A77 Driver Distraction – Substance of Objection & Research

Annex – A77 – Driver Distraction : Substance of objection

 

The A77 is a trunk road for which Transport Scotland are responsible on behalf of the Scottish Government.

Over a 10 year period 30 people have lost their lives in 24 crashes on the stretch of the A77 between Fenwick and Stranraer with 243 people seriously injured and 830 sustaining minor injury.

Transport Scotland have implemented a number of different improvements to the route in recent years including traffic calming measures within the village of Lendalfoot itself. Transport Scotland’s objectives are to :-

  • reduce accidents and hence improve safety
  • improve travel times to and from ferry terminals at Cairnryan and Stranraer
  • increase the number of overtaking opportunities on the route ; and
  • maintain the asset value of the A77 route.

These objectives are endorsed and supported by the Carleton Bay Association and the local community in and around Lendalfoot.

The A77 Safety Group is a partnership comprising Transport Scotland, South Ayrshire Council, Strathclyde Police, Strathclyde Fire and Rescue and Amey. The A77 Safety Group web site describes the A77 as a “popular road used by tourists travelling to Ayrshire which is renowned for its scenic beauty and historical interest ”

The Carleton Bay Association is very concerned at the potential danger to road safety posed by the development of the windfarm as proposed by Ecotricity on Straid Farm at Lendalfoot. Given the proximity of the windfarm to Lendalfoot Village and the coast we believe it will create a real risk of driver distraction negating the benefit of the road safety improvements which Transport Scotland has invested in and is committed to.

There are four particular concerns to be considered and in respect of which we think it is appropriate for Transport Scotland to undertake a risk assessment and object to this particular proposed windfarm development:

  • The visual impact of the proposed windfarm from the top of the Benane when the bay at Lendalfoot comes into view will be dramatic and dominant. That section of the A77 has an overtaking lane on the south running carriageway and is a fast section of the road. Vehicles travelling north can overtake crossing into the overtaking lane when clear but sight lines make it already difficult for drivers to make good judgements in that regard.
  • The introduction of traffic calming in the village of Lendalfoot itself together with the 40 mph speed limit have been a welcome improvement. The road is however still busy and dangerous particularly for those (including many children) crossing the road to access the beach and those walking on the pavement. Given the visual dominance which the proposed windfarm will have in the village there is a heightened risk of driver distraction which already exists with the proximity of the sea, Ailsa Craig and activity on the beach which is well used; and
  • Driving south from Girvan as you drive round the corner at the point known locally as Adam and Eve the view of Lendalfoot opens up and the proposed windfarm will suddenly appear in the side and rear view of drivers. Again the proximity of the proposed wind farm to the coast and the A77 and the scale of the turbines create a very serious and obvious risk of driver distraction.  The section of road between Adam and Eve and the village of Lendalfoot has a number of tight corners and has been the location of at least one fatal accident.
  • There are two elements related to flicker effect which we believe could add significantly to driver distraction.  Shadow flicker arises as the shadow of the moving turbine  moves across the ground behind the turbines and is most common when the sun is at a low angle in the sky facing the windfarm in the morning and in the evening in the summer and just about any time in the winter.  The effect in relation to the proposed windfarm will vary but will be most prominent for both north and southbound traffic on the short section of the A77 between Lendalfoot and Adam and Eve as you approach or pass the turbines when the effect could momentarily distract drivers.  The second effect known as strobing flicker is potentially the most significant and occurs when the sun is reflected off the turbine blades like a strobe light.  This can occur at any time of the day and from anywhere the turbines can be seen especially from the south west and east.  The proposed windfarm will be facing south west and our concern is that the strobe effect will increase the risk of driver distraction for both drivers travelling north from the Bennane Hill to Lendalfoot and in the rear view mirror of south bound traffic.

The risk of driver distraction has been acknowledged by Ecotricity and is cited by them as the reason for modifying the plans for the proposed windfarm removing the two most westerly turbines reducing the number of turbine from 16 to 14.  Ecotricity have however focused on the risk of distraction to north bound drivers and not south bound drivers where we think the risk of driver distraction is as great if not greater.

Carleton Bay Association have raised the above concerns with Transport Scotland and the A77 Safety Group.

 

Driver Distraction Windfarms – Research

There is little published research on the issue of driver distraction relating to wind farm developments although it has been successfully raised and found to be a valid ground of objection in relation to a number of planning applications for proposed windfarm developments.

Schreuder (1992) for the Netherlands National Road Safety Research Institute states that no research results have yet shown how much a wind turbine can attract attention to itself. However, it is widely regarded that advertising does not have a detrimental affect on road safety. Schreuder (1992) looks at two accident studies that aim to find a link between the siteing of wind farms and accidents. Neither study finds an increase in road accidents following the construction of a wind farm. In fact both show a slight decrease.

However Schreuder (1992) concludes that windfarms by their conspicuous and at present “unusual” nature will attract attention. Therefore it is recommended that windfarms are not located where the driver must pay particular attention to the driving task, such as road intersections.

Drivers who have a gradual view of wind turbines are unlikely to become distracted whilst drivers who get a sudden unexpected view of a wind turbine are more likely to be distracted by it. However as wind turbines become more commonplace this reaction is likely to decline.

The accident record, and the complexity of the road surrounding a proposed windfarm development needs to be assessed when considering the likely impact of a wind turbine or windfarm. Whilst no correlation has been found between windfarms and accidents wind farms themselves and construction activity have the potential to distract. If the wind farm is constructed close to a particularly complex or hazardous section of road the application should be treated with caution because any accident that results from distraction will cause disruption to the local road network and have a cost implication for the local economy

In some of the previous planning appeals the issue of driver distraction has been raised. Where this has been considered it has been considered in conjunction with the local road conditions. In particular the operation of the surrounding road network and complexity. Schreuder (1992) states that wind turbines should not be located where the road user must devote particular attention to the driving task such as road intersections, sharp and unexpected bends and crossings for pedestrians and cyclists.

Therefore the surrounding road network should be reviewed with particular attention paid to the complexity of junctions, traffic flows and the presence of short headways between vehicles, accident record and type of accidents that are occurring near the proposed wind turbine. Where heavy traffic flow and short headways are found particular caution should be taken because any additional distraction may avert the drivers attention from the road and result in a rear end shunt type accident.

Whilst Schreuder’s paper is over 15 years old and windfarm technology has advanced but many of the points raised are acknowledged by the windfarm industry to remain relevant today.

There are reports of fatalities in Germany in relation to the windfarm at  Westphalia in 1997 being the first of three public fatalities at the same location put down to driver distraction at an accident spot where the wind turbines first become visible to drivers. The second and third fatalities being in 1999 and 2003.

There is also a report in relation to another windfarm in Germany at Hamm-Sieg of  73 accidents in 4 years over a 4 km stretch of road where the wind turbines are clearly visible. Four of those accidents were described as very serious but none were fatal. The reports as to cause cite driver distraction but also components and ice reported to have been thrown 400 metres onto and over the road.