Intensifying construction and maintenance measures
When it comes to optimizing the infrastructure, one issue must not be forgotten: the condition of roads, bridges and tunnels. In this regard, an important role is played by aspects such as the condition of the road surface; predictability of the road design and layout; visibility of the carriageway; design of roadside areas; road markings; design of intersections and junctions; adequate space for evasive and overtaking maneuvers; and, for bridges in particular, the general structural condition.
Back in November 2008, the European Union published “Directive 2008/96/EC on road infrastructure safety management.” The European Commission considers infrastructure to be a fundamental element of its policies for enhancing road safety. These not only concern new building projects, but are also and above all focused on increasing the safety of existing roads. Of course, it is impossible to rebuild every dilapidated road or to renovate it completely, but if all construction and maintenance measures are planned, prioritized and performed with the aim of achieving maximum safety, this can result in significant safety improvements.
Bridges, for example, are one of the major weaknesses in Germany’s road network. One problem here is material fatigue, which can be attributed on the one hand to the sometimes advanced age of the structures and, o on the other hand, to the traffic load, which has been rapidly increasing for a number of years. The enormous increase in heavy goods transportation is having a particularly severe impact on bridges. This is why the structural tests stipulated in accordance with DIN 1076 are an essential element of the measures for improving the road infrastructure. Regular expert inspections ensure that structural faults are detected and countermeasures developed at an early stage, and also are an important component in improving road safety.
Safety hazards on rural roads
Alongside highways, rural roads are also an accident blackspot for commercial vehicles. On narrow roads in particular, things can get really tight. If a vehicle leaves the lane in the direction of the roadside, the condition of the edge strip and shoulder often determines the subsequent maneuverability of the vehicle. If there is no edge strip, the wheels leave the road immediately after crossing the margin line. The friction coeficients also change, and, as is often the case, the road shoulder is lower than the road surface, making it hard to steer the vehicle back onto the lane. Inexperienced drivers tend to turn the wheels of the vehicle excessively in an attempt to overcome the differences in height. As soon as the vehicle gets back into the lane and onto the normal road surface, it abruptly heads in the direction of oncoming traffic; all this is combined with a very high risk of skidding. Where space allows, the width of the edge strip should be adapted to the respective speed and lane configuration. The bordering shoulder should be at the same height as the lane and secured so that it does not subside after heavy rainfall or if a truck drives over it.
More truck parking spaces needed
A risk regarding road safety that should not be underestimated is the severe lack of parking spaces along highways. For years now, new truck parking spaces have been established in Germany by both the federal government and states. But with the increasing number of goods transport operations, it has not yet been possible to remedy the deficit. According to experts, German highways alone lack thousands of parking spaces for trucks – according to the calculations of the Federal Highway Research Institute, the shortage will reach 26,000 by 2030.
Driving and rest times are one of several significant problems in this regard. Truck drivers are required to adhere to these times, with failure to do so potentially resulting in drivers facing severe penalties. To avoid violating driving times and due to the lack of parking spaces, truck drivers often park their vehicles in the entrance and exit areas of rest stops and service stations as well as on hard shoulders. This presents a high accident risk because the trucks are often inadequately secured and are almost impossible to see by other road users at night due to poor contrast. According to the “Vereinigung Deutscher Autohöfe” (VEDA – association of German truck stops), the resulting fatal accidents have continuously increased in recent years. Prior to 2016, one driver on average died over three years; in 2016, four drivers were killed and in the First half of 2017, six drivers were killed.
To remedy the situation, an intelligent parking system was introduced at the highway service station in Montabaur, for example. A display at the service stop lets arriving truck drivers know whether any parking spaces are available. The parking spaces are then assigned to the drivers via a computer system. Parking is organized on the basis of when vehicles will leave – drivers who have to depart early in the morning are assigned parking spaces at the front. This means that the trucks can be parked in columns, making optimal use of the small number of parking spaces available. According to VEDA, the potential areas “off” the highway could increasingly be considered as an alternative to this solution.
Legislators could also take appropriate action in this regard. Until now, the penalties for exceeding the maximum permitted driving time are much more severe than for parking in an inappropriate place. Making both penalties equally severe could deter drivers from parking their vehicles in hazardous locations. This would just shift the problem, however, because truck drivers would then have to continue driving until they found an available parking space. Fatigued drivers are at an increased risk of being involved in an accident.
In addition to the lack of parking spaces, truck drivers have increasingly had to contend with organized crime in recent times. Cargo thefts are increasingly occurring especially in non-secure parking areas. Some truck stops have addressed this problem and are offering the first “completely secure” parking areas with the “premium parking” concept, with 20 truck stops throughout Germany now offering this service. In the Netherlands, parking spaces along two highways are being monitored by a central control center as part of a project. If a vehicle stops at one parking lot after another and thereby arouses suspicion, the control center can send a police patrol to the site. Monitored parking spaces have also been set up in Belgium, England, France and Spain.