CHAPTER FIVE CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Summary of issues
5.1 There is a certain degree of variation in the definitions of rural roads and this presents difficulties when trying to quantify the problems of rural safety and compare possible solutions. It is suggested that a single definition for both accident statistics and traffic estimates is devised and used throughout the UK.
Driver behaviour issues
5.2 From the literature, it appears that the main behavioural factors likely to affect rural road safety are speed (whether inappropriate or not), impairment (alcohol, drugs and potentially fatigue) and use of seat-belts. Young drivers (particularly males) are singled out as being particularly at risk as they are more likely to speed, drink or drug-drive and consequently are more likely to be involved in high speed accidents resulting in death or serious injury.
5.3 There are clearly-established relationships between accident occurrence, severity and mean speeds and, therefore, any measures which reduce speeds are likely to have a positive impact on rural road safety. The 'speed management' philosophy is cited as a potential tool for reducing speeds and it is hoped that the proposed assessment framework for speed limits will go some way to ensuring consistent speed limits across the rural road network.
5.4 There is little evidence to suggest that alcohol or drug use are more of a problem on Scottish rural roads than on urban roads but clearly, the consequences of impairment are potentially more serious on rural roads due to higher speeds. It is suggested that more research is carried out to establish the extent of the problem on Scottish rural roads and to identify specific measures.
5.5 Driver fatigue is clearly a problem which is almost exclusive to the rural situation. However, until fairly recently, it has been regarded as purely a problem on motorways. The most recent research suggests that there could be a significant number of sleep-related accidents on some rural non-motorways in England and it is suggested that a Scotland specific study is considered to quantify the extent of the problem here.
5.6 Driver distraction, particularly from mobile phone use, is an ongoing concern, although as with alcohol and drug impairment, there is little evidence to suggest that it is more prevalent on rural roads.
5.7 The literature suggests that seat-belt usage in Scotland (and Great Britain as a whole) may actually be higher on higher speed rural roads than on urban roads. However, this does not mean that Scotland should be complacent. The benefits of increasing seat-belt usage are most likely to be seen in reduced fatalities and serious injuries and, therefore, it is suggested that efforts directed at increasing seat-belt wearing rates should be continued.
Road environment issues
5.8 Scotland's high proportion of single-carriageway roads has been cited as an explanation for the country's higher than average rural accident severity rates. The three most common rural accident types are run-off-the-road, head-on and junction accidents.
5.9 The literature suggests two main aims - firstly to reduce the risk of accidents occurring and secondly to reduce the consequences when an accident does occur. Speed management is cited as a tool to achieve both of these aims. The concept of the 'forgiving roadside' addresses the second aim.
5.10 The literature revealed that modern road designs are safer than older designs and, therefore, continued effort should be applied to upgrade the highest risk sections of road to modern standards. The EuroRAP approach provides a way to prioritise such improvements.
5.11 Some road users are particularly vulnerable to rural road accidents - in particular, young drivers and motorcyclists account for large numbers of deaths and serious injuries. Children, pedestrians and cyclists account for far fewer casualties on rural roads than on urban roads (primarily due to lower exposure) although cyclists are more at risk of dying on rural roads than in urban areas (per km travelled).
5.12 Research has shown that tourist and visitor traffic significantly increases the number of accidents in rural tourist areas of Scotland but that the overall rate of accidents is not increased during tourist high season. It is not clear whether foreign drivers are at greater risk of an accident than local drivers. However, it is suggested that it may be useful to ascertain tourists' attitudes and experience of driving in Scotland to help target future intervention measures.
5.13 It appears that emergency service response times could have a more profound impact on rural accident survivability in Scotland than in other parts of Great Britain. It seems clear that improving emergency service response times to rural accidents could bring significant benefits. Technology may have a part to play in this area and the European Commission has aspirations to equip all new cars with 'mayday' systems from 2009. However, there is scope to better identify the benefits of improved response and it is suggested that a specific study be considered for a part of rural Scotland.
Gaps in literature / further research required
Quantification of rural road problem in Scotland
5.14 The current published statistics do not give enough detail about the accidents on Scottish rural roads. This makes it difficult to prioritise areas for action. It is suggested that a specific in-depth examination of the Scottish STATS19 database with the emphasis on rural road issues be carried out. This could be done relatively quickly and would help to prioritise action.
5.15 It is also suggested that future road accident statistical publications treat rural and urban roads separately and go into more detail on the factors associated with rural road crashes. This will give a better basis on which to evaluate any rural road safety strategy and monitor progress.
Lack of knowledge of sleep-related crashes in Scotland
5.16 There is no published research on the extent of sleep-related crashes specific to Scottish roads. As this cause could contribute to up to 20% of rural non-motorway crashes, it is suggested that a Scottish specific study is required.
Benefits of education/publicity measures targeted at rural situation
5.17 Very little literature was found dealing specifically with campaigns in the rural situation. It is suggested that a pilot project to inform drivers of the specific risks associated with rural roads could be developed and evaluated.
Emergency service response specific to Scotland.
5.18 Whilst there is some evidence of increased road accident mortality in rural areas of Scotland, the benefits of improving emergency response times are not clear. It is suggested that a multi-agency project, involving everyone involved in the emergency response process could be developed to evaluate the potential benefits and identify best practice.
Recommendations for action
5.19 In the short-term, there are a number of potential areas where effort should be targeted:
- Campaigns must be part of a strategy which includes enforcement and engineering changes. Therefore, it is recommended that a rural road safety strategy is developed and adopted.
- Education and publicity campaigns should continue to target young drivers who are disproportionately represented in rural road crashes.
- In addition, campaigns should be considered which highlight the dangers of rural roads to all drivers and try to erode the complacency that rural roads are safer because there is less traffic.
- Efforts should continue to remind drivers of the dangers of impairment, especially alcohol and fatigue.
- Recreational motorcyclists should be targeted through campaigns and training to reduce their risk on rural roads.
- Additional emphasis should be given to the potential for relatively low-cost engineering solutions and speed management tools.
Medium and long term
5.20 In the medium-term, effort should be directed at improving the road infrastructure to reduce the potential for crashes and reduce the consequences when they do occur. The EuroRAP process provides a consistent way of identifying high risk roads and should be used to prioritise improvements. Consideration should be given to the use of innovative engineering solutions such as cable barrier medians on some single carriageways although it is recommended that these be carefully evaluated before widespread use.