Friday 26 July 2013

The Ultimate Dual?

The A9.

There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that this road has, and has had a terrible reputation for accidents. There are a couple of reasons for this.

1) It is a single lane carriageway, so when drivers want to overtake slower moving traffic they have to overtake into the oncoming lane.

2) There are junctions where cars come on and off the A9. That means fast moving traffic meets slow moving traffic.

These two issues can be summarised by pointing out that, drivers like to go fast. Let's not beat about the bus here, cars were invented to get people from one place to the next faster than they could do by walking. Yes, there was the horse, but they polluted the place with their poo, Cars are much cleaner......emmmm

Anyway, the point I'm getting at here is that speed is likely to be a contributing factor in nearl all of the collisions and road deaths that occur on that road. Therefore, the answer is obvious....

Dual the A9 allowing the drivers who want to drive faster, to drive faster.

Sorry?! What do you mean that isn't the obvious answer?!?!

Actually, you might be right. Perhaps, there is another solution. Perhaps if we were to apply a technology that has been proven to lower speeds and to save lives, that might be the answer? Nah. Average speed cameras aren't anywhere near as sexy and are less likely to win votes in the North of Scotland, than a sexy, shiny dual carriageway could be. Cynical, me?

However, I'm digressing from the point I want to make.

Lives. Our lives are worth something. In fact our lives and the worth of our lives can be put in a cash value. As part of my work I've been writing about QALYs. That is a measure of the cost associated with the quality of someone's life over a year. It's used in health economic assessments to determine the cost effectiveness of treatments. Yes, its a bit controversial, but there are thresholds on how much the NHS is willing to spend to keep you alive and to provide you with a good quality of life. Generally, if you as a person can gain 1 QALY (1 year of good quality of life) from a particular treatment for less than £30,000 then the treatment is good value.

So like it or not, in the governments eyes our lives have value. QALYs are simplistic, and don't take into account many other value factors that a persons life brings, but it illustrates the point. The government (and the NHS as a result) put costs on our lives. A fact of life I'm afraid.

Last year 9 people died on Scotland's roads who were cycling. Last year 14 people died on the A9.

The A9 upgrade is currently estimated to cost £3bn. The cost of making Scotland a cycle friendly nation is £100m per year. Now it's hard to compare these figures as they stand, as the £3bn figure would be the total cost (of course, it will inevitably cost more). But lets say that 10 years worth of investment in cycling would result in an equivalent life saving effect of dualling the A9 (assuming that dualling the A9 will actually have a life saving effect, there are arguments that it wouldn't). We will assume all the lives are saved in both cycling and the A9.

A9: 14 people per year saved = £3bn:  Cost per life £214.3m

Cycling: 9 people per year saved = £1bn:  Cost per life £111.1m

So in this simplistic analysis it would costs half the price to save a cyclists life than it would to save a motorists life (yes I fully expect people to comment on cyclists not being worth as much...blah, blah, blah)

But, and it's a big but.....the 9 lives saved directly by building cycle infrastructure is but the tip of the iceberg. Cycling is a health providing activity. The more people cycle, the more healthy a nation becomes and the longer that people live and the more economically active those people can be. So if we encourage cycling and make it safer, and more people do it, we will be saving far more many lives than the 9 described above and giving something back to the economy.

I can't think of a way that dualling the A9 will save lives....perhaps a ambulance or two will get to someone quicker.

Of course, if I'm honest, no matter how safe a countries cycle infrastructure is, more people cycling will inevitable lead to more cyclist deaths. But, not only can that be offset by the better quality infrastructure, but it is completely overwhelmed by the number of lives it saves due to the health benefits.

So if our government in any way followed an evidence based approach, and actually thought just a little bit about  what would be the most common sense approach, they would invest in safety cameras for the A9 and use the saving to invest in things like cycling. Saving the lives of drivers, cyclists and importantly, people who aren't yet cyclists but would be if it was safer.


I started this blog a couple of days ago (work and family life kind of gets in the way of my blogging) and in that time something almost miraculous happened. The Scottish Government started investing in average speed cameras on the A9!

I must admit I was taken aback by this when I read it. Look at the article and look at what Keith says.

Average speed cameras systems have a proven track record of reducing casualties and excessive speed and their high visibility leads to better compliance of the speed limit.

Yes, we've been telling you this for ages, and yet you've always ignored that advice up until now. Transport Scotland even quoted the A77 statistics where average speed cameras have been very successful in
delivering a 46% reduction in fatal accidents and 35% cut in serious accidents.

So I have to hold my hands up and say something that I never thought I'd hear myself say.

Well done Keith!

