Australia: Outback roadworks signs, fallen or forgotten, heighten risk of fatalities happening again - - PressFrom - Australia
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Australia Outback roadworks signs, fallen or forgotten, heighten risk of fatalities happening again

00:46  06 november  2019
00:46  06 november  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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a yellow boat sitting on top of a dirt field: Drivers say they regularly see damaged and fallen road signs on outback roads. (ABC Pilbara: Rebecca Parish)© Provided by Australian Broadcasting Corporation Drivers say they regularly see damaged and fallen road signs on outback roads. (ABC Pilbara: Rebecca Parish)

Truck drivers have called for an urgent overhaul of safety around roadworks on outback roads, saying the highways are littered with disused and seemingly forgotten roadworks signs.

They say a horrific double fatality two years ago at a roadworks site appears to have not resulted in any substantive change or improvements in road safety.

A traffic management expert has called for a system of independent auditing of remote roadworks sites, with severe penalties for those found to be breaching standards.

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"More people will die because these road signs are not standing up where we can see them," Heavy Haulage Girls CEO Heather Jones said.

Driver 'didn't see roadworks signs'

The calls come a week after well-known Pilbara pastoralist Kimberly De Pledge was jailed for almost four years after being found guilty on two charges of dangerous driving causing the death of Mark and Lara Dawson in June 2017.

Truck driver Kimberly De Pledge has been found guilty of dangerous driving causing the death.© Supplied: South Hedland District Court Truck driver Kimberly De Pledge has been found guilty of dangerous driving causing the death.

The couple were travelling on holiday in their caravan with their two children along the Great Northern Highway south of Port Hedland when De Pledge's fully-laden cattle truck hit the back of their caravan at Coonarie Creek bridge.

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The accident happened in a section of roadworks that had altered the road surface.

The roadworks came after a bend in the road where both the 80kph and 60kph roadworks speed limit signs were laying flat on the side of the road, although there were similar signs on the opposite side of the road.

The court heard De Pledge did not see the roadworks signs but hit the brakes as soon as he noticed the brake lights on the caravan in front of him.

His vehicle, weighing 117 tonnes, could not stop in time.

Questions over signage remain

Chris Ferris is a former police officer who now runs a contracting business that requires him to travel throughout the state's north.

He said he has reported numerous safety issues to Main Roads surrounding roadworks sites over recent years.

But it wasn't until his neighbour, Mark Green, got caught for speeding in a roadworks zone that he really started to pay attention.

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Chris Ferris has written to WA's Main Roads Department numerous times to complain about inadequate or fallen signage on outback roads.© ABC Pilbara: Rebecca Parish Chris Ferris has written to WA's Main Roads Department numerous times to complain about inadequate or fallen signage on outback roads.

Mr Green, a mobile plant operator from South Hedland, said he was surprised when police pulled him over a couple of days before Christmas in 2016.

"Initially I was bewildered why I was being pulled up, possibly for speeding, but I didn't think I was speeding," he said.

"He said 'Oh, you were doing 116kph' and I thought 'Christmas time, you are being a bit hard but anyway I'll cop it'.

"And he said the worst part about it is you were doing it in a 60 zone and now we are going to have to confiscate your car, which they took for 28 days.

"It was actually my wife's car and you can imagine what it was like when I had to tell her that her car was impounded."

He was also charged with reckless driving, and faced the loss of his licence.

Mr Green said he had no idea he was in a 60kph zone, and thought it was 110kph as the rest of the road had been.

He contacted his neighbour Mr Ferris, and they discovered the 80kph speed reduction roadworks sign was laying flat beside the road, and the 60kph speed reduction sign was right on the side of the road, almost in scrubland.

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They investigated Main Roads' own standards and found there were strict requirements around the placement and visibility of roadworks signage, and told police they would challenge the charge.

Mr Ferris said he found most of the signs laying down or facing the wrong direction.

"So I went back and I photographed them all and we put a report through to the Main Roads Department, and they sent us a letter saying 'Yeah, you're right, we've had the contractor fix them up'," he said.

The charge was dismissed in South Hedland Magistrates Court on April 13, 2017.

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Heather Jones says immediate action is needed to address the issue of road work safety on outback roads.© ABC Pilbara: Karen Michelmore Heather Jones says immediate action is needed to address the issue of road work safety on outback roads.

But it was last week's sentencing of Kimberly De Pledge that has sent shockwaves through WA's transport industry, and sparked anger that roadworks signs still continue to be laying down along outback roads.

