Safety Performance of Major Tourist Routes - Pilot Study

Monash University Accident Research Centre – Report No. 127 - 1997

Authors: Corben, B.F., Dyte, D., Diamantopoulou, K. & Mullan, N.

Full report in .pdf format [3.9MB]

Abstract:

This pilot study aimed to examine road traffic crashes along a major Victorian tourist route, addressing the likely growth in crashes, potential countermeasures, including proven road-based measures applied at high crash locations, and road user and vehicle issues. Because of its strong national and international promotion, and anticipated high growth in tourism in coming years, the Great Ocean Road was chosen for investigation.

The road safety problem along the Great Ocean Road was defined through analysis of reported casualty crash data, and discussions with local Police, and representatives of VicRoads and Community Road Safety Councils. Route inspections were also conducted. An average of some 60 casualty crashes were reported for the Great Ocean Road each year, during the period 1985-1994. While the overall crash problem appears not to be growing, motorcyclist crashes are both substantial in number and increasing. Crashes tended to be of above-average severity, with running off the road on curves being the single, most frequent crash type, followed by collisions between vehicles from opposite directions. Most crashes occurred in 100 km/h speed zones, with summer months and weekends, especially Sundays, being the most common crash times. A large majority of crash-involved drivers and riders resided in Victoria, while less than 5% reported overseas addresses.

Serious safety concerns are closely related to the unique geographic and topographical features, and physical restrictions of the Great Ocean Road. Given these conditions and the road’s tourist function, extra attention should be paid to road quality to compensate for inherent hazards. Many sections have experienced high casualty crash concentrations and are amenable to enhanced safety from properly targeted road improvements, supported by enforcement and behavioural change initiatives addressing excessive driver and rider speeds, risk-taking, and lane tracking errors/compliance. Scope also exists for improving pedestrian safety in townships.

The pilot study recommends a strategic approach for the Great Ocean Road and for tourist routes in general. The strategy includes reducing speed limits, in recognition of the tourist function of the route and its inherent dangers, supporting enforcement and publicity, and programs of low-cost road improvements at locations with high crash concentrations, safety-oriented education and marketing strategies, and police enforcement directed at unsafe behaviours at high risk times. The strategy’s potential should be further strengthened through effective partnerships between tourism, Police and other state agencies, municipalities and local communities.

The potential benefits of such a strategy are likely to be comparable with those of high-performing "black spot" programs which reduce casualty crash frequencies and costs, and deliver benefit-to-cost ratios typically ranging from 4:1 up to 8:1. Many of the proposed road-based countermeasures can achieve crash savings of 10 to 60%.

Executive Summary

This pilot study aimed to examine road traffic crashes along a major Victorian tourist route, addressing the likely growth in crashes, potential crash countermeasures, including proven road-based measures applied at high crash locations, and road user and vehicle issues. The project has indicated the level of benefits expected from the recommended countermeasures.

After assessment and discussions with officers of Tourism Victoria, the Great Ocean Road was chosen for pilot investigation. It is being strongly promoted nationally and internationally, and is expected to experience the highest growth in Victoria’s tourism market in coming years. The road safety problem was defined through analysis and assessment of reported casualty crash data for the ten-year period 1985-1994, discussions with local Police and VicRoads’ officers, and with members of the Barwon Region and Warrnambool Community Road Safety Councils. Route inspections were conducted by MUARC staff.

An average of some 60 reported casualty crashes have occurred along the Great Ocean Road each year. While the overall crash problem appears not to be growing, motorcyclist crashes are increasing. Crashes tended to be of above-average severity, with running off the road on curves being the single, most frequent crash type, followed by collisions between vehicles from opposite directions. Most crashes occurred in 100 km/h speed zones, with summer months and weekends, especially Sundays, being the most common days for crash occurrence.

The vast majority of crashes-involved drivers and riders were Victorian residents, while less than 5% reported overseas addresses. Male drivers were more often involved in casualty crashes than were female drivers. In particular, male drivers and riders in the range 18 to 25 years were highly represented. Crashes involving motorcyclists (overwhelmingly males, and most frequently aged between 18 and 35 years) represented about a third of all casualty crashes. Off-path on curves, on straight sections and collisions with vehicles from the opposite direction were the three major crash types for motorcyclists.

