Works Sites the Danger Zone on Europe’s Roads Ljubljana, Slovenia, Sunday, August 26th: Seven killed in road works zone collision.
In a late afternoon on the ring highway south of Ljubljana in a Road Works Zone section the driver of a BMW lost control of his car carrying four other passengers. The car slid across the road into incoming traffic and hit an Audi occupied by two elderly persons. Such was the intensity of the crash no one survived. Some died instantly on impact. The others died in hospital. Both vehicles were written off. Of the seven lives lost some at least could have been spared had a crash-resistant lane separating barrier been installed on the site.
The EuroTest Road Work Zones study has been calling for structural improvements to be made to road work zones for the last three years. Annual EuroTest inspections on the road work zones attest to the higher than normal frequency of accidents in road work zones in Europe. Despite the progress made in other areas of road safety, road works zones remain particularly dangerous sections of the road. Their temporary nature and lack of information about their presence, reduced lane widths, enforced speed reductions with very short lead time, the presence of men at work, traffic congestion are all factors that contribute to making these zones more hazardous than the open road. Steps can be taken to minimise the potential dangers lurking in any road work zone.
EuroTest 2007 focused on 50 road work zones in eleven European countries: eight in Germany, seven in Austria, five in Italy, UK and Switzerland, four in France, the Netherlands and Spain, three in Croatia as well as two in both Denmark and Slovenia. All sites tested were long-term road work zones on main European highways. The shortest road work zone was one kilometre long, the longest around 20 kilometres.
Just like 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 works. Flashing lights were also in place to warn motorists in advance. The speed limit was gradually reduced well ahead of the road work zone. The only point of criticism was that the very good separation of the work area was interrupted for a short section of the way.
Regrettably for yet a second time the last place in this year's test goes to Spain. The Road Work Zone on CM 42 (Madridejos – Toledo) near Toledo failed to receive even half the possible number of points. Just four kilometres long but with no end of shortcomings: whether you looked to the road signs, lane markings, the condition of the road surface, or the dangerous separation of two-way traffic and the work area. Moreover there was a distinct lack of lay-bys and the lanes were seriously reduced. However one positive and unique feature this year was the use of speed bumps to force motorists to slow down on entering a road work zone.
When comparing country results significant variations can be seen: the UK and Italy came out top while Slovenia flopped miserably in last position. 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 night-time-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.
With regard to road works zones Italy has undergone a major positive transformation. Italy's road work zones excelled especially with regard to night-time requirements - where Bergamo was awarded top marks – and traffic routing was another positive feature of Italian road works. 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 separations of two-way traffic led to good scores for driving safety. After the UK, Italy was the country with the most signs informing motorists of speed enforcement measures. Bravo Italia!
Looking at the EuroTest findings the tragic accident that occurred in Slovenia was not an arbitrary event. EuroTest inspectors found the general situation in Slovenia to be lacking. When approaching a road works zone there was no information either about the reason for, duration or the overall remaining length of the road work zone. There were no lay-bys and, it goes without saying that there was no information about speed enforcement measures. The entry and exit points to the road works were unsafe and original road markings were not removed and thus confusing to the motorist especially at night.
The gap in quality between the winners and the losers is too high to be acceptable. More must be done. European citizens deserve the same level of safety wherever they travel on the TERN (Trans European Road Network). The FIA believes that the European Road Infrastructure Safety Management Directive is crucial to reduce the gap in safety between the newer and the older member states. Indeed the directive specifically highlights hazardousness of road work zones in need of attention. The entry into force of this directive expected to be adopted under the forthcoming Slovenian Presidency of the Council of Ministers should give especially new member states the necessary tools to upgrade their road network.
Existing guidelines such as the ARROWS study are being implemented in a piece meal fashion. The solutions cannot be simply classified as good or bad. This is why it is important to identify the optimum design for road work zones and provide those in charge with a basis for their work. But this will require comprehensive accident and behaviour studies like those demanded for many years by Europe's motoring clubs. By auditing safety and informing citizens rapid improvement is possible. But once again, Europeans will have to pull together.
EuroTest is a platform 16 automobile clubs in 15 countries, members of the FIA who have been putting the quality and safety of mobility in Europe to the test since 2000 for the benefit of their members and all mobile consumers in Europe.
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