Safe Roads has won New Zealand’s premier road safety award for the innovative use of virtual reality technology to test safety designs at rail level crossings.

The 3M Traffic Safety Innovation Award for 2019, which recognises exemplary innovation and effectiveness to save lives and injuries on roads, was presented at the Engineering NZ Transportation Group’s annual conference in Wellington last night, attended by more than 200 of NZ’s transport professionals and advocates.

Safe Roads has developed a method of using virtual reality (VR) technology as a quick and cost-effective way of testing of ideas for safety designs at rail level crossings.

These use a ‘human factors’ approach that obtains quick user feedback to highlight issues that could otherwise be missed in a standard two-dimensional design process.

“Our 2019 winner demonstrates an effective and innovative approach to improving safety at road rail level crossings, which can represent a major risk for road users,” says Transportation Group National Chair, Jeanette Ward.

“Safe Roads is being congratulated through this award for developing such an innovative and effective project, which could be applied to rail level crossings in other parts of the country or around the world.”

In early 2018, Safe Roads converted laser scanning survey data for the SH29 Hinuera road rail level crossing into a three-dimensional model able to be viewed with VR technology. Within the model, an innovative new design treatment of in-ground pavement lights was tested in advance of the level crossing to warn approaching drivers of an oncoming train. The lights were set up in various configurations and were then experienced and assessed by users in the VR driving simulator to acquire feedback on their respective effectiveness.

The outputs from the testing and preferred options can easily be shared in a VR environment through 360-degree videos. This allowed a range of design options to be tested and preferred designs taken forward to delivery with greater confidence of effectiveness.

Judges for the 3M award considered the specific features of the many projects submitted, particularly in terms of innovation in thinking and technology, problem-solving as well as the real benefits in reducing trauma. Cost-effectiveness and transferability to other areas were other key criteria.

Safe Roads was established in 2016 to deliver a programme of road and roadside safety improvements to the State Highway network. It is made up of the NZ Transport Agency and infrastructure consultancies Bloxam, Burnett & Olliver (BBO), Beca and Northern Civil Consulting.

Finalists for this hotly-contested award came from many areas of the transport profession.

The winning team was made up of the following members:

  • Jack Donaghy
  • Gary Nates
  • Clement Germain
  • Joshua Forrest
  • Luan You

The other finalists were:

  • NZ Trucking Association – Safety MAN Road Safety Truck
  • Stantec Ltd – Understanding Vulnerable Road User Crash Risk on Auckland’s High-Risk Arterials
  • Dunedin City Council – Dunedin Central City Schools Cluster

Abley Ltd – Northland Programming Tool