New tech to cut country road crashes

Country road with digital speed signs on the side.

Sue Hewitt

Posted June 26, 2019

Sensor-triggered speed signs on rural roads will slow drivers at high-risk intersections.

Innovative technology will reduce crashes at high-speed rural intersections which claim the most lives on Victoria’s regional roads, according to RACV and other road safety experts.

A new variable speed-limit system on highways is triggered by sensors that detect cars approaching from side roads and temporarily reduce the highway speed from 100kmh to 70kmh.

One of the first sets of electronic ‘side road activated speed signs’ is now on the Glenelg Highway where it intersects the Dunkeld-Cavendish Road and Penshurst-Dunkeld Road, with plans for about another 30 dangerous rural intersections.

In the past five years, 70 per cent of fatal intersection crashes in regional Victoria happened on high-speed roads, and the risk increased where minor side roads met main roads. 

Emily McLean, RACV roads and traffic senior engineer, says the reduced highway speed-limit sign is only active when cars are sensed on side roads, so do not cause unnecessary delays to highway traffic by imposing permanent lower speed limits. She says lower highway speeds significantly reduce the severity of a crash if it happens.

“Where you have side roads meeting high-speed main roads, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Emily says. 

She says the new system improves safety by warning highway drivers there is traffic approaching from a side road while allowing motorists on side roads a safer opportunity to join the highway traffic.  

Scott Lawrence, director of the Safe System Road Infrastructure Program, Regional Roads Victoria, says intersections in regional areas are high-risk. 

“It can be difficult for drivers to find a break in the traffic to turn across or onto a main road – and if a crash does unfortunately occur, the impact at such high speeds can be devastating,” he says. 

“We’re installing this new technology to reduce both the likelihood and severity of crashes at these intersections, to prevent serious injuries and save lives.” 

His organisation, along with the Transport Accident Commission, is spending $350,000 per site out of a $1.4 billion ‘Towards Zero Action Plan’ budget to reduce Victoria’s road toll to less than 200 by 2020. 

The new technology is “exciting”, according to Dr Blair Turner, a chief technology leader at the Australia Road Research Board (ARRB) and member of the Australasian College of Road Safety’s executive committee. 

He says the technology was first introduced in Sweden, and then New Zealand from 2012, where two studies showed reductions of up to 89 per cent in fatal and serious crashes. 

He says the ARRB has conducted multiple trials of the technology around Australia and found its success was “staggering” compared to more costly and complex infrastructure measures. 

A New Zealand Transport Agency spokesman says original trials of the technology at 10 New Zealand rural intersections showed a significant drop in fatal and serious crashes and a 51 per cent drop in the overall crash rate. 

David Moloney, the Southern Grampians Shire director of infrastructure, and acting sergeant Darren Smart of the Hamilton Highway Patrol, support the initiative and are waiting on preliminary findings on the Dunkeld site. 

Find out more at Regional Roads Victoria.