Canberrans love a bit of positive reinforcement, even when it comes from an automated road sign.
That’s the finding of a trial of new road safety signs that reward passing drivers with a smiley face if they’re obeying the speed limit and aim to reinforce good behaviour. Do the wrong thing and you won’t get a scowl or sad face, but you will get a stern, red notice telling you to ‘slow down’.
After a 20-month trial of the road safety signs in the ACT, an evaluation found the ‘smiley face’ road signs were successful in slowing down drivers on Canberra roads. They’ve also been given the thumbs up by motorists in areas of Sydney and Brisbane.
During the ACT trial, which ran from February 2018 until October 2019, five signs were rotated around 17 residential locations in school and non-school zones, and on streets of different speed limits and road classifications.
During these months, the signs praised or scolded around four million passing motorists, but resulted in a marked increase in the percentage of motorists travelling at or below the legal speed limit of the road. Average speeds at trial locations fell by between 0.4 and 12.2 km/h.
The trial was funded by a $40,000 Road Safety Community Grant, with additional funding provided by Transport Canberra and City Services.
Following the evaluation, Minister for Road Safety Shane Rattenbury said a further $20,000 has been allocated from the Road Safety Fund and motorists can expect to see more smiley faces as they drive around Canberra.
“The signs are designed to provide positive reinforcement for people obeying the speed limits and driving safely, or provide clear feedback if they are not,” Mr Rattenbury said.
He said the signs are not an enforcement device and do not have a camera to photograph vehicles.
“We’ve seen that Canberra motorists have responded to the signs really well. In some areas, we’ve seen up to a 12 km/h [sic] reduction in speeds.
“On every site, we saw a reduction in speeds and many more people within the speed zone, so it’s been a very positive trial. Our intention now is to continue to use them and to also increase the number of sites they are being used at,” Mr Rattenbury said.
The signs were also part of the Government’s ACT Road Safety Action Plan that expires this year. Mr Rattenbury said the signs are one part of a range of measures in the next road safety plan.
“You can always do more. We can have more speed vans, more signs, but the objective here is to improve the road safety culture in the Territory,” Mr Rattenbury said.
If a sign’s readings indicate a site has excessive and continual speeding, then a request may be submitted to ACT Policing to assess the location and undertake enforcement if considered appropriate.
Mr Rattenbury said anecdotal evidence from motorists was positive, but the main data informing the success of the trial was from the signs.
The signs were rotated through non-school zones in Crace, Forde, Mawson, Dunlop, Gordon, Pearce, Weston, Oxley, Weetangera, Deakin and Evatt. The signs also appeared in school zones at Torrens, Kambah, Duffy, Calwell, Red Hill and Franklin.
“I think the signs bring a bit of fun to road safety, as everyone loves a bit of positive feedback,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“Speeding remains a significant road safety issue in the ACT, and the Government is committed to ensuring the Canberra community has the safest possible road environment.
“Given the success of the signs, I am pleased to commit further funding to expand this project by providing an additional sign, and footings at two further sites.”
Transport Canberra and City Services is now looking at options to permanently acquire the two signs borrowed from Roads and Maritime Services in NSW. Further funding will be required to purchase more signs and footings, as well as to facilitate regular rotation and maintenance of the signs.
The Justice and Community Safety Directorate will also develop a community awareness campaign focusing on safe speeds, to support the existing speed reduction initiatives.