Advanced motorway signalling and traffic management feasibility study (HTML version)
8.1 The widespread provision of advanced signalling and traffic management systems, with hard shoulder running at peak times in the most congested locations and other innovative features such as ramp metering or lane reservation schemes, would be a new experience for road users. Our aim should be to ensure that all road users have confidence from the outset in the benefits which these systems will bring, and feel reassured about any perceived risks. It is equally important that their confidence should be sustained over time. This would encourage willing compliance, and it is only if high levels of compliance are achieved and maintained that the full benefits of new technology will be realised. This chapter considers how we may achieve this.
The Compliance Vision - the desired outcome
8.2 Drivers observe key traffic management instructions, because they believe in the integrity of the system and understand the benefits which it delivers to themselves and to fellow drivers. They also understand and respect the risks of non-compliance, firstly in safety terms and secondly in terms of exposure to sanctions.
8.3 There are very high levels of compliance with safety-critical instructions. Specifically, these include speed limit indicators, lane closure signals (hard shoulder running only when authorised) and stop signals. There are good levels of compliance with instructions set for the purpose of service quality regulation, such as lane reservation signals. ("Good" for this purpose means a level of compliance comfortably above the point at which instructions begin to fall into disrepute, as drivers notice that others are not bothering to observe them, or perceive them to be unnecessary, such that the benefits of compliance are lost.)
8.4 New signalling systems are observed to promote prudent driver behaviour. As road users have become accustomed to the new motorway environment, we see a step improvement in safety on the motorway network. It has not been necessary to resort to extensive traffic enforcement measures or widespread imposition of sanctions in order to achieve this. Drivers feel more confident about their personal safety, because they witness fewer instances of irresponsible behaviour. There are fewer serious incidents. Consequently there is less disruption to the normal flow of traffic.
Ensuring safe and effective managed motorways
8.5 Priority must be given to ensuring that the managed motorway network operates to safety standards no less rigorous than those experienced today. Accordingly, we have focussed on the compliance and enforcement "must haves", insofar as we have been able to analyse their implications in the time available. We propose a phased approach, starting with the legal framework and enforcement processes which we have today, but with ideas for future development where it seems possible to improve (some changes would require new legislation).
8.6 From a traffic safety standpoint it is crucial to secure a high level of compliance with variable speed limits, including the lower limits which will be in force when hard shoulder running is authorised, at congested times of the day. We need to be confident that drivers will observe lane closure instructions, both to avoid use of the hard shoulder as a running lane when not authorised (as there may be obstructions ahead) and to allow for the management of incidents and accidents, including emergency services access if required. It is also important to ensure compliance with "stop" signals instructions (a red X with flashing beacons displayed above a lane and, though less safety critical, ramp metering).
8.7 There are clear and compelling advantages in a compliance-led vision. It is free, and generally minimises risks. Enforcement, on the other hand, is a response to risks already taken, can be costly, and may carry new risks in some situations. Our objective must be to maximise compliance and minimise the need for enforcement. This is particularly true on the motorway network, where physical interventions for enforcement purposes are difficult and/or potentially hazardous, and we must rely heavily on being able to trace offenders and apply sanctions after the event.
8.8 Compliance is driven by perceptions. Road users who perceive that positive consequences will flow from compliance, or negative ones from non-compliance, are likely to comply. We believe that the managed motorway environment will of itself promote constructive perceptions, and thus high compliance levels. The evidence from the M42 pilot bears this out. There may be several reasons for this:
- drivers are more likely to comply where they can perceive a clear and short term benefit in doing so - as the system is dynamic drivers may respect the limits because they see them as being appropriate;
- frequent reinforcement of signal messages may have more of an impact on driver behaviour;
- a road environment which features proactive (e.g. "use hard shoulder"), variable and changing signal messages may encourage drivers to pay greater attention and remain alert;
- drivers may believe that information conveyed to them is more likely to be up to date and therefore accurate; and
- driver awareness that vehicle movements are being observed may help to discourage reckless or inconsiderate driving.
