Advanced motorway signalling and traffic management feasibility study (HTML version)
9.1 This chapter considers how we might reinforce delivery of the significant benefits of hard shoulder running and achieve our compliance and safety vision by working to ensure that, through targeted communications activities, road users and others with an interest are aware of how managed motorway systems work and of the benefits that their effective use will offer.
The importance of communications
9.2 The fact that the concept of hard shoulder running is relatively new and unknown to the majority of UK road users and the level of direction given to the road user which is required to ensure the effectiveness of the technique mean that education and information will be vital to achieving the full benefits.
9.3 To recap, our vision is that drivers observe key traffic management instructions, because they believe in the integrity of the system and understand the benefits. They also understand and respect the risks of non-compliance, firstly in safety terms and secondly in terms of exposure to sanctions. The new signalling systems are observed to promote prudent driver behaviour. Communicating this vision to drivers will be key to achieving it.
9.4 Proper education of drivers will help to ensure that drivers realise what they are being asked to do, how and why they should do it. This will help secure a high level of compliance with the system and public support for it, thus helping deliver the full benefits.
9.5 Any communication supporting the deployment of traffic management systems needs to be clear in explaining to drivers the benefits which the system will bring, so that, for example, drivers are willing to comply with reduced speed limits because they can see the benefit to them of doing so. The other main thrust of driver education needs to be around building an understanding of what the signs and signals mean and how they should be responded to, both within and prior to entry and exit from the managed motorway environment. Instructions need to be clear and visible to the road user, with sufficient repetition to allow them to be absorbed.
9.6 As part of a wider strategy to ensure compliance with signals, engaging with the Driving Standards Agency and others, there also needs to be communication of the enforcement mechanisms and how people will be monitored. This will serve to maximise compliance with signals by highlighting the methods of detection of any breaches.
The communications strategy for the M42 pilot
9.7 The communications strategy for the M42 hard shoulder running pilot involved a mix of direct communication with the public by way of leaflets, email and advertisements, and also briefing the media and providing them with information to inform articles that they had decided to run on the project. In the future, if hard shoulder running and other interventions become more wide scale media interest is likely to diminish, and so methods of direct communication with the public are likely to be used more.
9.8 During the first period of testing, between 29 August and 7 September, only short sections of the hard shoulder were open, and only for short periods of time. For this phase, it was decided that the most appropriate method of communicating the changes to drivers was through regional travel media. The aim was to give the operational details of the pilot. This involved issuing a written bulletin to travel news providers, followed up with a phone call to 'trusted' traffic presenters. West Midlands Traffic Officers were also briefed during this stage of the campaign and leaflets to local stakeholders were sent.
9.9 The second phase of testing started on 5 September, which was accompanied by a press notice and local newspaper advertising. Space was made available in senior officials' diaries for breakfast interviews. An email was also sent to the 4,000 subscribers to the Active Traffic Management section of the Highways Agency website.
9.10 The third phase of the plan was a media briefing by senior officials to national, regional and specialist press held on 12 September, plus media interviews. There was another week of local newspaper advertising during this stage, and poster advertising in motorway service areas and local shopping centres began.
9.11 The final phase, from 13 September included follow up interviews on the scheme. The motorway service area advertising and local leafleting continued into this stage.
9.12 The advertising, literature and media relations focused on the following as key messages:
- Additional capacity. We are using the hard shoulder as a running lane to add up to 25% additional capacity. We are making the best possible use of the space available to help keep the traffic moving.
- Easy to use. The system has been designed to be intuitive. The hard shoulder should only be used when you are directed. This direction will usually be a speed limit above the hard shoulder but may also be an arrow directing you onto the hard shoulder. Follow the overhead instructions.
- Safety is crucial. Safety is very important to the project, and additional safety benefits such as emergency refuge areas every 500 metres, the latest emergency phones, full lighting and comprehensive CCTV controlled by the HA RCC at Quinton.
- Cost Benefit. The project offers significant cost and environmental benefits over widening. To widen the hard shoulder running stretch would cost approximately 5 times what has been spent on the scheme
- Innovative. We are using the latest technology to tackle congestion.
- Environmental. The additional 25% capacity had been made available completely within current land boundaries.
Impact of communications in the M42 pilot
9.13 As part of the assessment of the success of the M42 pilot, research was commissioned by the Highways Agency into driver reactions to the system. This research found that high customer satisfaction levels have been achieved within the first year of operation.
