Accidents on toll-free motorways increase, but fall across the whole network
Accident rates fall on roads parallel to expressways, which now absorb the most traffic
BarcelonaThe lifting of tolls on the AP-7, the AP-2, the C-32 North and the C-33 just over a month ago has changed mobility on roads. The four motorways have taken on a higher volume of traffic and, consequently, a higher accident rate. The four arteries have absorbed a large part of the vehicles that until now were travelling on the roads in their immediate surroundings, such as the N-II, the N-340 or the C-17, which have emptied and, at the same time, have reduced the number of accidents.
However, despite the fact that accidents have increased on the four roads that were toll roads until 1 September, the accident rate has fallen on the Catalan road network as a whole. "These safer motorways have taken on more traffic, but on the rest of the roads the number of accidents has fallen because the cars that used to use them now drive on safer roads", explained the director of the Catalan Transit Service, Ramon Lamiel, to ARA.
The data show the first effects of the transfer. Between 1 January and 30 September, 2019, before the pandemic, 7 fatalities were recorded on the AP-7 North, and on the same stretch of the N-II North, 30 more fatal accidents occurred. In the same period this year, the AP-7 recorded nine fatal accidents, however, 14 people died on the N-II North. "As for the accident rate, the trend will be to reduce the severity of accidents", insists Lamiel. The same variation is recorded in the case of the southern stretch of the AP-7 and the N-340. Between January and the end of September 2019 in the southern part of the highway there were 10 fatal accidents, while on the N-340 there were 20. This year on the AP-7 South there have been six, and on the N-340 road, seven.
The AP-7 is the one that has noticed the change the most, both in terms of traffic volume and accidents. Lamiel recalls that this road has always been "at the top of the list regarding accident rates", but recalls that, in general, motorways avoid some of the manoeuvres most closely linked to the most serious traffic accidents, "such as overtaking and head-on collisions".
New cranes to remove lorries
Another difference when it comes to driving on the arteries freed from trunk roads is the volume of heavy vehicles they now absorb, especially on the C-33, "where many heavy vehicles that used to drive on the C-17 have moved to", explains Lamiel. According to the director of the Catalan Transit Service, this fact has not resulted in more serious accidents involving lorries, but it has had a great influence on the "congestion" of the roads, because every time one of these heavy vehicles has had an accident, it has been difficult remove them. That is why he explains that they are talking with the road concessionaires and with the Ministry of Transport to enable "high performance or high tonnage cranes" to remove these trailers. "If not, we are also prepared to take this step forward", says Lamiel.
This September there have been 18 traffic accidents with a truck involved in the four arteries, while in the same month of 2019 there were 11. Trucks are not the only means of transport that have registered a growth in the accident rate, which is noticeable in all vehicle types.
After the huge queues that occurred during the first weekend of toll opening, the Catalan Transit Service adopted a series of measures that, according to Lamiel, will be maintained: heavy goods vehicles will have to drive on the right and will not be allowed to overtake, additional lanes will be set up and information will be provided about incidents and alternative routes. "These measures have worked quite well", says Lamiel. According to data from Traffic, on the north of the AP-7, traffic jams have decreased by 70% at weekends. However, on the south of the road, queues have only been reduced by 32%.
Two critical points on the AP-7
Lamiel admits that the transfer of traffic to the AP-7 has revealed two critical points in terms of delays, between Hostalric and Massanet, to the north, and above all, between El Vendrell and Vilafranca del Penedès, to the south. In fact, it is at this point where it is most noticeable that the motorway has absorbed the vehicles that previously circulated on the N-340, and then the road joins the AP-2. "We have additional lanes from Vilafranca del Penedès onwards, but not before", explains the director of the Catalan Transit Service, who says that they are "reviewing new measures to add an additional lane, especially south of Vilafranca", with the Ministry of Transport. "We believe that in the coming months it will be done", he says.
Looking to the future, Lamiel acknowledges that "a reflection" on longer-term measures will be needed. "The easiest ones are additional lanes and new gates to drain the traffic pockets, and another is for them to put the additional lane in directly", he says, referring to the ministry. He also insists that the trunk roads need to be removed sooner rather than later. "Every weekend they create one problem or another", he insists.
However, beyond the highways, Lamiel calls for "a global reflection" on mobility by all administrations. "Public transport has not fully recovered its occupancy. We have to think about what each local operator can do to improve mobility and provide means to see how we can decongest the roads".