The role of enforcement
8.9 In the managed motorway environment we do not expect to have to engage in an enforcement blitz in order to achieve high levels of compliance with safety-critical instructions (speed limits, lane closures, stop signals). However we cannot prudently rely solely upon willing compliance, because our assumptions about driver behaviour also rely on them understanding that there is a risk of enforcement if they do not comply. Enforcement may also be necessary to sustain compliance levels over time, particularly if the high levels of compliance are due in part to the novelty of the experience of hard shoulder running, which might erode as schemes become more widespread. Experience over time of securing compliance on the M25 Controlled Motorway has shown that some visible signs of enforcement (camera flashes) were required to secure satisfactory levels of compliance with the variable speed limits.
8.10 The ideal though is that we will seldom have to use the enforcement/sanctions threat, but we must have the capability to deploy enforcement and sanctions if and to the extent that they are needed to protect road users' safety and to realise the benefits of effective traffic flow management for road users collectively.
8.11 This approach is appropriate for the great majority of traffic compliance and enforcement issues. However we must also recognise that there is a small but significant number of road users who persistently flout regulatory requirements and seek to evade or ignore sanctions. There are enforcement issues here which merit separate consideration, though they are not generated by the installation of advanced signalling and traffic management interventions so are not therefore driven by this study.
The enforcement context today
8.12 To support the M42 pilot, the Highways Agency was able to negotiate an enforcement agreement with West Midlands Police. As part of that agreement police staff, IT licensing and accommodation costs were estimated to total £77,000 per annum (cost to the Highways Agency). (Further agreements are being negotiated with the Police as part of the extension of the scheme to the Birmingham Box.) High levels of compliance on the M42 have been achieved and enforcement activity on the M42 pilot has been minimal as a consequence. However, the high levels of compliance with signs and signals observed to date on this isolated high profile scheme may not be a reliable indication of driver behaviour if various advanced traffic management systems are introduced more widely across the network.
8.13 We have examined the available options for securing additional motorway traffic enforcement resourcing on a wider basis, should this prove necessary in the light of observed compliance levels.
Funding additional police traffic enforcement activity
8.14 We have established that Section 38 of the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001 affords a potentially viable solution. This provision enables the Secretary of State for Transport to make payments to other authorities, specifically including the Police, for the purposes of traffic enforcement. Although introduced in the context of providing funding for speed cameras, the power is deemed sufficient to cover funding for additional enforcement activity in respect of compliance with variable speed limits by camera, and with traffic signals including 'red X' lane closure instructions. Any funding thus provided would be ring-fenced for agreed traffic enforcement purposes, and could not be diverted to support other Police activities.
8.15 A potential alternative to cash funding would be to provide resources in kind, in the form of additional personnel and facilities. This might entail recruiting additional staff for enforcement processing work, to be carried out under Police supervision.
8.16 In either case, further consideration will need to be given to how any additional resourcing would be financed.
Future development of the compliance and enforcement regime
8.17 The procedures described above would enable additional enforcement effort to be applied by the Police or under Police supervision, within the existing legal framework and using current enforcement processes. However the widespread roll out of advanced signalling and traffic management techniques on the motorway network may present new compliance opportunities and challenges, which could have enforcement implications. Some of these we can foresee today, for example:
- Subject to resolution of some equipment type approval and technical operational issues (which could be significant) but without any changes to traffic law, installation of the required infrastructure would enable migration from 'spot' to 'average' speed measurement and control. We believe that this would be strongly beneficial to compliance. Drivers tend to perceive average speed control as a more predictable, consistent, equitable and therefore more credible solution to speed management (as opposed to the 'lottery' nature of spot speed control). Levels of compliance where average speed enforcement is in use today - for example, through motorway sections where there are major roadworks - support this view. There is broad endorsement from stakeholders for moving to average speed control.
