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Road transport sensitivities to weather and climate change in Australia

Rowland, Bevan D., Davey, Jeremy D., Freeman, James E., & Wishart, Darren E. (2007) Road transport sensitivities to weather and climate change in Australia. In 30th Australasian Transport Research Forum, 25-27 September 2007, Melbourne, Australia.

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Abstract

Compared to the many political, economic and technological factors affecting the evolution of transportation systems and road safety, the role of climate change may be relatively minor. Nevertheless its implications are still likely to be significant, given the anticipated changes in thermal and moisture regimes. Although Australia is gripped in drought, climate factors including increases in temperature ranges and intensity of adverse weather conditions are expected to have a significant effect on not only the road transport system but also on road safety and driver behaviour.

This paper reviews both international and Australian research and focuses primarily on road safety and driver behaviour. In addition, the paper suggests that research in relation to climate change and road safety is scarce, especially in Australia. Weather is one environmental risk factor that is known to affect road crash rates in Australia and elsewhere. Weather that reduces road friction, impairs visibility and/or makes vehicle handling more difficult creates a serious road safety threat (Andrey et al., 2001). Globally, the World Meteorological Organisation (2003) stated that extreme events are on the rise as a result of anthropogenic perturbation of the climate system, and climate models indicate the potential for increases in both temperature and extreme storms (IPCC, 2001). The incidence of extreme weather (storm intensity) and high temperatures in Australia is expected to increase with global warming (Pittock et al., 1999).

Research has established that adverse weather increases crash risk, suggesting that drivers’ adjustments to weather are insufficient to completely offset the hazards associated with reduced road friction and poor visibility. However, research also suggests that weather-related increases in risk are not consistent for all collision severities; rather the increase is higher for property damage crashes than for more serious crashes, suggesting that driver compensation does occur. In addition, research is scarce in relation to weather and driving behaviour, however, this paper identified that there is insufficient adaptation of driver behaviour, particularly during wet weather conditions. Also, the phenomenon of dry spells (or spell effect) is of considerable interest, especially in Australia (due to extended periods without rain), as research indicates a significant increase in crash risk as the duration of time between rainfall events increase.

This paper has provided a sample of possible interactions or impacts between aspects of climate change including specific extreme weather characteristics and road safety. The published research provides a general account of several significant vulnerabilities within the road safety sector to the effects of weather – all are based on the assumption that contemporary sensitivities can be extrapolated in a linear fashion into the future.

In a changing climate and differing weather events it would be ‘negligent’ for us to do nothing. Future weather-related events may increase and/or change compared to those we observe today – changes have already been noticed. Therefore, changes in road safety policy, road infrastructure and driving behaviours may be required to adapt to the impact of climate change. A number of areas for future weather-related research in Australia have also been identified within the paper.

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ID Code: 9945
Item Type: Conference Paper
Additional URLs:
Keywords: road safety, climate change, weather
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > COMMERCE MANAGEMENT TOURISM AND SERVICES (150000) > TRANSPORTATION AND FREIGHT SERVICES (150700) > Road Transportation and Freight Services (150703)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety - Qld (CARRS-Q)
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2007 (please consult author)
Deposited On: 04 Oct 2007
Last Modified: 29 Feb 2012 23:35

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