If you drive through road work zones in Europe you will soon discover that each country has its very own opinion of how this unavoidable traffic intervention should be shaped whilst work is being carried out. Despite all efforts, there are still no uniform European standards. Our brief excursion to the individual countries marks the most striking points noted in this year's inspection of road work zones.
Austria In Austria, a rating of "Poor" marred the otherwise positive image created by the winner of this year's test, rated "Very good", along with three "Good" ratings and two "Acceptable". Exemplary: five of the seven road work zones tested received full marks for the information provided about the reason for, duration and remaining length of the road work zone. It was a shame, however, that the smilies used to indicate the remaining length of the road work zone (the happier the face the sooner the road work zone was over), which were highly commended by our inspectors last year, were found at only two road work zones this year. However, experts were also generally satisfied with signs and lane markings. All the road work zones proved to be clearly organised at night, however, scores here differed significantly from the full score for Wolfsberg to less than half the available score for Pörtschach where reflective road markings were sometimes faded whilst the original road markings were confusing for motorists. Pörtschach also faired badly in the traffic routing category where only 40 percent of marks were received because both lane tapers and points of entry/exit were poorly designed. A particularly positive finding was that at all the road work zones inspected, post plates with arrows ensured good visual guidance for motorists.
Marks had to be deducted when it came to safety-relevant facilities and equipment. Although lay-bys were provided at all the sites, some of these did not have emergency phones, and these lay-bys were often very far apart. Signs informing motorists of speed traps, which have been proven to make it easier for motorists to keep to the speed limit, were found in four of the road work zones inspected - however, in each case in one direction only. At almost all the sites inspected, the left lanes were found to be too narrow and this has a negative effect on safe driving and hence resulted in low scores here.
According to site operators, daily newspapers, radio announcements and information published on the Internet (www.asfinag.at) generally inform motorists of roadworks. The road workers on site were trained for emergencies, a list of emergency phones numbers was available, and only one of the road work zones inspected did not have an emergency plan. The road work zones were checked one to three times a day so that any shortcomings in road work zone safety were dealt with within one hour at any time of the day or night. Traffic was monitored and there were speed enforcement measures, violations were punished.
Switzerland One "Good" rating, two "Acceptable" and two "Poor" – a mixed result for Switzerland's road work zones. Shortcomings were mostly found in conjunction with safety-relevant facilities and equipment where Zurich, for instance, managed to receive a meagre 20% of the possible score. At times there were no lay-bys and the work area was sometimes not safely separated from traffic - this is dangerous not just for road users but also for road workers. Shortcomings were almost always found in the following category: signs providing motorists with information about the reason for, duration and total/remaining length of the road work zone. Signs were often found to be unsatisfactory. At times, there were no signs, for instance, to inform motorists of a taper area, and sometimes signs were in the wrong place. Motorists would also do well not to expect correctly marked lanes. The worst finding in this respect was found at Neuchātel. The attractive, wide lane was carelessly marked so that motorists were unable to identify whether there are one or two lanes.
On average, Switzerland's road work zones were able to score three quarters of the points available for traffic routing and two thirds for driving safety and road work zone at night.
Germany With no "Very good" rating, three "Good" ratings, two "Acceptable" and three "Poor" – Germany's road work zones certainly did not come out tops in this year's test. The candidates received disastrous scores when it came to safety-relevant facilities and equipment. Not a single road work zone managed to receive a positive rating; Passau actually received no marks at all. The road work zones tested apparently had no interest in informing motorists of speed enforcement measures. And in most places, there were no lay-bys or continuous emergency lanes. The road work zones received around 50% of the possible score in the road work zone at night category. The reasons for this is that points of entry/exit were not always illuminated at night by warning lights. At times, there were no reflective markings on lanes or original lane markings still in place were confusing.
The results were mostly positive when it came to signs informing motorists about the reason for, duration and overall length of the road work zone, the width of lanes, cleanness and the separation of two-way traffic and the work area.
According to the site operators, daily newspapers, radio announcements and information published on the Internet by the Federal Ministry of Transport (www.bmvbs.de) provide comprehensive information. The Internet sites of the federal states sometimes provided information too. The road workers on site were trained for emergencies, a list of emergency phones numbers was available, and half of the road work zones inspected in Germany had an emergency plan. The sites inspected are checked every eight to twelve hours, so that no matter what the hour any shortcomings in road work zone safety can be dealt within an hour. Traffic was monitored and there were speed enforcement measures, violations were punished.
