Dying for a lick of paint

RSMARoad markings provide the best, most simple navigation aid to drivers and little money needs to be spent to cut deaths on our roads, says the Road Safety Markings Association

What price do you put on a life? It is a difficult question and something which will vary enormously depending on your standpoint. An economist or statistician will no doubt be quick to supply a strictly monetary sum based on medical care, lack of income potential and the like – on the other hand, a grieving relative will know that a life is without price. There is, however, something which all would find it had to argue against, that a life, any life, is worth a lot more than the cost of a pot of paint.

Over the past year, the trade association of the companies that paint the lines on our highways, the Road Safety Markings Association, has been running a campaign to bring home to people just how little money needs to be spent to cut deaths on our roads. The association’s message is simple and to the point “what cost a life – a pot of paint”.

The conditions of roads
Towards the end of last year the Road Safety Markings Association (RSMA) published the initial findings of its most recent research into the condition of the road markings in the UK and compared these to the 2010 report on the safety of UK roads compiled by the highly respected and independent monitor of road safety, the Road Safety Foundation.

The RSMA found that eight out of ten of the UK’s most dangerous roads have centre line markings so worn that one third is almost non-existent. Half of the lines fall below the minimum specifiable standard, according the association’s report.

Taking the top ten most dangerous roads identified in the latest Road Safety Foundation report, the RSMA assessed the quality of centre lines. On one of the worst roads – a five-mile section of the A6135 between Ecclesfield and junction 36 of the M1 (Hoyland) – three-quarters of the markings are either barely visible or need an immediate schedule for replacement.

Room for improvement

Conversely, of the ten notoriously dangerous roads identified by the Road Safety Foundation to have improved the most, seven had undergone targeted road marking treatments, with improvements resulting in cutting fatal and serious crashes by as much as 74 per cent.

Understandably, George Lee, national director of the Road Safety Markings Association, greeted the findings with incredulity: “The evidence is stark: eight out of ten of our most deadly roads have the most deadly markings … or in many cases, no markings at all. What’s more, the A18 which previously topped the league as the UK’s most dangerous road now has high quality markings as they were replaced shortly after the initial survey. We anticipate lives will be saved as a result, and would expect it to enter the league as one of the ‘most improved’ in the next Foundation survey in the summer.

“The government is supportive of measures that can deliver substantial rates of return on spending where lives can be saved. Mike Penning, the Roads Minister has given us his assured commitment to road safety, and he recognises that it is the government’s role to provide well-researched and informed guidance for highways authorities when it comes to specifying safety measures.”

Lee asserts that road safety engineering programmes have too often been viewed as discretionary by many authorities and adoption can therefore be hit and miss. He stresses that the RSMA report flags up some serious concerns for the overall conditions of Britain’s road network now, and claims central government’s support is vital in hitting home the message that deadly road markings are costing lives.

Minister's reassurance
In a meeting with the Mike Penning, Lee asked for reassurance that the government’s “localist” agenda would not jeopardise road safety. He received assurance that such a move would be accompanied with sound guidance from central government, supported locally by “good decisions by well-informed people.”

“The Road Safety Foundation set as its theme for the year ahead ‘Saving Lives for Less’ and later this year, the UN is launching ‘The Decade of Action for Road Safety’. We believe that fundamental to both these initiatives are good-quality road safety markings and want this to be supported by government activity and advice,” says Lee.

“Road markings provide the best, most simple navigation aid to drivers. If the UK’s eight most dangerous roads alone can be made safer and lives saved by spending less than a total of £550,000, surely this is a sum we cannot justify saving. This is not about government cut-backs, but about the saving lives and the core spending that needs to be undertaken by highway authorities, year in year out: put bluntly they need to live up to their responsibilities.”

Industry support
Lee and the RSMA is not alone in their belief and have found support from organisations such as the AA, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and in research from the Transport Research Laboratory. In particular, the AA has come out and backed the RSMA’s stance, confirming that for the price of a pot of paint, lives could be saved on many of the Britain’s roads.

“Lives are being saved by one of the cheapest measures in the road engineer’s toolbox: simple white lines,” according Paul Watters, AA head of Public Affairs. “Each year, the UK’s ten most improved roads are tracked by the Road Safety Foundation. Major projects, such as building bypasses and turning stretches of road from single to dual carriageway, are among the more costly measures to reduce fatal and serious collisions.

“At the other end of the financial scale, road markings feature in 70 per cent of improvements annually. Without exaggeration it is true to say that a simple pot of paint can save lives. In particular, highly visible markings at the edge and centre of the road that can be seen on a wet night, are enormously cost-effective in saving lives.”

Winter weather
The long spell of bad weather over the winter has taken its toll on the roads – not just on the quality of the surface, but on the visibility of road markings, according to Watters, who claims that something as simple as a clear set of Give Way markings at a junction costs less than £50 but can make the difference between life and death.

“Drivers must to be able to ‘read’ the road at every turn. Without this most modest of investments, motorists will be driving blind,” he says.

Encouraged by support from road user organisations, the RSMA is determined to have both central and local government recognise the cost-effective contribution good quality road markings can make to the safety of the UK’s roads. Road crashes cost the UK 1.5 per cent of GDP (£18bn), according to the European Road Assessment Programme, EuroRAP. Setting aside the emotional and personal issues relating to death and injury on our roads, the RSMA argues that purely in financial terms, particularly in this age of austerity, spending money wisely to cut down crashes makes sound sense.

A man with a mission
George Lee is a man with a mission and is starting to put the pressure on decision makers and the authorities to have the safety of UK roads improved with enhanced and properly maintained road markings. He has met with the chair of the Parliamentary Transport Select committee, Louise Ellman MP.

Based on the evidence his association uncovered in its report on the UK’s most dangerous roads, Lee has called for a Select Committee inquiry into the state of road markings on the country’s roads and the impact on road safety. Companies that are members of the RSMA are lobbying their local MPs for action and requesting their support in calling for an inquiry.

According to the RSMA, road markings provide the best, most simple navigation aid and warning to drivers. From something as straightforward as a set of Give Way marks at less than £50 to the most comprehensive centre line marking schemes at around £1,500 per kilometre, the association claims that these are investments that no road authority can afford to ignore – because they save lives time after time. While expensive highway reengineering projects may be axed in the coming years due to cost, authorities need not compromise public safety, claims the RSMA.

According to Lee: “Road markings, more often than not, can provide levels of improved safety equal to expensive reconstruction work. Even something as simple as putting edge lines on rural roads can reduce accidents by 30 per cent over all – and nearly 70 per cent at night. Research by Transport Research Laboratory has shown the average reduction in accidents for road marking schemes was 32 per cent while research the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents calculated that markings reduce crashes by 34 per cent.

“It is clear that investing in and maintaining high quality road markings bring enormous road safety and environmental benefits. We as an industry are stepping up our campaign to drive the message home to central and local government policy makers, engineers, specifiers and to the general public that for the cost of a pot of paint a life can be saved. When road maintenance budgets are being squeezed on every side, there are few better ways to improve not only the safety, but the look of a road and with that, public satisfaction.

“We will continue at every opportunity to drive home the message that for the cost of a pot of paint, lives can be saved,” concludes Lee.

For more information:
Tel: 01427 610101
Web: www.rsma.co.uk

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