Comment: Using our influence to change driver behaviour

James Haluch

James Haluch, managing director for highways at Amey, asks: How do we tackle motorists’ nonchalant attitude towards safety when it comes to roadworks?


How do we tackle motorists’ nonchalant attitude towards safety when it comes to roadworks?

According to research conducted by Opinion Matters on behalf of Amey’s highways business, 59% of UK motorists admit to breaking road safety laws. But what steps can our industry take together to ensure that drivers don’t flout the law? To stop them putting themselves, roadworkers and other road users at risk of injury or death.

It’s extremely concerning that so many British drivers appear to be ignoring safety advice and driving without due care through roadworks.

Figures show that nearly six in ten (59%) of road users who took part in our research say their safety consciousness is not as high as it should be when negotiating roadworks while 74% admit to exceeding speed limits set to protect those working at these sites. 37% of drivers admit to speeding, 24% admit to not giving their full concentration whilst 14% admit not paying attention to road workers.

This blatant disregard for road safety is more prevalent with younger drivers who appear more likely to take risks, with 82% of 17 to 24-year olds admitting to breaking speed limits in 50mph controlled zones, whilst a further 8% say they go over 65mph.

Reflect and react

This research clearly illustrates that motorists need to reflect on their behaviour when driving through roadworks – a challenge that we’re aware may take our industry years to influence yet alone significantly improve.

In the past 12 months, there have been over 500 work-related road deaths on UK roads. A shocking figure that bears some reflection. 

Over the past two years, we’ve experienced 211 incidents involving reckless driving. And the number of accidental incursions - where vehicles enter a sectioned-off area of work for highways operators - reaching close to 5,500 for the same period on the network we manage.

Clearly, it is unacceptable that 87% of the drivers surveyed acknowledged that being a road worker in the UK is a dangerous occupation yet work-related incidents and fatalities are still occurring. 

I am only too aware of the suffering of those who are injured, or killed, while simply doing their job. In many cases, even once the physical injuries are healed, the trauma remains in some form, changing their lives, and that of their families, forever. Our people have the right to return home to friends and family safe and well at the end of the day- it’s not acceptable to me that this isn’t the case.

Very often, despite our best efforts, we have limited influence over the drivers who ignore our signage, damage our vehicles and sadly, at times, injure our workforce. We can, however, use our skills and experience to develop new ways to reduce that risk by being innovative around working methodologies. The question I pose to my team, and the industry, is how do we change driver attitude and behaviour when driving on our roads and through roadworks?

Solving this question won’t be achieved overnight. We will need to incorporate mechanisms to raise awareness of the dangers of drivers' attitudes and behaviours as well as trialling new and innovative ways to tackle these problems, and educate drivers, over a sustained period.

Vision 2030

In 2018, I launched Vision 2030 to address road worker and road user safety, as part of a comprehensive programme to boost productivity, increase technological innovation, improve efficiency and promote greater diversity across the industry.

We are looking to work collaboratively with others to increase the use of automation and digital technologies to help create a safer working environment for our employees and the travelling public. Our industry peers, supply chain partners and our clients must work together to develop industry-wide solutions that benefit all, in order to shift behaviours and make our roads safer.

Injuries that last a lifetime

We’re already in the process of investing in technology that will move our workforce away from working on a live road network. But for one of my team this development was too late.

Last April, at approximately 4am on the M73 near Gartcosh, one of our Impact Protection Vehicles (IPV) was struck by an HGV travelling at full speed (50mph).

All signs and signalling were in place to protect our traffic management crew, but unfortunately a crash still occurred, with our IPV driver sustaining injuries from the strike. The impact of the strike caused the IPV to jolt forward around 40 metres. While trying to regain control immediately after the strike the HGV driver swerved into the middle lane and back, and back again, coming to rest just 20 metres short of our crew.

This is just one example of many. In the last 12 months we’ve experienced four incidents involving our IPVs being struck by motorists, all of which have had the potential of causing fatalities. And this is just at Amey. I know every other contractor would have their own stories to share.

Our research echoes studies carried out by Highways England in May 2018, which revealed a catalogue of serious incidents and near misses ranging from motorists driving into coned-off areas where road workers were working, to physical and verbal abuse.

On average, there are nearly 300 reports a week by road workers of incursions and abuse. These are people who are busy improving Britain’s 4,300 miles of motorways and strategic roads – just doing their day job and who deserve to go home safe and well every day.

George Lee, chief executive of Highways Term Maintenance Association, praised our research, saying that the industry needs to do more to change drivers’ behaviours.

We have a responsibility to keep the UK’s strategic and local road network safe, congestion-free and efficiently managed. This work is fundamental to the nation’s social and economic wellbeing. We all need to play a part in ensuring motorists using our network are aware that their behaviour directly impacts on the safety of those at the forefront of keeping our country moving.

James Haluch is managing director for highways at Amey

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