Putting a price on delivering a good driving experience
When considering new schemes, be they route safety, congestion management or capacity improvement schemes, it is easy to get consumed by the technical details such as the specifications around road design, surrounding topography considerations, and of course the ever increasingly difficult funding process.
Part of the consideration should always be around demonstrating a return on investment, however, there are a number of ways in which to measure the success of any scheme. These can include reduction in incidents or KSI figures, improved or more uniform average journey times, or factors such as greater throughput of traffic, but an increasingly important measure that can affect all of these is the improvement in driving experience delivered to road users and how they feel when using that stretch of road.
In terms of measuring how implementing a scheme can improve the driver experience, this is harder to quantify. Much of this is subjective to the type of person driving on the road and the road conditions at a specific time. However, in light of the increasing awareness of how stressful situations impact on mental health it is worth considering how the introduction of calmer and safer driving can have a positive impact on the road user, their actions and the subsequent benefits such as reduction in incidents and KSIs that should follow.
But how do you measure the driving experience and what impact this has on the users behaviour?
Richard Llewellyn, Lecturer in Transportation Engineering and Member of Edinburgh Napier’s Transport Research Institute has been trying to answer this question by carrying out a user survey of the A1 as it runs from the English border into Scotland.
Two years ago, Clearview Intelligence worked with Transport Scotland and Amey to install over 4,100 SolarLite road studs along various sections and junctions covering 14 miles of the A1 from the Scottish border to the Granthouse Junction. The works were completed in early 2016 including a full refreshment of road marking. The full story on the reasons for the new safety measures and background on the reasons can be found in their case study, but the main aims of the solution were to target three concerns:
- General visibility to and from the junctions;
- Lack of consistency of signing and road markings;
- The lack of definition at and around the junctions.
The installation of the studs gave a visual consistency to the route by ensuring all major junctions were treated similarly. The studs allow the junctions to be defined to approaching drivers and to operate in darkness without the need for external power.
To understand how these changes have improved the driving experience, in the Winter of 2017 Richard Llewellyn engaged with the local communities along the A1 route to collate and analyse road user feedback from residents. The work centred around a postal questionnaire and an online survey of the qualitative impacts of the SolarLite stud scheme.
The final paper will be published in the summer but initial results based around a 5% return of the online questionnaire provides a very positive picture overall. 80% of the respondents were aware of the installation of the SolarLite studs along the route and 93% felt the clarity of the junction layout had improved or strongly improved.
Survey Quote: “They have made a HUGE difference to my confidence in driving on the A1 at night – I can see the road ahead and know that I am approaching a bend or a junction which was impossible before. FANTASTIC improvement. More road studs as soon as possible please”.
Unsurprisingly, the initial results show that confidence levels of users of the road drop between daytime to night-time driving. There is a 19.5% shift in confidence from ‘moderate and above’ confidence during the day to ‘slightly or not confident’ at night.
Critically though, 78% of the respondents felt their confidence in driving along the route at night had improved or strongly improved, which was one of the key aims of the road improvement scheme.
It is this shift in confidence levels that will be having a lasting effect on reducing driver stress, which in turn will have a positive impact on the user’s mental health. So, whilst trying to place a direct financial figure on this improvement is very difficult, it can be proven that carefully thought out, innovative road schemes can have both direct and indirect impacts on the broader road using community.