Germany, Spain and in Slovenia was two-way traffic separated merely by collapsible cone-type lane dividers. These offer absolutely no resistance for motorists who veer out of the lane.
It is also difficult for motorists to stay in lane when lane markings are not all that they should be. This was frequently found – and was made all the more difficult when original markings were not removed and caused confusion. In France, Austria, Italy and Croatia, the road work zones were announced using so-called traffic control systems, frequently referred to as overhead sign gantries. These were highly commended by the inspectors. On the other hand, signs positioned near the ground like those found in France, Italy, Croatia and Spain are hard to see.
On the positive side: Traffic routing and Requirements at night The inspectors were pleased to note that Traffic routing was on a high level in all the road work zones inspected. The poorest result went to Slovenia which still managed to receive 70% of the points available. The good impression made by road work zones in France, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Germany was marred by very steep tapers and by points of exit and entry in the taper area in road work zones in Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Unlike last year, dangerous points of entry without an acceleration lane and controlled by a stop sign were rarely found this year except, for instance, in Slovenia.
The test candidates also performed well in the dark. Shining examples were found in the UK and the Netherlands where road work zones are often lit up at night by street lights and in Austria balloon lights are sometimes used. In the UK, inspectors found reflective markings on road surfaces. Points were deducted in Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland and Spain due to a lack of reflective elements or illumination of points of entry/exit. Austria, Switzerland and Spain also lost points because reflective lane markings were not continuous.
Conclusion: poor conditions for unsure behaviour The result of this year's road work zone inspection leaves a lot to be desired. There were too few really good, exemplary solutions, and too many middle-of-the-road approaches. And the many "Poor" ratings highlight shortcomings that could endanger not just motorists but also road workers who usually work right next to traffic speeding by. Tragic accidents happen all too often as a result of incorrect behaviour on the part of drivers and this is additionally aggravated by badly designed road work zones. Cause for real concern in this context is a finding by the international ARROWS (Advanced Research on Road Work Zone Safety Standards in Europe) research project on road work zone safety in which it was discovered that motorists believe that they take sufficient care and slow down adequately when passing through road work zones, whilst experimental studies and observations clearly show that they do not adapt their behaviour as they claim. This is why it is vital that road work zones be designed even more safely whilst those in charge and motorists must be made more aware of what safe driving through a road work zone means.