Driver Risk Awareness (Completed)

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 has examined the differences between objective and perceived risk and ways of reducing those differences. The programme has used KiwiRAP and a range of leading edge technologies to measure risk.

Research Providers

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

Expert Steering Group

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


This AA Research Foundation (AARF) programme has involved several large and complex studies. To make findings from the research more accessible, AARF has produced some summary documents.

These documents present just some of the findings from the whole programme. 

  1. Road Safety Research Summary
    How well do NZ drivers perceive risk? Can safety measures help highlight risk so drivers choose safer speeds?

    This document summarises some key findings from Stages 2 and 3 of AARF's Driver Risk Awareness research programme.

  2. Road Safety Risks: Simple ways road builders can improve driver awareness 
    This is an AA road safety advocacy document based on some of the findings from this research programme.

  3. Making Speed Limits Clear
    This document summarises the findings of research into whether different continuous road markings could be used to help drivers know what speed zone they're in.

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 research wanted to learn more about which road risks New Zealand drivers perceive accurately and which risks they under-estimate or not even notice.

The project was completed in November 2013.

Research reports:

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 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' risk assessment and consequently their speed choice.

Research report:

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.

(a) 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.

Understanding this relationship 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.

Research report:

Predictability and Credibility of Speed Limits

(b) 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. Repeat signage is one option, but could a continuous indicator like distinctive road markings be more effective by acting 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).

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

This project was completed in early 2018.

Research reports:

Stage 5 - Smoothing speed limits

Related to the above research projects, in 2022 the AA Research Foundation commissioned Waikato University's TRG to look into whether having more, or fewer, usable speed limits on a road is better for speed limit compliance and homogeneity. Find out more about this project.


AA positions on speed & safer road design

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

Page last updated: May 2022

New! Our navigation has changed.

Use this button to access the site content.

 |  Learn more