9.14 While initially reactions to variable speed limits (without the hard shoulder open) did show an increased perception of stress and decreased feeling of safety, this trend reversed over time. This was sustained in relation to the hard shoulder running phase.
9.15 A good understanding of the relevant signs and symbols was shown by the results of the project. Most drivers responding to the initial survey were able to correctly identify the signs used to set the variable speed limit and control lane opening and closure. This level of understanding increased in the follow-up survey, in which almost all respondents were able to correctly identify the meaning of the signs. Respondents in the foreign drivers’ focus group also found the signs and symbols used by the system to be clear and easy to interpret.
9.16 The most commonly cited sources of information for hard shoulder running, 3 and 4 lane variable speed limits were television and radio news, the motorway signs, word of mouth and newspapers. Only a small number of respondents stated that they were informed by leaflet, while a slightly larger proportion were informed by the internet, posters, adverts in motorway service areas and exhibitions. This is important to have in mind when considering any future communications strategy for hard shoulder running or other interventions.
9.17 The project has shown high levels of customer satisfaction in terms of visibility, clarity, and helpfulness of the gantry signs and the level of traffic information provided to drivers. The vast majority of road users felt adequately informed about the traffic conditions and felt more informed about traffic conditions since introduction of hard shoulder running. Driver recollection of the speed limit displayed was very high. In the survey, only 2 of the 25 drivers who stated that they deliberately avoided using the hard shoulder attributed this to the fact that the signs were confusing. A total of 722 respondents did not use the hard shoulder, and of these a further 12 stated that this was because the signs were confusing. Overall, only 14 of the 1200 respondents (1.2%) said they found the variable speed limit signs confusing.
9.18 The success of the communications strategy and the high level of driver education and information are likely to have made a significant contribution to achieving the very high levels of compliance with speed limits and lane directions seen by the scheme (98%). It may also have been a contributing factor to the low number of accidents observed.
9.19 We therefore recommend that wider scale roll out of advanced signalling and traffic management techniques such as hard shoulder running should be accompanied by appropriate measures aimed at ensuring the public are properly informed about how hard shoulder running operates and the benefits its effective use brings, building on the successful elements of the M42 communications activities.
Stakeholders' views on communications
9.20 Stakeholders from across our advisory group have stressed the importance of good driver education and providing suitable information to drivers on how hard shoulder running works. A number of stakeholders representing road user groups stated that they had been involved in briefing their members in relation to the M42 pilot and said that they, along with other road user groups would be happy to provide information to their members on the operation and benefits of hard shoulder running systems. This could be by way of articles in any publications they produce for their members, or by specific information leaflets on this topic. We recommend that in devising and implementing our communications activity we explore opportunities to work with the representatives of various freight and road user groups, looking for ways to maximise the receipt and effectiveness of our messages.
Specific stakeholder engagement
9.21 As part of any hard shoulder running scheme on the motorway network it will be important to involve specific stakeholders from an early stage in the plans. The main group where this will be especially important are the emergency services, although road user groups will also be important partners for educating drivers.
9.22 Working with the emergency services is important firstly convince them of the safety of the system’s operation and any measures implemented within their area. But secondly, it is important that members of the emergency services understand how the system operates, and the arrangements for responding to emergency incidents, for example driving down lanes which have been closed to traffic to allow emergency access.
9.23 The emergency services were fully consulted on the detailed arrangements for dealing with incidents in relation to the M42 pilot. Similar detailed engagement will be needed both on a local and national basis if hard shoulder running is to be rolled out on a wider scale. As chapter 5 explained, concerns have been expressed by the Chief Fire Officers Association, which relate primarily to the fact that there has not yet been a major incident to test in full the emergency access arrangements on the M42 scheme. We will need to work through these in detail as the operational regimes of any future schemes are developed.
Summary of conclusions
9.24 To summarise:
- Any wider scale roll out of hard shoulder running and other advanced traffic management interventions should be accompanied by appropriate measures aimed at ensuring the public are properly informed about how hard shoulder operates and the benefits its effective use bring, building on the successful elements of the M42 communications activities;
- In devising and implementing our communications activity we should explore opportunities to work with the representatives of various road user groups, the driving standards agency and others, looking for ways to maximise the receipt and effectiveness of our messages;
- In operational terms, it will be crucial to work with the emergency services both locally in relation to any specific future hard shoulder running scheme and nationally, to agree the protocols that will underpin the arrangements for dealing with incidents on a more managed motorway network.