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3 Oct 2014
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Roger Harrabin Road Signs Reduce Safety
By Roger Harrabin
Environment Correspondent

Road planners have been urged to dig up the pavements in Britain's cities, remove the traffic signs from junctions and strip the road markings showing right of way.

A traffic consultant Ben Hamilton-Baillie told the Institution of Civil Engineers that safety could paradoxically be improved by increasing the perception of danger at junctions.

The new approach is catching on fast in Holland and Denmark - the pioneers of road safety - and relies on behavioural psychology.

Removing all signs of priority from a junction acts to heighten awareness among drivers that they might be involved in a crash. They then slow down and make eye contact with other road users to establish who makes the next move.

Some of the newest junctions in northern Europe are now being returned to their pre-car state - a simple flat square with no raised pavements and no indication to drivers or pedestrians of who has right of way.

The idea is said to have reduced accidents without affecting journey times - but it relies on cars travelling at below 20 mph - the speed at which eye contact is possible. The junctions might work in the UK in areas where traffic speeds are low at rush hour, but otherwise engineers would need to reduce the speed limit. The 30 kilometres an hour limit (18mph) is increasingly the norm in northern Europe, where children use the roads far more than they do in the UK, with less chance of being hurt.

The idea was greeted with incredulity by people questioned by the Today programme near a crash hotspot in north London. It is likely to anger the more radical motoring organisations, who will see it as another blow to motorists' freedoms. And it will raise scepticism among engineers, who have spent the last 40 years installing safety features to prevent crashes at junctions. There will be fears in particular about driver responses in the early days when such minimalist junctions are first introduced.

But the proposal chimes with the approach of last week's report by the Transport Select Committee which argued that cars should be forced to go slowly in cities so they don't frighten cyclists and pedestrians off the road.

The report challenged the Prime Minister to decide whether he wanted to save lives or gain favour with the motoring lobby.

The Institution of Civil Engineers might be put off the idea because if it succeeds in the long term, it would be in danger of making itself redundant.

Institution for Civil Engineers
Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee

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