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Highways England: Reducing traffic congestion caused by motorway incidents using ‘dark data’ insights

Highways England’s traffic officers look after motorways and major trunk roads, clearing accidents and breakdowns to keep traffic flowing smoothly. They wanted to improve the number of times they cleared incidents in under one hour: a standard not achieved for nearly 7,000 incidents a year. To understand this issue – and work out how to address it – we worked with Highways England to turn their ‘gut instincts’ about the problems into powerful and tailored organisational insight.

Working with Yorkshire and North East region, we found completely new ways to use their data. By focusing on their hypotheses, we initially confirmed long-held hunches on performance variation. We established up to a 10 per cent performance drop at specific times over a patrol shift. We then established the root cause from data collected every day but not looked at before for this purpose. The problems stemmed from travel times for traffic officers at specific times of day. Using this insight Highways England could optimise the way they deployed officers from new and existing base sites.

These changes cut clear-up times by up to 15 minutes per incident, allowing over 100,000 more hours for other key operational activities. Nationally, patrols could hit the one-hour target in up to 2.5 per cent more cases. What’s more, we estimate the time motorists would no longer spend in motorway tailbacks could be worth £17.3 million a year to the economy.

We’re now working with other Highways England regions to build on this success.

"It was great how PA presented our data in a way that hasn’t been done before, delivering compelling insight in an engaging way. They’ve helped us really understand why we were seeing performance variation and enabled us to create tangible opportunities to improve."

Richard Marshall, Regional Director, Highways England

Contact the road and regions consulting team