Denmark Two road work zones inspected, and two ratings of "Acceptable" – mediocre in other words. This result could be better if the shortcomings found in conjunction with the information provided had not severely dented Denmark's score. The two test candidates did not provide any information about the reason for the work nor about the remaining length of the road work zone. Marks were also deducted for lane markings that were not always as they should be and for narrow lanes.
Denmark scored well, on the other hand, when it came to how well its road work zones were ordered at night. The inspectors were also generally satisfied with traffic routing and driving safety. The good news here is that both road work zones provided lay-bys or emergency lanes along with information about speed enforcement measures.
Spain Spain's road work zones do not have a lot to be proud about. Last place and a rating of "Very poor" went to Toledo, another road work zone was rated "Poor" whilst the remaining sites merely managed a rating of "Acceptable". Practically no safety-relevant facilities or equipment are provided. In most cases, there were no lay-bys or continuous emergency lanes, no emergency phones and certainly no information about speed enforcement measures. In addition to this, the work area was not always safely separated. In this context, there was a special surprise in store at the site in Valencia where the rear end of a digger projected out onto the right line. The traffic lane was in most cases clearly marked, but the required signs were frequently not in place. For instance, the road work zones were almost always announced too late. It hence comes as no surprise that information about the reason for, duration and overall/remaining length of the road work zone was either lacking or incomplete.
With the exception of the last-place road work zone, the other Spanish candidates all did well when it came to traffic routing: lane reductions and tapers, as well as points of entry/exit were well designed. Good scores were also given for the width and cleanness of the lanes and the separation of two-way traffic. This was not the case at Toledo where inspectors found two lane reductions in immediate succession in the direction of Toledo, the reduction in the direction of Madridejos went hand in hand with a point of exit, and on top of all this, the right lane was closed in both directions – not a good idea because this forces slower traffic to merge with faster traffic. Potholes, uneven surfaces and gravel mean that driving comfort was reduced to nothing. In addition to this, two-way traffic was separated by traffic cones that can be driven over and if worst comes to worst offer absolutely no protection whatsoever.
France With three ratings of "Good" and one of "Acceptable", France is among the winners of this European comparison. All four sites inspected were rated positively in the following areas: clear layout at night, width and cleanness of traffic lanes, and separation of two-way traffic. But it appears that shortcomings will always be found, for instance, at Chaumont and Paris, where the taper was too steep and visual guidance poor, and at Paris, where the right, slower lane was closed.
Nothing new on the western front - France was also found to be reluctant to divulge information regarding the reason for, duration, overall/remaining length of the road work zone. Sometimes this information is not provided at all, and sometimes only partially. However, no matter what the case, this information was never complete. And this is why this category was the only one to score very badly in France. Lay-bys or alternatively continuous emergency lanes with emergency phones were provided everywhere, the work area was safely separated by guiding walls made of concrete. However, there were no signs to inform motorists of speed enforcement measures and this lowered the otherwise good score received in the category for safety-relevant facilities and equipment. The French sites would have scored much better with in the signs and lane markings category if signs had not been positioned near the ground. These signs are very difficult to see especially from the left lane and in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Marks were deducted for this.
UK Applause for the country with the best ratings. One "Very good", four "Good" and just one "Acceptable". The UK hence came out tops in the competition for the best road work zones. One special feature in the UK is that road work zones are often completely re-ordered at night, so that work can be intensified during low-traffic hours. This required special nighttime-testing with a separate rating. But even in the dark, the UK road work zones looked good and received an average score of 90% of the marks available. This is also due to the good visual guidance ensured by reflective markings on lanes – as well as the unique feature of mounting warning lights on traffic cones to guide motorists in lane reduction and taper areas.
The UK sites also excelled uniquely in the European comparison when it came to safety-relevant facilities and equipment; all the sites with the exception of Enfield received full marks in the nighttime inspection. A good tradition on mainland Britain is the free 24-hour tow-away service that can quickly pick up broken-down vehicles. The inspectors were also pleased to note that there were always prominent signs informing motorist of speed enforcement measures. Good results were also recorded for traffic guidance in lane-reduction and taper areas as well as at the points of entry/exit.
