For fleets with several hundred drivers on the road, this can become a logistical nightmare and delays can mean lost revenue.
Research carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) for the Highways Agency into the causes of congestion found that about 65% was caused by volume of traffic, about 25% by accidents and 10-15% by roadworks.
But where are these highways from hell? Some might suggest the M4 corridor, others would make a case for the M60 near Manchester.
Fleet NewsNet spoke to some of the leading authorities on the UK’s road network, including the Highways Agency, the AA and the RAC, in a bid to find the roads drivers would be well advised to avoid.
ROADWORKS and accidents usually lead to the same outcome – congestion, the bane of company car drivers.
In fact, most congestion is purely down to huge volumes of traffic and although the Highways Agency is attempting to tackle the problem with road improvement schemes, the number of cars in the UK is continuing to grow.
The Highways Agency has introduced traffic calming measures including road humps, speed cushions, build-outs, chicanes, rumble strips and traffic islands.
Variable speed limits are used as roads can take more traffic travelling at 50mph than at 70mph. These also prevent the ‘wave’ effect when several cars bunch and move together.
The Highways Agency has also introduced ‘traffic officers’ to patrol motorways. These deal with incidents and clear roads freeing up police time and congested traffic.
The RAC Foundation lists motorways as the most congested roads in the country. It may be difficult for fleet drivers to avoid these particular motorways but there is advice managers can offer drivers.
Kevin Delaney, head of traffic and road safety at the RAC Foundation, explains: ‘Congestion is a real problem for fleets but it depends on how much control the company or drivers have on journeys. It is better to drive at times when it is least busy but if you can’t control this, it is difficult.
‘There is no easy answer for fleets. They need to look at the sort of journeys drivers make. If there is an alternative it would be a good idea to have the meeting somewhere else. Avoid peak hours, if possible ensuring that drivers travel before 7.30am and after 6.30pm.’
The RAC Foundation does not recommend using local roads as alternatives as accident rates are often higher on A-roads and they can be just as congested.
‘Motorways are still the way to get from A to B,’ Delaney said.
The Highways Agency adds: ‘We want drivers to make more informed decisions about their journeys. We encourage people to check for delays before they travel, to listen to travel news bulletins and to make informed decisions about their route.’
The Highways Agency is setting up a network with the police of seven regional traffic control centres to deal with congestion, including a traffic officer service that will patrol the motorway network and help to reduce delays caused by accidents.
Between 2005 and 2008, the agency is to invest £2.1 billion in improvements such as road-widening schemes.
STATISTICS show that drivers are more likely to have a serious or fatal accident on a rural A-road than on a motorway.
The AA Motoring Trust is currently involved in the ‘European Road Assessment Programme’ (EuroRAP), which measures and maps the rate at which people are killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads.
The research covers more than 850 road sections, of which eight have been awarded a ‘high risk’ rating. The risk is calculated taking into account death and serious injury rates alongside traffic density.
If there are 20 collisions involving death or serious injury on a stretch of road five miles long carrying 10,000 vehicles a day, the risk is 10 times higher than if the road section has the same number of collisions but carries 100,000 vehicles.
Although it is impossible to avoid all high-risk routes, Dr Joanne Hill, senior research analyst at the AA Motoring Trust, says there are measures fleet managers can take.
She said: ‘Fleets have a higher exposure so the risk to company car drivers is higher than the average motorist.
‘We wouldn’t advise avoiding these routes but fleet managers need to raise awareness. Managers could email drivers or include a section in the company handbook to alert them of high risk routes.’
High risk routes
A SEARCH on the Highways Agency website shows that there are currently 467 ‘road projects’ in England.
The Midlands has the highest number of roadworks with 120 sites, followed by London with 119 and the north-west with 52.
It is inevitable that high-mileage company car drivers will frequently encounter roadworks, but if a stretch of road has prolonged roadworks, such as those involved in the recent widening of the M25 around Heathrow, it may be worth taking an alternative route.
Kevin Delaney, head of traffic and road safety at the RAC Foundation, said: ‘I wouldn’t suggest that drivers leave the M25 and travel inside London unless it is a detour to avoid congestion.’
The Highways Agency says it plans roadworks to keep traffic delays to a minimum, ensuring as many lanes as possible open during peak travel times.
According to the agency: ‘Roadworks are planned so the majority of lane closures take place during off-peak hours overnight or during daytime hours outside of peak periods and 99% of our planned roadworks are at night when traffic flows are lower.
‘Cones and barriers are used to keep drivers and workmen safe when road space is restricted. We use reduced speed limits to maintain safety when road space is limited and we use cameras to enforce those speed limits when we know drivers are likely to speed at that site.’
Managing risk key to crash prevention
MORE than 3,000 people are killed and more than 30,000 seriously injured on UK roads every year.
Accidents are more common on certain roads but a number are preventable, according to industry experts.
Bill Pownall, Norwich Union’s risk management strategy expert, says it is up to fleet managers to target risks when an employee first joins a company.
He said: ‘If you get this right at the start, you can reduce the accident rate. At induction, fleet managers need to explain the health and safety policy and the driver handbook.
‘It is a big failing handing the keys to a vehicle and explaining nothing. Many young company car drivers don’t know how to check tyre pressures and oil.
‘Just because they’ve driven one vehicle doesn’t mean they have driven them all.’
Fleets that cite time and money as excuses for not addressing the problem of accidents should realise that the price of prevention constitutes a fraction of the cost of an accident, says Pownall.
‘I call it the £200 rule. Take a driver off the road for a half-day online driver assessment costing £13.50. If it shows they require further training, it will then cost about £165, giving an overall cost of less than £200.
‘Fleets rarely see a motor claim for less than £200 and they would also waste half a day dealing with the accident,’ he said.
Another way to cut costs would be to use a member of staff rather than an external company for training.
He said: ‘Most of what we suggest only requires time and you can train someone in your own organisation to complete the training rather than outsource it.’
UK roads factfile
The Highways Agency has more than 2,000 variable message signs on the network
Source: Highways Agency