BLOG: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

The age old saying ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ is often applied to clothing or domestic products. But the same can be said about road safety; by spending more money and investing in a quality solution, this can deliver long term, cost effective benefits.

But what happens when the problem you set out to fix is resolved and the solution needs replacing; do you revert to the cheaper option because there is no longer an issue? Or maintain the status quo and continue with a like-for-like replacement?

And how do you ensure that the maintenance team leading the upgrade work understand the reasoning behind the installation of a solution, years after it was first installed?

Time for change
Both Newport County Council and Buckinghamshire County Council were recently faced with this dilemma. For years, traditional retro reflective studs were used by default to provide effective delineation. But high accident rates on the A467 in Newport and A4218 in Buckinghamshire meant more needed to be done. So independently, both made the decision to upgrade to solar powered road studs. The studs use an LED to proactively emit light, offering drivers up to 900 metres visibility and a reaction time of more than 30 seconds when travelling at 62 mph.

In comparison, retro reflective studs are reliant upon the beam of a headlight to be seen from only 90 metres away, which gives drivers travelling at the same speed just 3.2 seconds to respond to changes in the road. This enhanced visibility and reaction time means drivers feel much safer driving along the road and the risk of an accident occurring due to poor delineation is drastically reduced.

Following installation, accident rates along the A467 and A4218 reduced for both councils. So, when faced with standard resurfacing works ten years after installation, both authorities realised they had a decision to make; continue with SolarLite Active Road Studs or revert to retro reflective studs?

A direct correlation
With improved safety standards along both routes, there was no longer the high accident rates that had required the councils to intervene as they had done a decade ago. In theory, they could have returned to using reflective studs which, in times of austerity, would have proved to be a cheaper short-term option.

But neither council reverted; both organisations considered the history of the roads and recognised that the reduction in past accident rates was in direct correlation to the installation of solar studs. Therefore, by removing the solution, they were likely to reintroduce the problem and the additional costs associated with accidents.

Furthermore, the proven longevity of the studs meant minimal future maintenance – and therefore less disruption and costs – in comparison to retro reflective studs which could have needed replacing as many as four times during the same timeframe.

A legal responsibility
The 1988 Road Traffic Act, Section 39, puts a “statutory duty” on local authorities to undertake studies into road traffic collisions, and to take steps both to reduce and prevent them. The law states the councils must “take such measures as appear to the authority to be appropriate to prevent such accidents” and which includes the “improvement, maintenance or repair of roads”.

Both Newport and Buckinghamshire upheld their responsibilities by improving and maintaining the roads through the continued use of solar studs. But if other local authorities did not follow their lead and accident rates increased, would they be culpable? Or could it even be considered negligent, given that they have replaced a proven solution with something less effective?

If road users have a legal responsibility to ensure vehicles are safe and fit for purpose, surely the same should apply to road operators? A motorist who replaces a legal tyre with a balding one could argue it is still functional as it enables them to travel. However, it poses greater risks which could eventually lead to an accident. Couldn’t the same be said of roads where solutions have been downgraded? They are functional, but less effective and more dangerous.

Taking the right approach
It’s important that in recognising the benefits brought about by Newport and Buckinghamshire maintaining the status quo in this example, that road operators do not become hesitant in embracing new technology or innovation. Had that been the mindset of these two authorities, they would still be using retro reflectors and not be experiencing the safety benefits brought about by the active road studs.

As well as ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ there is another saying that applies here; ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. There is a balance to be struck between maintaining what works and improving what doesn’t. And those improvements will not be found by reverting to old solutions; advancements can only be made by moving forward.