Report on Motoring 2016

Incident response and variable message signs

3.3 Incident response and variable message signs

Aside from the headline opinions on congestion levels, the 2016 Report on Motoring also looked at drivers’ views on the way in which highways authorities around the UK deal with major incidents on motorways and major roads.

Two-thirds (66%) of motorists agree that Highways England, the Welsh Government, Transport NI and Transport Scotland, in partnership with the emergency services, do their best to minimise delays when major incidents occur. Only 11% of drivers do not think this is the case. And drivers largely accept that incidents and delays are a fact of life: 86% share the opinion that major incidents will occur from time to time and that major holdups are therefore inevitable.

Just under half of those questioned (48%) agreed that the authorities did their best to keep them informed of the reasons for major incidents and the likely delays as a result, with only 16% disagreeing with this view.

In terms of the variable message signs now in widespread use on motorways around the UK, almost two-thirds of drivers (63%) say they trust the accuracy of the information regarding road incidents (19% do not).

Six in 10 (59%) trust the accuracy of the travel time estimates on such signs (against 18% who do not), and 69% find these estimates useful (versus 9% who do not).

Four in 10 (43%) believe the accuracy of these signs has improved over the past 12 months, while a very similar proportion thinks their accuracy has stayed the same (42%).


Perception of variable message signs

66% of motorists agree that Highways England, the Welsh Government, Transport NI and Transport Scotland, in partnership with the emergency services, do their best to minimise delays during major incidents

10% of drivers disagree and feel they don't do their best to minimise delays

48% agree authorities do their best to keep them informed of the reasons for delays

63% of motorists say they trust the accuracy of the information displayed on variable message signs


The introduction of the ‘all lane  running’ smart motorway has  increased the importance of  motorists’ compliance with red X signs and variable speed limits in  order to protect the safety of road  users involved in incidents on live  running lanes. The vast majority of motorists (90%) say they always comply with the red X signs indicating a lane closure on motorways, while slightly fewer (83%) say they always comply with speed restrictions that are, from time to time, imposed due to accidents, bad weather or volume of traffic.

More than four in 10 drivers (41%) claim to have been delayed by 45 minutes or more as the result of a major incident in the past 12 months. But while the figures  given above suggest that motorists  have high levels of confidence in information displayed on roadside  variable message signs, radio  traffic news remains the most common way for drivers to get  information about delays.

Almost four in 10 (38%) of those who have suffered a long delay in the past five years say they found out the reasons for the hold-up by listening to radio traffic reports (compared with 18% who found out from variable message signs), while a third (32%) say they discovered how long a delay was likely to last via the radio (24% from signs).

A clear majority (72%) say they would expect to receive details of incidents and delays via the radio, compared with 47% from signs and 36% from live traffic information on their satnav.

I am surprised by the high level of dependence on the radio to find out about traffic problems. Today’s motorists have the likes of variable message signs and live traffic information on their satnavs, but it appears radio is still king.

- David Bizley, Chief Engineer, RAC

41% of drivers claim to have been delayed by 45 minutes or more as the result of a major incident in the past 12 months

72% of motorists says they would expect to receive details of incidents and delays via the radio