OPINION: Signs of our times

By: Rod Hannifey

Roadwork signage is there to protect us from the foolhardy, but is it always necessary?

OPINION: Signs of our times
Roadworks, the never-ending cycle


Travelling through roadworks on the Newell recently, I started thinking of the cost of the three groups controlling the traffic and how and why it is done this way. We will come back to signage etc in a bit.

There were two blokes standing on the side of the road (only one needed to operate the radio, but maybe they were simply chatting or changing shift?) about 500 metres down from the stop/go lights. They had a UHF and were calling trucks approaching the roadworks telling them, "Traffic stopped ahead, proceed with caution". Then we had the traffic light controller at the lights and he pushed the buttons to change the lights and held up the stop sign.

Then we had the job where due to the dangerous nature of the road, having been told and slowed well before the work, then stopped at lights, we have the pilot ute that travels in front of each group of vehicles as they travel through the works.

I can see why such things are in place. There are idiots out there who do not watch the road, who want to travel through roadworks at phenomenal speeds when there is work happening. Then there are those who have killed others, including road workers, because they were distracted or simply stupid.

I am sure you all know of the major crash north of Dubbo last year where a person driving a truck ploughed into traffic stopped at a red light for roadworks. People died and should not have. Only a few of us who may have been in a similar position can truthfully imagine watching in your rear-view mirror as a big truck comes smashing into the back of you. Some probably did not know what hit them and the damage and loss of life was a tragedy for all involved.

Roadwork speeds

So now we have people on UHF radios watching the trucks and calling them as they approach. What happens if they are distracted then have the radio off or are simply stupid? That radio person may be able to warn the light controller, but what can they do then?

I believe we need some discussion on roadworks signage and speeds. We will look at two extremes – the first, shoulder work where the road itself as we have been travelling on for the last 20 years is not being touched. Yet often we will have much reduced speed limits that apply 24/7 even when there is no work under way. Following such events as the one above, some sites are now extending the speed limits out for kilometres beyond the work, some even on the side after the work for no visible reason.

We should all be happy to slow down to have the road fixed to be safe and to ensure the safety of those working on the road and to consider the safety of others and ourselves, especially if the road surface is majorly affected due to such works and/or repairs. Should we be required to do 60km/h in the middle of the night when no one is on site and we are still on the same road as we have been before?

I have put in a complaint when the roadworks signage is insufficient, or more specifically when I believed there was imminent danger because there was not enough notice for the trucks and/or the volume of traffic or when the terrain made it hard to see early enough. I have also either stopped at the end and spoken with someone at the roadworks or spoken with the traffic light person. In trucks, many will call and warn other trucks but the cars mostly don’t know or recognise a problem till it is too late.

Road use contribution

There is then the other end of the spectrum – major repairs and dirt sections which are exacerbated by the weather, potholes and uneven or soft ground. Would you agree most people with half a brain will act accordingly most of the time? We don’t want to lose control and die, let alone cause the death of another, so we understand and accept the need for slow travel here.

We are asked to contribute to the roads we use and that is fair. However, we are not the only ones using them so surely we should not be expected to cover all costs. The railways are certainly used by more than one company but they have complete control over what traffic is allowed. You and I just can’t put our push trolley on and rail to Perth. They also then must surely have a standard to meet for the weights they carry, but we don’t seem to have a national standard for roads, let alone for repairs to them.

Are we getting good value for the funds we are being charged to cover our road use? Are we getting good warranty for any work done, be it major upgrades or repairs, whether simple and small or major repairs? How do we find that balance of safety for the road workers, getting all drivers to comply and yet not bringing in more and longer and slower signage, that I fear only makes some of those who won’t slow, even less likely to comply?

If you could change one thing with roadworks and/or the signage, what would it be? We live on the road more than most, we feel and are affected by it far more than car drivers, yet we are all too often overlooked when changes are made.

Have any of our associations asked us for comment or contribution or are they even aware of the issue? 

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