Transport chiefs unveil plan to use panoramic views of British countryside to stop driver fatigue
Every driver will have their own solution to managing the monotony of motorway driving.
For some the sounds of a favourite radio station or a game of eye spy will be the answer to keeping boredom at bay and to avoid the danger of falling asleep at the wheel.
But transport bosses believe they may have a completely natural antidote to the tedium of a lengthy stint behind the wheel: The Great British countryside.
Highways England has announced new motorways will be designed to offer panoramic view of the UK’s rolling hills and fields in a bid to stop driver fatigue and to reduce crashes.
The Government-owned company has unveiled a new set of 10 principles which it will follow during the design of its upcoming schemes, including making them innovative, environmentally sustainable and long-lasting.
But the new guidance also includes an ambition to create a road network which will be “appreciated for its usefulness but also its elegance, reflecting in its design the beauty of the natural, built and historic environment through which it passes, and enhancing it where possible”.
Highways England will seek to ensure beautiful landscapes are visible to motorists as it designs £15 billion improvements to the UK’s motorways and major A-roads by 2021.
Mike Wilson, Highways England chief engineer, said: “Creating different vistas, different environments for people to consider, is a way of stimulating the road user.
“You might argue they’re safer because of it.”
Mr Wilson dismissed concerns that drivers could be distracted by the picturesque scenery and said: “They should be focused on the road. But fatigue is a real challenge for road users.”
Interesting views could “help them stay awake”, he added.
Mr Wilson said enabling drivers to see “statement structures” like the Angel of the North in Gateshead and the Willow Man in Somerset gave them them “a sense of location” and acted as a visual reminder that “you’re making progress on your journey”.
Driver fatigue remains a major problem on Britain’s roads.
Some 67 people were killed and 479 seriously injured in crashes in 2016 when driver fatigue was recorded as a contributory factor.
Research cited by Brake, the road safety charity, found that one in six crashes resulting in death or injury on major roads are fatigue-related with the peak times for such accidents between the hours of 2am and 6am and also after lunchtime between 2pm and 4pm.
Drivers at 6am have also been estimated to be 20 times more likely to fall asleep at the wheel than at 10am.
Any emphasis on natural beauty is therefore unlikely to be of much use to drivers when they are most in need of a pick me up.
It is also unclear how beneficial the policy will be to motorists in fully driverless vehicles which Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, has said he wants on the UK’s roads by 2021.
Motoring groups welcomed Highways England’s new emphasis on the importance of design.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said: “Britain has some of the best landscapes in the world, so it’s good to see Highways England play its part in showcasing the nation’s natural beauty to drivers.
“Long distance driving can be a tiring task, so a moment or two of stimulation along the journey can help keep drivers safe and focused behind the wheel. Natural landmarks are also a great indicator of how much further you have left to travel.
“It could also prove popular with passengers as much as drivers, encouraging children to look out of the window rather than distract the driver with a chorus of ‘are we nearly there yet?’
Meanwhile, Steve Gooding, director of motoring research charity the RAC Foundation, said offering drivers panoramic views could help break the boredom of a long journey.
“Driving long distances in heavy traffic can be a monotonous business, and that’s not good for helping drivers stay awake and alert,” he said.
“It is encouraging to see Highways England building the journey experience – including the views along the way – into its design thinking to give us all better, safer travel.
“The other part of the equation is making sure that motorway service stations are welcoming and affordable so that when drivers tire of the landmarks and landscapes there are adequate places to stop.”