In the event of an incident or breakdown on the roads, we hopefully know the procedure to follow, donning our high visibility vest and placing one or two warning triangles protecting the vehicle, and then summoning help, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that this procedure is not enough.
Whether it´s because the rules are not being followed correctly, or if they are not being followed at all, the number of fatalities and serious injuries in the early part of an incident is of deep concern.
In 2018, two out of every ten people who lost their lives on the high capacity roads of Spain did so outside their vehicle. In total, some 60 people were killed whilst involved in some kind of emergency which they were dealing with, whether that involved placing the triangles or just because they hadn´t been seen, it is a figure that must be reduced.
So, the Ministry of the Interior wants to find out why the signalling of incidents and breakdowns is a problem, especially on motorways where 303 people died in 2018, 23 more than in the previous year. As we have seen already, 20% of these fatalities were “pedestrians”, who are not normally permitted on these roads, except to deal with an emergency, and is the only “negative” data provided by the Minister responsible for the department, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, along with the Director General of Traffic, Pere Navarro, when taking stock of the road incident rate of 2018.
The conclusion that these departments have come up with is that the 60 people who were killed had left their vehicles, equipped with the mandatory high visibility vest, and were in the process of placing the warning triangles, or were already fixing the damage or waiting for roadside assistance.
One of the plausible measures being considered to reduce these surprised deaths is to make the stricken vehicle even more visible, by means of a flashing orange light placed outside the vehicle, on a stable and flat surface, magnetised and with its own power, which would serve as a beacon which would be highly visible on vehicles where are at the roadside.
Such devices are voluntary at the moment, to be used in addition to the hazard warning lights on the vehicle and the mandatory warning triangles and high visibility vests, but the proposal would see them as mandatory for all vehicles to carry and use in the event of an emergency.
Of course, anything which has the potential to reduce road fatalities should be welcomed, but this is not without flaws in itself, as we have seen numerous police and Guardia Civil vehicles completely destroyed when they had stopped on the hard shoulder to assist other road users, these vehicles festooned with flashing lights and reflectors, and yet still a target for the distracted.
Although we know from historic data that the majority of serious incidents occur on the secondary road network, which is being targeted through such improvements as a reduction in the maximum permitted speed in some places, motorways are traditionally safer roads, partly due to their almost sterile environments, and their long stretches of straight sections and smooth curves. That said, complacency may be creeping in, as some 26% of the fatalities that occurred in 2018 were on these high capacity roads. It is worrisome that this figure continues to grow, with a 3% increase over 2017 last year, and 5% more than in 2011.
The orange beacon use would be consistent with the Ministerial Order PCI / 810/2018, published in the BOE on July 31, which ordered the homogenization of the blue colour as a warning indicator for all emergency vehicles and gave a period of two years for that change, and also introduced permission for different types of emergency warning lights being voluntary, from the traditional beacon style, to revolving LED equivalents.