First marks were deducted for driving safety because there was not enough distance between the edge of the left lane and the loose shoulder. Serious shortcomings were then identified for signs and lane markings. Almost all the signs were in the national language only and did not have any pictograms – this is bad news for foreign motorists who do not have a completely perfect command of the English language. Points were also deducted for signs which were valid for the daytime road work zone but which were not covered at night. This confused inspectors as did the lane markings in the direction of Stansted during the nighttime inspection of Enfield which led into the delineator panels. But where there is light there is bound to be a lot of darkness, too – and that is the motto of the information category. Enfield received top marks in the daytime inspection, but three ratings in the lower half of the scale were also given. Information about the overall/remaining length of the road work zone was lacking, especially at night. Croatia One rating of "Acceptable" and two of "Poor" is certainly no glorious result for this up-and-coming holiday destination. Driving safety fell under heavy criticism because two-way traffic was generally separated with cone-type lane dividers which can be driven over and which do absolutely nothing to prevent motorists from veering onto the wrong lane. Only half of the total marks available were awarded in the category of safety-relevant facilities and equipment. In some areas there were no lay-bys or alternatively continuous emergency lanes. Emergency phones were nowhere to be found. The work area was not always safely separated. At night, original markings still in place were irritating and at times misleading. Signs which were installed too low were also difficult to see. The scores for traffic routing differed significantly: Popovača almost received full marks whilst Kri˛ and Novska had taper areas that were too steep and there was a sudden change in the lateral slope of the lane in this area.
But when it comes to information, Croatia is out on its own and was the only country in which all three road work zone received the full score.
Italy Bella Italia: Four ratings of "Good" and one of "Acceptable" - with this good result Italy is the runner up in this European comparison. The negative image from the last two road work zone tests has been completely transformed – and Italy has finally managed to break the vicious circle of negative rankings in the EuroTests.
Italy's road work zones excelled especially with regard to nighttime requirements - where Bergamo was awarded top marks – and traffic routing. The inspectors were particularly impressed with the signs with arrows which were used to mark some lane tapers. Mostly wide, clean road surfaces and safe separation of two-way traffic led to good scores for driving safety. Lay-bys or emergency lanes with emergency phones were provided almost everywhere and the work area was safely separated from traffic. With the exception of the UK, Italy was the country with the most signs informing motorists of speed enforcement measures.
However, Italy has some catching up to do when it comes to signs and lane markings. Signs were often positioned close to the ground, and information was often either too late or too far apart. And like (almost) all the other countries, Italy too was reluctant to divulge information about the reason for, the duration and overall/remaining length of the road work zone. This information was never supplied in full.
The Netherlands Road work zones in the Netherlands can be found in almost all the rating categories: one "Very good" rating, two "Acceptable" but also one "Poor". On par with its European neighbours, the Dutch road work zones also scored badly when it came to safety-relevant facilities and equipment. The average score in this category was 25% due to the lack of lay-bys and with the exception of Vianen these were not replaced by a continuous emergency lane. Information about speed enforcement measures was only provided at Dordrecht and Hoogeveen, and here in one direction only. At least the work area was safely separated at all the sites. The scores received by the Dutch road work zones for signs and lane markings were also low. Pictograms were often lacking on signs - lucky the motorist who can understand Dutch. Lane markings were often confusing. In two cases, there was no information about the overall/remaining length of the road work zone, and in once case, the signs were difficult to see.
In the lane taper areas, it was mainly points of entry/exit that made life difficult for motorists. By and large, the following categories faired pretty well: width and condition of lanes, as well as the separation of two-way traffic. Road work sites in the Netherlands are often illuminated at night by street lights. This makes the situation clearer and results in a better score.
Slovenia All in all, not a good result: one rating of "Very poor" and one of "Poor". Information about the reason for, duration and overall/remaining length of the road work zone is a "no-go" here and results in "no marks". There were no lay-bys and, it goes without saying, no information about speed enforcement measures. Despite this, at least one fifth of the possible marks were received in the category of safety-relevant facilities and equipment because the work area was safely separated. This could not be said for two-way traffic, at least at Postojna; at Vrhnika, the lanes were too narrow and at both sites the distance between the edge of the right lane and the loose shoulder was insufficient in the direction of Ljubljana. Points were also deducted in the category of layout at night because original markings were not removed and this can seriously confuse motorists especially at night.
Signs and lane markings could have been better because once again signs were not always where they were supposed to be. Speed was reduced too abruptly ahead of both road work zones. The lane tapers at both sites were too steep whilst the lateral slope of the lane in this area was criticised. At Vrhnika, matters were made even worse by a point of exit in the taper area. Talking about points of exit, just like the points of entry, these were not safely designed at both of the road work zones.