Whether you’re working on it, walking on it or driving on it, staying safe on the road is essential. But what are the driving devices and roadway essentials which help to keep everyone safe on UK roads?
In the Vehicle
Automobile safety is an integral part of modern car design and a real focus for manufacturers. New innovations and improved systems continue to be developed in line with technological advances, with many safety devices now being incorporated as standard into cars:
- Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) – this system prevents the wheels from locking during heavy braking, to help drivers to maintain control of vehicle. This helps ensure more effective stopping within average stopping distances and particularly upon skid-likely surfaces, such as wet roads or in icy conditions.
- Electronic stability control – this system is the next up generation from ABS and includes a system of traction control. This corrects driver error by stablising the vehicle and reducing the risk of the driver losing control of the vehicle, for example in a skid. This system varies between vehicle manufacturers and may also be known as vehicle stability control.
- Brake assist – this system ensures that maximum pressure is exerted when brakes are applied in an emergency. As manual emergency braking sometimes fails because drivers may depress the brake pedal insufficiently, so the brakes fail to engage on the wheels, brake assist technology assesses how quickly the brake has been applied and identifies if it’s likely to be an emergency. If it judges so, then brakes are fully applied via the hydraulic pressure system.
- Lane keeping and adaptive steering – this system is a branch of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) which provides benefits such as cruise control. However, lane keeping and adaptive steering systems put greater emphasis on safety rather than comfort, specifically through aiming to maintain a vehicle’s correct position on the road by utilising lane markings at the side of the car. Any deviation from the correct position and the system alerts the driver so that correction can be made manually. Future development of this system proposes that it will work similarly to brake assist, with the system making the correction automatically.
Many versions of these technologies are already fitted to modern vehicles and continue to be developed as part of a deal to provide better protection for road users, including pedestrians.
On the road
Roadways and surfaces themselves also incorporate safety devices for speed control, accident prevention and risk management:
- Road humps – also known as sleeping policemen to reflecting their more manual speed-prevention origins, road humps aim to deter speeding by preventing vehicles from speeding up along flat roads. Road humps are commonly found in residential areas, but not main bus routes as the hump height causes passenger discomfort. The humps need to be spaced fairly close together to be effective and must be accompanied by relevant signage at each end of the hump run.
- Rumble strips – this is the name given to a variegated road surface which is generally applied as a layer to the roadway. When reaching this stretch of the road, the driver is immediately alerted to the need to adhere to speed limits, through the in-car feedback from the suspension and driving wheel, which will sound and feel different, specifically with a low rumble. With their specific aim to alert drivers to reduce their speeds, rumble strips can often be found at the edges of vulnerable roadsides, on the approach to junctions and where faster sections of A roads enter residential areas. Rumble strips tend to be used in outlying areas of towns and villages as they literally sound as they are named and the rumble of a steady stream of traffic can cause a noise-nuisance to residents. This road safety device is also deployed as transverse rumble strips, which run across the whole carriageway rather than just alongside it, whilst an additional version, known as Dragon’s Teeth, is applied along with a visible narrowing of the road, to also support accident prevention.
- Speed cushions – as an alternative to road humps, speed cushions are a speed control method developed to cause standard vehicles to slow down, but allow emergency vehicle and public transport drivers through safely at normal speeds. Speed cushions offer an optimum size and placement so that smaller vehicles have to slow down to drive over the cushions, but buses and emergency vehicles are able to straddle the cushions and proceed normally. Cushions are generally installed at regular intervals along the roadway where speed reduction is required, such as in the neighbourhood of schools or pedestrian areas.
- Pedestrian safety – pedestrians are encouraged to cross roads safely using designated zones such as crossings and traffic island refuges, which are highly visible to traffic.
Roadside safety is additionally important as it needs to respond to the needs of road workers, as well as the public and road users. The mainstay of roadside safety is crash barriers, which tend to be deployed with safety and risk reduction, rather than speed reduction in mind.
- Safety barriers – permanent motorway and roadside barriers aim to minimise risk through containment: keeping an errant vehicle on its own side of the carriageway. This method does include the risk of impact and crash injuries to the driver, but with the effect of preventing the vehicle from advancing to the other side of the barrier where there may be a greater hazard. As such, permanent safety barriers are installed only when it presents less risk for an errant vehicle to strike the barrier than to continue onwards at speed. Permanent barriers of flexible steel construction have frequently been used to facilitate containment, but many have proven vulnerable over time. As such, there is a current move by the Highways Agency to replace many steel barriers with concrete barriers to increase containment, particularly where installed as a central reservation barrier.
- Temporary barriers – one example of a temporary barrier solution is the MASS (Multi-Use Safety System) barrier. MASS barriers are designed to actively absorb the impact of a vehicle and use this to stabilise the barrier, both reducing the vehicle’s speed and deflecting the vehicle along the barrier line. Because MASS barriers offer a stable but non-permanent fixing, they are quick and easy to install and reposition at short notice to keep users on all sides of the barrier safe.
Finally, as these innovations continue to develop and change, one of the simplest road safety devices which is essential is road safety awareness: being aware of the roadway environment, conditions, restrictions and changes is a key way to make best use of all road safety devices and to help keep all road users safe.