Could trees be a safety camera alternative?

10.04 | 10 March 2011 | | 6 comments

A DfT study found that planting rows of trees along the roadside could be as effective as safety cameras in reducing speeds, reports the Telegraph.

According to the Telegraph, a trial in Norfolk found that creating an avenue of trees and hedges created a 20% fall in the number of motorists driving at speeds between 40 – 60mph.

The experiment at four villages showed that drivers dropped their speed because of the cut in their peripheral vision. Overall average speeds fell by 1.5mph.

Mike Penning, road safety minister, said: “The success of Norfolk’s road side tree planting scheme proves that it is possible to use imaginative solutions to cut speeding on rural roads leading into villages rather than just resorting to cameras.

“I hope that other councils will be inspired by the success of this scheme and consider whether they might be able to use similar programmes to reduce road casualties on their rural roads."

Andrew Howard, the AA’s head of road safety, said: “If visibility is too good cars are more likely to overtake when it is not safe to do so.

“Poor visibility can lead to rear-end shunts, because drivers can’t see the road ahead. Well planted trees can strike a happy medium.”

Robert Gifford, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Committee for Transport Safety, said: “They certainly have their case, but trees are not necessarily an alternative to speed cameras. Clearly you don’t want people driving into them and killing themselves.”

Click here to read the full Telegraph report.


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    Trees are an effective sight and sound barrier for people who live close to major roads, so from an aesthetic and ecological point of view they are a winner.
    But I must reiterate what has already been said; Trees kill you, and they have intrusive roots that damage property and cost the authority thousands in insurance claims. What about bushes? takes the energy out of any vehicle leaving the road, no intrusive roots, and still an effective sound and sight barrier.

    Steve Barber, Crash Investigator, Northants CC
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    This was in Norfolk – maybe they hadn’t seen trees before and were slowing down to look? In all seriousness, however, whilst the road edges would look nicer, the outcome of any collision would surely be worse. The newest design of road sign poles is to reduce their impact on vehicles – the addition of trees is completely at odds with this move.

    Iain, Suffolk
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    Here in Warwickshire, we seem to be cutting back and clearing roadside trees and scrub.
    It makes for better vision and less danger a big improvement. Pity it was not done twelve months ago and the two fatal crashes involving trees locally may have spared the lives of the drivers concerned.

    Planting trees as an alternative to speed cameras! In all my 30 years in the road safety business, I don’t think I have heard such a ludicrous suggestion!

    Mike Hancox MD, Colan Ltd, Warwick
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    We’ve been here before! ‘Tree planting scheme sparks debate’ – Road safety news 18/8/10 – reported on this website!

    There were a number of valid comments then (look back in the news archive under speed)and they apply equally well now.

    There have been fatalities and horrendous injuries to vehicle occupents as a result of collisions with trees. The risk to a cyclist or motorcyclist of being killed or maimed is much greater; even small trees can present lethal risks to vulnerable road-user groups.

    Falling leaves in autumn can contribute to a very slippery road surface – a severe problem for all road-users – potentially lethal for two wheelers. What about the potential risk of a localised micro-climate? Has there been reference to the IHIE guidelines? What about the NMS? Some local authorities have invested substantial amounts of time and money moving street furniture from the immediate roadside enviroment; trees have also been removed where an appropriate risk assessment shows they could present a danger to road users. In time roots can grow under the road surface causing damage leading to increased long-term maintenance costs. The trees will grow and potentially obscure some road-users’ views of pedestrians about to cross the road; in 30mph limits in residential areas and in villages near schools and shops, this could pose a further potential risk. The report states that the trial in Norfolk led to a 20% reduction in the number of motorists driving at speeds between 40 and 60mph. What about 30mph limits in residential areas? We all know that small increases in speed above the 30mph speed limit can lead to disproportionate increases in the chances of being killed or seriously injured.

    Some 200 trees planted in four villages, costing about £70,000 initially – what about long-term additional maintenance costs to road surfaces etc? Ok if such schemes save a life or prevent serious injury they will pay for themselves, however if they contribute to KSI’s, the ‘financial scales’ can tip the other way very quickly.

    These sort of ideas need robust evaluation from a number of trials before being hailed as innovative solutions.

    Mark, Wiltshire
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    I agree with Robert Gifford. Trees are dangerous and are unforgiving when you crash into them. The French are reducing roadside trees for this very reason.

    Bobbio, Saint Albans
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    If its just peripheral vision why not just stick poles into the ground?
    The problem with trees is if you hit them they kill you.

    Peter Clayton/tamworth ADI
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