Reading the safety signs: how VMS is increasing in significance on Australian roads

As work ramps up on major infrastructure projects around Australia, safety equipment specialist Saferoads is highlighting the importance of reliable variable message signs for contractors on the road.Infrastructure Australia’s most recent Infrastructure Priority List identifies major road and transport infrastructure projects such as WestConnex, the Melbourne Metro Rail and Queensland’s Ipswich Motorway Rocklea – Darra Stage 1 C all as high-priority projects.

Many of the projects earmarked here are in various stages of planning and development, with some already underway or in the tendering process.

Likewise, projects such as the Monash Freeway in Victoria, the Pacific Complete Highway Upgrade in New South Wales and Queensland’s Toowoomba Second Range Crossing and Sunshine Coast Motorway Upgrade are well underway in 2017.

The recent progress on these projects means 2017 is set to be a significant year for infrastructure projects across the country and, in turn, for many other corners of the wider civil engineering and road construction industry.

Trent Loveless, National Sales Manager – Traffic at road safety product and solutions specialist Saferoads, says that with an increase in infrastructure projects around the country comes the need for high-end quality road safety equipment for road construction sites, variable message signs (VMS) in particular. “We’re definitely seeing an increase in demand and requirements for VMS from road authorities,” he says, adding that VMS is increasingly becoming part of bids for contracts too.

“VMS on major road projects serve an important purpose in terms of getting road users to understand there are roadworks ahead, they need to slow down and they need to be patient and understanding.”

The implementation of such safety measures have been found to work and effectively get the message across to the public, he adds.

“There’s a definite push for VMS as they form a very important part of any traffic management plan and mitigation impacts, particularly after a challenging period on Australia’s roads over the holiday period.

“Even if you look at 2016, it was an absolutely horrendous year for work-related deaths, not specifically in roads but other aspects including farming and agriculture, electrical, machinery and on construction sites.”

Mr. Loveless says that government bodies such as Worksafe Victoria are expanding their presence on a lot of worksites, including road construction workzones.

“There’s definitely an increase this year – a lot more WorkSafe inspectors are out there doing safety checks on worksites.”

Mr. Loveless explains that with the mix of demand and push for more comprehensive safety measures on road worksites, now is the time to invest in reliable VMS equipment for the long term.

“Typically, contractors will hire it for a short-term basis or for the length of a job or contract,” he says. “With our latest VMS system – the ZONE Essential VMS Board – we’re offering very good value for money for the long term.”

Contractors, he adds, need to look at making that investment in VMS as it’s a buoyant period in the market with more projects on the horizon.

“There’s no better time to look at capital equipment investment with the level of infrastructure work on right now Typically, companies would give it due consideration with a three to four year window to seek a full return on investment.

“With the ZONE Essential the payback period is less than 80 months with this very competitively priced VMS unit.”

The ZONE Essential VMS Board utilises a high-end LED display, available in amber and five colours, with fixed 300-watt solar panels, a 400-amp-hour battery capacity, all with a fully galvanised trailer.

“Our VMS system is STREAMS compliant, meaning that, as road authorities continue to work toward future investments in intelligent transport systems, Saferoads’ VMS system will have the ability to be integrated into their network and is well prepared to cater for future developments in the road space.

“It’s a very simple VMS unit – it’s basic and offers a very robust platform for Saferoads Zone software,” he says.

Saferoads’ VMS cloud-based management software includes personalised secure login, no software installation requirements, low battery and movement alarms, remote monitor location and usage as well as accessibility from any smart device.

The technical abilities of the system go hand-in-hand with Saferoads’ comprehensive support service, which includes 24-hour, seven-day helpline and customer service for its VMS software.

“A few of the bells and whistles have been removed and made optional on the VMS to make it more affordable and easier for contractors to purchase outright.

“Any contractor wants to make sure they’re getting return on investment.”

A series of guidelines to use VMS safely and effectively have been developed for applicants to Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission’s Community Road Safety Grants Program.

While the directions were tailored specifically for applicants to the program, the same guidelines are relevant to safely utilising the safety systems.

Safe placement

1. VMS need to be placed far enough from the road so that they are not a hazard to vehicles that may run off the road.

2. VMS should never be placed on the tip of a curve where there is a heightened risk of a run-off-road incident.

3. Choose a location where the sign can be installed and removed safely.

4. Avoid placing the VMS at a location where it might distract drivers from a potential road hazard, such as opposite a driveway.

Site selection

1.
A VMS is most effective at a site where a significant proportion of the traffic exceeds the limit, such as those areas with a history of speeding.

2. Ideal sites are those where the VMS can be seen from a distance, however, without inconveniencing local residences.

Rotation

1. Because the impact on local drivers may wear off, the guidelines suggest rotating the VMS through three to four locations over a two-week schedule.

2. Combined with police enforcement, the guidelines say VMS will have an added effect if the message is appropriate.

Messages

1. The guidelines suggest messages be short and clear, especially in high-speed zones where drivers have less time to read them. It again suggests aiming to use no more than 12 characters per line, and no more than three lines.

2. If it’s a speed feedback message, the directions suggest configuring the VMS to only display speeds up to seven to 10 km/h over the limit, at which point a simple message such as “TOO FAST” displays. This discourages attempts to set “records”.

3. Placing VMS close to permanent speed signs helps to emphasise the speeding detected, the guidelines also add.

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