: A tragedy leads to motorway hazard signs warning of adverse weather -

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A tragedy leads to motorway hazard signs warning of adverse weather

#1 User is online   summer '85 

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Posted --

On the 13th of March 1991, there was a horrific pile up on the M4 between junction 14 and the Membury service station when a van driver fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into the central reservation. Too many drivers were driving too close and too fast for the patchy fog weather conditions for the area. A 45 vehicle pile up resulted and 10 people were killed.

A question was asked in parliament on why the motorway warning signs were not activated warning drivers of the fog problems. The response was that  motorway warning signs were not used to warn drivers of adverse weather but since this tragedy, this was changed.



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#2 User is offline   StephenS 

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Posted --

What hasn't changed, sadly, is the behaviour of some drivers. I missed the M42 pile-up of March 1997 by a few minutes. The fog was just coming down as I drove through the section where the accident took place. Warning signs, six years on from the M4 disaster, were still rudimentary and activation was slow, and cars were disappearing into dense fog at well over 70mph, driving nose to tail. I was shocked but unsurprised to see the scenes of mangled, burned-out cars and trucks on the news later.

I'm sure there's been some improvement since, but in the UK and worldwide, incidents like these just keep on happening:

http://en.wikipedia....hicle_collision


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#3 User is offline   dave bullock 

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Posted --

Hi Stephen, in the majority of cases it is now the case that the road signs/ VMS are switched on following observations/ reports from persons (e.g. Highway Patrol Officers, Police Officers etc) travelling on the roads, or via the multitude of traffic cameras dotted around the network.

Persons in a local control room trigger these on (or off) to warn the road users. Surprisingly few signs are linked to sensing technology (which of course take out the subjectivity of the observation) but a number of signs are now linked to visibility, wind, ice and snow sensors, and even ones that measure the depth of the water layer on the road (to warn of aquaplaning) and the reduction in grip levels. These then trigger the sign when certain threshold values are reached.

The other advantage of using sensing technology is that the 'cry wolf' scenario is removed, where signs continue to warn of adverse conditions when those adverse conditions have long gone, as once, for example, visibility returns to the safe values, the sign switches off.
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#4 User is offline   Coolcirrus 

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Posted --

We discussed this on ukww before. The problem is that weather warning signs and speed limits are not mandatory. The only variable speed limits that actually seem to work effectively are those enforced by cameras and fines. A sign saying "fog" is not all that helpful. What does it mean.... fog imminent, or 10 miles down the road, and how dense? Often one is warned of fog when it is already foggy or misty - does this mean it will get worse ahead or does the sign refer to what we can already see? It would be more useful for sensory technology to update the signs to indicate the actual visibility in metres. The VMS infrastructure is inconsistent too - e.g. on the M27 there are frequent VMS but on large parts of the M3 there are none. So, drivers heading north up the M3 past Winchester will find leave a high-signage high-information zone and enter one with almost no signage and information updates. This leads to a false sense of safety simply because there are no warning signs present to display any hazards that may arise.

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#5 User is offline   Stuart_W 

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Posted --

To be honest, unless the hazard is invisible (black ice, gas....), then the main problem is the drivers. People just don't drive safely to the conditions and so many people drive far too close the vehicle in front which even in fine driving conditions is very dangerous.

One of my most scary driving experiences was going over the Pennines (West to East) on the M62 in the early 1990s. Must have been February and there had been freezing fog and a couple of fatal accidents the day before. As I crossed the hills the fog came down and everything froze (no clean windscreens). Visibility was very poor (maybe 50 ft or so) but people were still hurtling along and close to the vehicle in front (comforting to follow the lights in front?). About 3 miles West of Leeds the traffic eventually came to a stop and I was in the inside lane. A small low loader about 2 vehicles behind me stopped in the middle lane and I watched and listened in horror as it shuddered 3 or 4 times as vehicles ploughed into the back of it. Completely stuck in my car with no escape was terrifying until I knew there was a few hundred yards of stationary traffic protecting me. Once we got moving I drove into Leeds and found a cheap hotel for the night.

You won't get me any near a motorway when fog is about. I can drive to the conditions, it's the other morons who can't.
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#6 User is online   John Mason 

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Posted --

I have to agree - what is it with speeding at all costs? On a clear road with top-notch weather, I've driven at 120 in the past and been a passenger at 135. Many of us have had similar experiences. The worst thing that can happen is perhaps a blowout, which would mean wipeout at such a speed, but the outcome of that would be very similar at 80 - one would possibly less squished, but nevertheless very effectively squished, I guess. These days I rarely exceed 60 - one naturally thinks of the wastage of energy and to stop being a resource-squandering idiot. But going flat-out in awful conditions  - fog, ice, snow, deluge: all of those take stupid to 7 levels beyond weapons-grade. People who insist on driving like that should have their licences taken off them for good.

I had a good - no, excellent - driving-instructor, who drummed the adage "better late than dead" into my brain. He was right then and remains so. His severe bollockings during lessons are one good reason why I am still alive!

Cheers - John


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