Effects of weather conditions, light conditions, and road lighting on vehicle speed

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Annika K Jägerbrand
Jonas Sjöbergh

Light conditions are known to affect the number of vehicle accidents and fatalities but the relationship between light conditions and vehicle speed is not fully understood. This study examined whether vehicle speed on roads is higher in daylight and under road lighting than in darkness, and determined the combined effects of light conditions, posted speed limit and weather conditions on driving speed. The vehicle speed of passenger cars in different light conditions (daylight, twilight, darkness, artificial light) and different weather conditions (clear weather, rain, snow) was determined using traffic and weather data collected on an hourly basis for approximately 2 years (1 September 2012–31 May 2014) at 25 locations in Sweden (17 with road lighting and eight without). In total, the data included almost 60 million vehicle passes. The data were cleaned by removing June, July, and August, which have different traffic patterns than the rest of the year. Only data from the periods 10:00 A.M.–04:00 P.M. and 06:00 P.M.–10:00 P.M. were used, to remove traffic during rush hour and at night. Multivariate adaptive regression splines was used to evaluate the overall influence of independent variables on vehicle speed and nonparametric statistical testing was applied to test for speed differences between dark–daylight, dark–twilight, and twilight–daylight, on roads with and without road lighting. The results show that vehicle speed in general depends on several independent variables. Analyses of vehicle speed and speed differences between daylight, twilight and darkness, with and without road lighting, did not reveal any differences attributable to light conditions. However, vehicle speed decreased due to rain or snow and the decrease was higher on roads without road lighting than on roads with lighting. These results suggest that the strong association between traffic accidents and darkness or low light conditions could be explained by drivers failing to adjust their speed to the reduced visibility in dark conditions.

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