Ms Jones, the CEO of Heavy Haulage Girls, said she had noticed a lot of signs down at roadworks over the past two years since the accident.

"If the wind comes through to blow them down sometimes it takes days for them to be put up again," she said.

"So what that does to road safety is, we are coming into roadworks and we actually don't know what speed we should be doing.

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"Unless those signs are visible on both sides of the road, we are all in a situation where we could be running into the back of somebody or running over somebody on the road, or not doing what is required legally."

Cliff Graham has been driving trucks for 40 years, and was one of 71 people to put in a reference to the court hearing the De Pledge case. He has worked for De Pledge for the past five years.

"He's gone to jail and nothing as it stands now has caused or created any changes in the roadworks, in anything really that will prevent it from ever happening again," Mr Graham said.

"I've been through that many roadworks where signs are standing up, where there's been inactive roadworks for weeks or months, and I've been through roadworks where the signs were laying down even to this day.

"Yesterday I was that bamboozled I pulled up and took videos of the signage. And this is two and a half years later.

"It's 2019 and they still haven't got their signs standing right.

"I guess one could say 'if Main Roads aren't accountable, why put signs out in the first place?'"

Investigation confirmed signs were down

The police major crash investigation report into the 2017 accident said all the signs were upright when police attended the scene.

However, dash cam footage of a truck moving ahead of the accident, confirmed the 80 and 60 kph signs were laying flat on the ground, the report said.

Main Roads investigators also visited the site, two weeks after the accident and noted in its report:

"The temporary speed limits located on the nearside verge on the approach to the worksite had fallen over and were not visible to approaching drivers at the time of the crash."

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Under Australian Standards, signs should be positioned so "they are properly displayed and securely mounted".

If signs are continuously required for works longer than two weeks, they "should be erected in a permanent manner", according to the Main Roads standards on their website.

The Main Roads crash investigation report said the temporary traffic management layout was in place for longer than two weeks.

Further, the report also stated that the temporary 60kph speed limit in place at the time of the crash "may not have been appropriate for the safe speed of travel through the worksite", as trucks slowed to less than 20kph to traverse the dip.

Several truck drivers have said they needed to slow down much more to cross the dip in the road than the 60kph sign suggested.

Despite the inconsistencies, it is understood the case was never referred to WorkSafe, WA's workplace safety regulator.

Main Roads declined to answer specific questions from the ABC, but instead released a six-paragraph statement that said its internal investigation found "no road environment issues directly related to the cause of the crash".

It said a number of recommendations were made from the crash investigation to improve current traffic management practice at roadworks, but did not elaborate on what these were other than "implementation of 1km advanced warning signage".

Expert calls for independent audit, penalties

An expert in traffic management said the situation needed to improve, because if motorists constantly saw signs that were inappropriately placed, future signs could be diminished in importance.

"If motorists can't see the signs properly, then these are definitely not helping the motorist comply with the speed limit," senior lecturer in transportation engineering at Deakin University Ashim Debnath said.

"Due to the vast road network in Australia, it is not a very easy job for road authorities and contractors to ensure that everything is in place. However, it is a very important job.

"No matter how hard it is, we have to ensure that all signs and traffic control devices in roadwork zones are in correct order."

Dr Debnath called for serious penalties for contractors where signs were found to be non-conforming, and said independent, and unexpected, audits were also needed.

"It's not only the penalty, but also the frequency of inspection so that as a contractor working there I feel I can be audited anytime," he said.

"So that high probability of enforcement in addition to significant penalties, that would do the trick."

Trans Safe WA chairman Steve Post said he would support independent auditing of signage and heavy penalties.

"How's a motorist supposed to know what they are supposed to be doing … if the signs are laying down?" he said.

"The simple reality is if you've got the government investigating their own situation, then quite clearly there's a conflict there."

Ms Jones, from Heavy Haulage Girls, called on authorities to take immediate action.

She urged road users who see hazardous road signs to contact Main Roads on 138138 and WorkSafe on 1300 307 877.

"I know there's not enough funding to employ a lot of roadwork people to pick them up [the signs] every half an hour or so, and I know that doesn't happen," she said.

"Perhaps we need signs designed differently.

"But it really needed to happen two years ago. Not now. Because this will happen again and someone else will be killed."

REVEALED: Outback killer Bradley Murdoch has cancer and will likely die in jail - as police offer him a deal if he finally confesses to the execution-style murder of British backpacker Peter Falconio 18 years ago .
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