Serious safety concerns are closely related to unique geographic and topographical features, and physical restrictions of the Great Ocean Road. Frequent changes in horizontal and vertical alignment, narrow lanes and a hazardous roadside, together with the tendency for road users to be unfamiliar with the route, exacerbate crash risks. The very factors which elevate crash risk are an intrinsic part of the road’s attraction for tourists. Eliminating these factors may prove impracticable in some cases, too costly in others, or cost-effective in yet others.

Given the road’s tourist function and physical nature, extra attention should be paid to road quality (i.e. design, operation and maintenance) to compensate for inherent hazards. Many sections have experienced high casualty crash concentrations and are amenable to enhanced safety from properly targeted road improvements, supported by enforcement and behavioural change initiatives. Scope also exists for improving pedestrian safety in townships.

In the absence of cost-effective road improvements, increased safety may result from targeting undesirable forms of road user behaviour in these high risk environments. The main behaviours include excessive vehicle speeds and/or risk-taking (especially by motorcyclists), lane tracking errors, and disregard for double centre lines.

It is important that a strategic approach be adopted to assist in maximising countermeasure effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. This pilot study suggests a strategic approach for the Great Ocean Road and for tourist routes in general. Desirably, the strategy should target a sizeable portion of the crash problem, be based on proven approaches to reducing crashes, use cost-effective measures, and be practical and readily achievable. Having regard to these criteria, the suggested approach to enhancing route safety is:

  1. Reduce the speed limit along relevant sections of the Great Ocean Road from 100 km/h to either 70 or 80 km/h, in recognition of the route’s predominant tourist function, its inherently hazardous alignment, topography and roadside features, and the lack of familiarity many drivers and riders have with the route. Reducing the speed limit is inexpensive and can affect safety over long distances. If supported with appropriate enforcement and publicity, this measure would address the main crash types, the hazardous roadside, lane tracking errors and conflicts with unexpected manoeuvres by tourists. Realistic speed limits should improve the effectiveness of Police enforcement.
  2. Implement a program of low-cost road improvements, at locations with high concentrations of target crash types. Measures might include limited road widening, tactile edge and double centre lining, shoulder sealing, elimination of potholes, loose material and surface irregularities, skid resistant pavements, improved superelevation on curves, clearing or shielding of roadside hazards, sealing of intersection and driveway approaches to the Great Ocean Road, channelisation of high-crash intersections, reduction in excess road widths in townships, upgrading and signing of alternative routes connecting with the Great Ocean Road and extra turn-out facilities.
  3. Implement targeted safety-oriented education and marketing strategies for tourist activities along the Great Ocean Road, drawing upon the collective expertise and roles of tourism agencies, related enterprises and community groups.
  4. Increase targeted police enforcement of unsafe behaviours, during high risk times.
  5. A generic, tourist route safety strategy should be based not only on the above principles, but should be flexible enough to address both the generic and route-specific crash characteristics, using relevant vehicle, behavioural, and road-based countermeasures, which might include:
  6. Reduce speed limits if road alignment, topography or roadsides are inherently hazardous.
  7. Implement targeted programs:
  8. of low-cost, proven road and traffic engineering improvements;
  9. of safety-oriented education and marketing strategies;
  10. of police enforcement, directed at unsafe behaviours at high risk times;
  11. established upon effective partnerships between tourism and state agencies, local government, Police and local communities.

Being a pilot study, potential benefits of countermeasures could not be thoroughly examined. However, implementing low-cost, targeted road-based improvements is consistent with the highly successful "black spot" principles which reduce casualty crash frequencies and costs, and deliver benefit-to-cost ratios typically ranging from 4:1 up to 8:1. Furthermore, many of the proposed road-based countermeasures can achieve crash savings of 10 to 60%.

Sponsoring Organisation: Baseline Research Program - Department of Justice, Transport Accident Commission, Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV) Ltd, VicRoads