HC Deb 22 April 1996 vol 276 cc36-7W
Mr. Nicholls

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) what studies he has(a) commissioned and (b) evaluated into (i) the need to erect a barrier fence to prevent vehicles coming into collision with mature trees planted on embankments and verges, (ii) hazards posed by the installation of an intermittent barrier, (iii) means to prevent the impact of vehicles with lighting columns installed on verges and embankments and (iv) the use of barriers to prevent vehicles coming into contact with adjacent roads, waterways and other hazards; [25144]

(2) what his policy is on the installation of crash cushions; [25148]

(3) what criteria determine whether the drop on verge side of a road or carriageway should be protected by a verge barrier; and when such criteria were last revised; [25142]

(4) what assessment he has made of the effect of installation of crash cushions on (a) the Birmingham ring road, (b) the Aston expressway, (c) the Stourbridge ring road, (d) the black country route and (e) the Queen Elizabeth II bridge; [25150]

(5) if he will commission a study to consider provision of a continuous verge barrier on roads, motorways and dual carriageways (i) with traffic flows of greater than 10, 000 vehicles per day and (ii) with an accident incidence rate of more than 1.5 times the average for that class of road. [25145]

Mr. Watts

I have asked the chief executive of the Highways Agency to write to my hon. Friend.

Letter from Lawrie Haynes to Mr. Patrick Nicholls, dated 22 April 1996: The Secretary of State for Transport has asked me to reply to your recent questions about the use of crash cushions and safety fences and barriers at the roadside verge. Where a safety problem is identified on the highway it is the Agency's practice to consider what the range of options are for dealing with it. These options would embrace both measures that would help to avoid the risk occurring in the first place and those that would mitigate the effect of an accident should one occur. Thus, should a situation arise where the use of crash cushions was an option, then it would be considered alongside other possible options. It is difficult to generalise as to where and in what circumstances they would be used since this depends to a large extent on the local situation in terms of type of problem, highway layout and other local factors. The Highways Agency has made no assessment of the crash cushions installed on the following roads since none of them form part of the trunk road network:

  1. (a) Birmingham Ring Road,
  2. (b) Aston Expressway,
  3. (c) Stourbridge Ring Road and
  4. (d) Black Country Route.
Since 1991 the operator of the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge has reported 9 incidents of vehicular impact with the crash cushions installed at the toll booth buffers. Regarding the use of vehicle restraint systems along the verges of highways, the criteria for their application, last revised in 1985, are given in the Highways Agency Standard TD19/85 "Safety Fences and Barriers". A copy is in the House of Commons Library. Prior to this revision a study was carried out into the need to protect vehicles from mature trees on the embankments or verges of highways as well as the need to protect adjacent roads, waterways and other hazards. The results of this study were incorporated into the advice given in TD19/85. This Standard is currently under review to see whether any changes are required to cater for example, intermittent safety fences and barriers and protection to lighting columns. In making the review we will be taking account of international best practice. Regarding your question on the use of continuous verge barriers, I would point out that nearly all trunk roads have traffic flows greater than 10,000 vehicles per day. The cost of providing continuous verge barriers on all motorways and trunk roads is estimated at over £500 million and unlikely to be cost effective. Where accident rates are above average along a stretch of road, or at a particular site or junction, they are investigated to determine if there is an identifiable cause that can be remedied. Verge barriers would be provided if that was the appropriate solution. The present policy of only providing vehicle protection at identified obstructions and hazards is well tested and considered to be cost effective. It is reviewed from time to time and amended in the light of changing circumstances if this was cost effective to do so. In the circumstances I see no need to commission a study to consider the provision of continuous verge barriers at the moment. I hope that this is helpful.