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Monday, February 23, 2004
Road safety

I have once more been irritated by some of the alleged 'road safety' measures encountered in Australia. Some of the misguided campaigns have spread, yet the road toll continues to be worryingly high. One probably takes the biscuit. It rang a false note last year - under the heading, 'Some more motoring comments' this is what I blogged just over a year ago, on 5 January 2003:
...there are periodic notices beside some roads saying that many people have been injured or killed in traffic accidents along the given stretch of road. The effect is ‘enhanced’ by small markers placed where the accidents took place: red for injury and black for fatality.

I object to this method of dealing with the subject, not because of its ghoulish nature but because I believe it is counterproductive. The markers are no bigger than those used to delineate the road’s edge. Consequently, they are very difficult to see, the black markers particularly so, although they are sometimes identifiable by attendant wreaths or bunches of flowers. As it happens, most of these marked sections are on long, straight, boring pieces of road. One can [only] wonder why people would have accidents on long, straight, boring pieces of road. Could it be that their attention wanders? Could it be that drivers’ attention is diverted from the proper task of watching the road ahead?

These roadside markers are a distraction; anything that makes a driver look to one side instead of straight ahead is ill-considered. If they cannot be made large enough to be noticeable from 100 metres, e.g. with full sized ‘coffin lids’, they should be abandoned. Perhaps the bereaved could apply some pressure in this respect.
This visit I have tried to be a bit more quantitative in my observations; the roadside markers are made of metal, plastic or, occasionally, wood. About a metre high, they are about forty mms thick and some sixty or seventy mms wide. The edge markers are white with small, red, reflective rectangles or discs close to the top. They are an excellent guide to what the road is doing, particularly at night. The death/injury markers are the same size. The black ones have a small cross instead of a reflector. I haven't yet examined a red one closely.

Driving in South Australia recently, I became aware once more that these accident markers distract a driver's attention. They seem to have spread to Victoria, too. I was constantly looking off to the side to see if I could see black or red posts. Then I gave up because I thought it too dangerous to carry on. It is only when there are groups of three or four that they tend to stand out. As I remarked a year ago, this sort of reminder is, in general, counterproductive; if one is going to make drivers aware of the accident toll on a given stretch of road, it should be done using unavoidable and intrusive symbols. Full sized coffin lids would be ideal. Otherwise, give it up.

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