Could traffic incident response services help reduce traffic congestion?

Public sector road traffic agencies have limited opportunities for a direct relationship with their customers, the users. As the move towards road user charging continues, then providing quality customer service, and building the relationship with their customers will require a significant change in focus.

Two of the major challenges currently facing traffic agencies are increasing traffic congestion, and securing funding – hence the growing interest in road user charging.

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Would you like traffic incident response services with that?

If the trend towards road user charging continues then that relationship and providing quality customer service will require a significant change in focus for these agencies.

Highway agencies have limited opportunities for a direct relationship with their customers, the road users.

Two of the major challenges facing highway agencies into the next decade will be dealing with increasing traffic congestion, and securing funding for infrastructure and services – hence the growing interest in congestion charging.

Is congestion getting worse? Congestion used to mean that it took longer to get to and from work in the ‘peak hour’. Now congestion affects more trips, extending to more hours of the day, creates even more extra travel time, extends across more of the road network and results in reduced reliability of travel.

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Dealing with Unexpectedness


How should we deal with traffic incidents at critical times and locations, which cause major, unexpected problems for users?

Operators of road traffic networks are under increasing pressure to maintain acceptable levels of service, with declining resources and competing priorities. Urban traffic networks are not able to keep pace with the growth in travel, as a result major roads operate at maximum capacity for extended periods.

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Should we consider preventing traffic incidents?

Rising traffic congestion in urban areas has resulted in an increased focus on the economic, financial and travel reliability impacts. Understanding traffic incident causation and then an increased emphasis on prevention, has the potential to significantly reduce the number and impact of traffic incidents.

It is instructive to look at the extensive research in the causes of crashes and the development of a body of knowledge on traffic safety countermeasures and injury prevention. There is little published research into causes of traffic incidents.

Anecdotally causes of traffic incidents include such things as inattention, careless or reckless driving behaviour, excessive speed, poor judgement, impairment (alcohol, fatigue, drugs etc), distraction, poor loading of goods vehicles, insufficient fuel, unroadworthy vehicles, road works and adverse weather.

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Can quick clearance solve the challenge of congestion gridlock?


Congestion is a major economic, social and environmental issue in most large urban centres around the world. The inability to build sufficient new infrastructure to meet the demand results in recurring congestion. But significant congestion also occurs from temporary reductions in capacity, with an increasing number of major traffic incidents occurring in the high traffic flows, such as vehicle breakdowns, spilled loads and crashes.

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Service Patrol Handbook

This FHWA Handbook provides an overview of the Full-Function Service Patrol (FFSP) for traffic incident response and management and describes desired program characteristics from the viewpoint of an agency that is responsible for funding, managing, and operating the services. It provides guidelines and rules of thumb for operational characteristics, sponsorship, level of service, number of … Read more

Who’s on first?


Optimising capacity of a road network through traffic incident management is a key strategy to managing congestion. With the realisation that it is not feasible or affordable to build our way out of congestion has come an interest in finding smarter ways of maintaining a given level of service.

However, congestion management may not be a core issue for all organisations involved in network operations and incident management. Public safety agencies are concerned about collecting evidence and fire and rescue cultures have a strong worker safety bias – and getting traffic moving is not a primary objective.

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Cost of Traffic Incidents

Large urban areas are facing an increasing challenge of mobility (congestion), safety and environmental impacts due to traffic incidents.

Traffic incidents are estimated to account for about 25% of traffic congestion and bad weather another 15% (FHWA 2007). Hence congestion due to traffic incidents and bad weather can be as much as 40% of the total congestion.

Traffic incidents can have significant impacts on road users and the community. Injured people need to be recovered quickly from crashes and the potential for secondary incidents needs to be avoided. The safety or emergency responders and traffic controllers are at risk in moving traffic conditions.

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Improve mobility to mitigate congestion?

Congestion has many potential causes and improving mobility helps mitigate the problem. Reducing congestion means reduced delay, more predictable and lower trip times, lower travel costs and reduced emissions.

The first option to be considered is to make better use of existing infrastructure as they are usually most cost-effective, are flexible in being tailored to each particular situation, can be implemented rapidly and provide publicly visible changes.

Quick clearance of traffic incidents has the potential for considerable reductions in congestion. Attention to traffic flows at road works sites is also important.

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Why have a quick clearance policy?

In high traffic congested areas rapid clearance of incidents results in positive perceptions by road users and engenders support from government, especially in relation to funding traffic operations.

Quick clearance is the practice of rapidly and safely removing temporary obstructions from the roadway. To find out more see the Transportation Research Board synthesis in 2003 titled Safe and Quick Clearance of Traffic Incidents.

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