Driver Risk Awareness (Ongoing)

Roads explain themselves to drivers in various ways. Drivers take cues as to a road's safety from road markings, speed limits and advisory signs, road width, curves and hills, and roadside features like ditches and poles.

Sometimes however how roads 'explain' is misleading so that drivers mistake the level of risk and drive inappropriately.

This programme examines the differences between objective and perceived risk and ways of reducing those differences. The programme uses KiwiRAP and a range of leading edge technologies to measure risk.

Research Providers

  • Associate Professor Samuel G Charlton - Waikato University
  • Professor Nicola Starkey - Waikato University


Expert Steering Group

  • Mr Fergus Tate - NZ Transport Agency
  • Mr Colin Brodie - NZ Transport Agency
  • Dr Jared Thomas - Opus Central Laboratories
  • Simon Douglas - AA Research Foundation Manager


Stage One - Literature Review

A Literature Review by Dr Charlton examined past research and potential research directions.


Stage Two - Driver Risk Awareness Project

Waikato University Traffic and Road Safety Research Group and Beca were commissioned independently to carry out seperate studies of driver risk awareness. The premise of this research is that drivers' risk assessment can be flawed. Drivers' perceptions of risk do not always match the actual risk as identified by the KiwiRAP (New Zealand Road Assessment Programme). The research is an effort to understand which road risks New Zealand drivers do perceive accurately, and which risks do they under-estimate or not even notice.

The project was completed in November 2013. The reports are available here.

TARS Report

Beca Report


Stage Three - Driver Risk Awareness and Speed

Risk, Speed and Countermeasures on Rural New Zealand Roads is the continuation of our programme in this area.  The study, carried out by the University of Waikato, uses both on-road testing and the University of Waikato's state-of-the-art driving simulator to examine whether, in the face of changes in perceived risks, drivers choose different speeds. The study isolates the effect of various existing countermeasures (features like road markings and barriers) that are commonly found on New Zealand rural roads to test their effect on perceived risk and speed choice.

The results show that, by and large, when perceptions of risk are increased, drivers do choose lower speeds. Results also show that simple centre line markings can influence drivers' perceptions of speed – some more so than others. In addition, it shows that perceptions of risk change according to traffic conditions – with the same markings having different impacts in high and low traffic conditions.

The presence of a Police car by the side of the road, with its lights flashing, gave a very interesting insight into the impact that Police presence has on perceptions of risk and speed.

Risk, Speed and Countermeasures on Rural New Zealand Roads - AARF, December 2015


Stage Four - Speed Limit Predictability & Investigating Alternative Road Markings to Communicate Speed Limits

Picking up on the themes of how drivers perceive roads and their risk, AARF has commissioned two more projects (one in partnership with the NZTA) looking at how drivers distinguish between roads in the One Network Road Classification (ONRC) hierarchy, and how delineation can assist in sending continuous information to drivers about speed limits. More information about these projects is outlined below.

Predictability and Credibility of Speed Limits (a joint project with NZ Transport Agency)

This project, 50/50 funded with NZTA, has investigated the relationship between the visual appearance of roads from the One Network Road Classification categories and drivers' subjective categorisation and speed choice for those roads.

The subjective categories that drivers use have been shown to influence their speed choice. Understanding this relationship in the New Zealand context could help inform road design so that speed limits are more credible and drivers' safety margins are increased.

The research questions asked were:

  • How do drivers categorise roads from the ONRC functions?
  • What are drivers speed choices for roads from the ONRC categories?
  • Are there road categorisations or individual properties of roads that lead to better speed limit credibility and higher safety margins?

Project Steering Group

  • Simon Douglas - AA Research Foundation Manager
  • Peter King - AA Research Foundation Advisor
  • Sarah Czarnomski - NZ Transport Agency
  • Glenn Bunting - NZ Transport Agency
  • Iain McAuley - NZ Transport Agency
  • Fergus Tate - NZ Transport Agency
  • Colin Brodie - NZ Transport Agency
  • Jared Thomas - OPUS

This project was completed in March 2017. Read the research report here:

Predictability and Credibility of Speed Limits


Regulating drivers' behavior through better delineation (road markings)

AA surveys show that most AA Members experience confusion about speed limits at some point.

For example, when Hamilton City Council had multiple speed limits (40, 50 or 60km/h), many Members were confused about what speed limit zone they were in. Speeds also tend to creep up between speed limit signs. Repeat signage is one option, however a continuous indicator like road markings may be more effective by providing drivers with more clarity and certainty, and act as a subconscious speed signal even when drivers are inattentive.

This research investigates whether and how drivers 'learn' (in a driving simulator) to associate three rural speed environments (60, 80 and 100km/h) with three distinct road marking patterns.

The experimental design has two arms:

  • Conscious learning (ie. drivers are explicitly told what the lines mean.
  • Sub-conscious learning (ie. drivers are not told what the lines mean; they may or may not associate them with the speed limit signs).

This cutting edge research will assess whether road markings can be a useful 'de facto' continuous indicator of speed limits, and whether these markings influence speed choices. The research aim is to determine whether distinct, low-cost road markings could be used to make speed limits more intuitive to motorists.

Project Steering Group

  • Simon Douglas - AA Research Foundation Manager
  • Jayne Gale - AA Research Foundation Advisor
  • Glenn Bunting - NZ Transport Agency
  • Fergus Tate - NZ Transport Agency
  • Colin Brodie - NZ Transport Agency
  • Jared Thomas - OPUS


AA positions on speed & safer road design

Read about the AA's views on speed limits, road markings and more:

Sensible speed limits

Safer road design

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