But wait.....all is not entirely rosy in the garden. Keith also says in the same article,

dualling will be the long-term solution to the safety issues on the A9

Ah....... So this is a stop gap measure. I'm going to be honest here and say that to some extent I agree with the police officer in the article who points out that speed cameras alone could still cause issues. I do actually think that there are certain parts of the A9 that would benefit from dualling. Occasional stretches of dual carriageway might reduce (the idiot) driver's stress. But this is not Keith's plan. He wants a lovely, sparkling super fast motorway to replace the A9....sorry, did I say motorway...sorry I meant dual carriageway....

However, looking at things with the glass half full, perhaps, just perhaps, this is the first softening of the transport ministers position. He'd never admit that of course, but you never know. What I think it does show is that if we keep up the pressure, things can change.

I'll be keeping up the pressure.


  1. Having lived & worked in Inverness for 8 years and has a number of years of using the A9 all year and all weathers I'd make a few observations.

    Some parts of the 'new' A9 replaced parts of the 'improved' A9 constructed barely 2 decades earlier to replace the old A9, which in turn had diverted from the original road (but at least that was after about 200 years to amortise the original cost).

    As the bits of the 'new' A9 opened the crashes often migrated to the point where the straight speedway converted to a more typical Highland Road - and as yet no one has done an analysis of crashes that happen where the drivers, fuelled up to travel fast are suddenly on roads where 30mph is a more appropriate speed and you have other vehicles coming towards you in the same lane (clue you both slow down and pull over in to passing places). It is a common experience - you drive a couple of hours on the motorway and then turning off to drive in a town at 30mph feels grindingly slow until your brain adjusts to this.

    We see/saw the same effects on the A84 and A85 heading from Stirling to Crianlarich, and on the Laggan road (A96). The carnage not only grows but migrates. Motorways may be 'safe' but will deliver crashes when the drivers leave them and don't immediately change their driving style.

    Do we need a dual carriageway A9? Frankly NO, there is hardly any traffic using this road outside the holiday peak periods, and if the investment was judged on the return and utilisation to the same level as a railway, it would have been downgraded or ripped up with traffic once again going through the by-passed settlements, years ago.

    I don't travel North so much these days by road but if experiences on the M74 and A66 are anything to go by I reckon that on somne nights I could drive the 108 miles from Perth to Inverness and never see another vehicle going in my direction with perhaps less than 10 coming the other way. That barely justifies the broad single carriageway let alone building a second one.

    Driving at night, as I prefer to do, the long straights and bland roadside vista of the 'new' road gets very boring and potentially sophoritic, so I would switch back to the old road, It barely took much longer, and in some places is actually the shorter route to take. This road would be equally deserted but with the useful function of providing a local network connecting settlements to the North and South of the watershed at Druimoachdair.

    The current road quality and geometry mean that there is no 'discomfort' in driving the route at over 100mph, aside from some poor sighting distances for safely approaching junctions, and corners or hill crests but only those drivers who consciously modify their speed and cover the brake pedal as they approach a hazard like a side turning, are likely to ease the pace. The detail is not to dual the carriageway but to re-design it to be driven at or below the speed limit, not above it.

  2. If the cameras give a significant improvement to safety then I can't see the (very expensive) full dualling going ahead, it is more likely there would be selective widening or dualling short stretches to enable overtaking.

    The cameras might help car drivers overtake HGVs who would have to stick to their speed limit of 40mph.

  3. I'm generally totally for average speed cameras on just about any major road in Scotland but I really can't see the benefit for the A9. I've not looked at the details/locations/causes of the fatal accidents on that road, but driving up and down it twice a year based on personal observations, I'd suspect it's often the batshit crazy overtaking moves because drivers have been stuck behind a lorry/caravan/slow driver for the last 5 miles on a non-dual section of the road. Given that they've been stuck at 40mph for so long they are probably safe to assume they can still do their suicidal/murderously ridiculous overtake and still be well under the average speed that would trigger any speed ticket. We all know there are plenty of bad drivers out there and while we can debate the costs involved I genuinely think dualling the full length of the A9 is the only realistic option to increase safety.

    Don't get sucked in to competing with other safety campaigners for the A9 or other roads for budget - even if you win, you lose. It has to be about expanding the budget for road safety / improvement in general for all users.

  4. From and news reports (mainly I think there were 15 people killed on the A9 in 2010. 3 of these were on sections that are already dual-carriageway, and another 3 were single-vehicle collisions (1 hitting a pedestrian). One of other was killed by a speeding lorry driver who fell asleep and might well have crossed over any central reservation. So I'd guess that at least half the deaths on the A9 in 2010 would not have been prevented by dualling.
    Stopping car drivers speeding after they've overtaken others at 50mph would make them less likely to bother trying to overtake.