- As noted in Chapter 7, the infrastructure can also potentially be used to reserve lanes for specific types of traffic, which may be helpful for flow management and wider transport policy purposes. There is also the possibility of tolled lanes, offering more rapid journey times (because they would be less congested) in exchange for payment.
8.18 Further study is needed of the compliance and enforcement implications of these opportunities, ensuring full compliance with all relevant data protection provisions. The questions which arise include:
- What kinds of sanctions and enforcement practices would be appropriate for breaches of lane reservation instructions? What kind of equipment would be needed to support enforcement and what are the associated development and type approval issues?
- If some elements of tolling were to be introduced, with associated revenue protection issues, how might this impact on equipment requirements, sanctions and enforcement practices? Would additional on-vehicle devices (e.g. 'tags') be needed in order to manage the risks of evasion?
- How quickly could we migrate from spot to average speed enforcement and how extensively could average speed enforcement be applied?
- What would be the enforcement implications of average speed control in cases of non-compliance, and how would these differ from the enforcement issues associated with spot speed control?
- Would tolling or average speed enforcement raise any additional new data protection issues that would need to be addressed in order to ensure personal privacy was safeguarded?
8.19 The potential compliance benefits of moving from spot to average speed control to enforce advanced signalling and traffic management schemes could be such that we recommend further investigation of what it would involve to migrate to this, resolving any associated technical, operational, penalty and enforcement issues, with a view to developing a viable migration plan. We recommend that the other issues covered in this chapter should be the subject of further study.
8.20 We have tested our stakeholder advisory group's views on the vision, focussing on the "must have" priority compliance issues. The key points which emerged from the discussions are set out below.
- There was a broad consensus supporting a compliance-led vision rather than a sanctions/enforcement-led vision. Stakeholders generally believe that it will be possible to achieve high levels of voluntary compliance.
- There was wide recognition of the constructive role which new systems and technologies can potentially play in promoting compliance, and correspondingly broad support for the extension of signalling and traffic management systems from a compliance/safety perspective.
- There was broad support for maximising the compliance impact of the managed motorway environment, specifically by moving away from 'spot' speed measurement and control, to 'average' speed measurement and control (elapsed time vs. distance).
- Stakeholders stressed the importance of effective education, marketing and communications activity aimed at drivers, to explain and reinforce the benefits of new technology.
- There was scepticism about the feasibility and desirability of significantly higher levels of enforcement and sanctions as a lever to promote compliance. There was a view that such an approach could be counter-productive in terms of public attitudes
Views of our enforcement partners
8.21 We have had initial discussions with both the Home Office and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) about the compliance "must haves" and possible ways to secure additional enforcement capability. Both were supportive and content to work with us in exploring the options. ACPO were clear however, that any additional enforcement requirement should be cost-neutral to the police.
Summary of conclusions
8.22 The key conclusions and recommendations from this chapter are:
- There should be a phased approach to the development of compliance and enforcement regimes for 'managed motorways', focussing on ensuring high levels of compliance with essential safety instructions, specifically variable speed limits, lane closure signals and stop signals; starting from the existing legal framework and current enforcement practice, under Police accountability and supported by education, marketing and communications to explain the benefits of compliance to road users.
- If needed, and subject to agreement across government, the Department could put in place an agreement with the Police to enable additional resourcing to be provided by DfT for motorway traffic enforcement purposes under Section 38 of the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001. Any cash funding provided through such an agreement would be ring-fenced for the stated purposes.
- The Department should investigate the implications of moving from spot to average speed control for the managed motorway, addressing the related technical, legal and enforcement issues, with a view to developing a viable migration plan.
- The Department should prepare a fuller assessment of the new and additional 'signal compliance' issues potentially arising in respect of more advanced signalling and traffic management systems (e.g. lane reservation compliance), addressing the related technical, legal (including data protection) and enforcement issues.