Road Tunnels Manual

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3. Human factors regarding tunnel safety

The PIARC Technical Committee on Road Tunnel 0peration has felt the need to provide a better understanding of human behaviour in tunnels in both normal and critical situations and to provide recommendations for tunnel design and operation based on this understanding.

This knowledge of human behavior is decisive to act accordingly towards:

  • the user himself and the infrastructure (in particular so as to optimize the communication devices and design of safety facilities including those dedicated to self evacuation),
  • the tunnel operating body and emergency services who must be able at all times to coordinate to ensure optimal management of the event.

An adequate knowledge of human factors in the context of road tunnels optimises safety by acting in the direction of the user, the tunnel design and more generally, the organisation (tunnel operating body and emergency services).

The whole tunnel system, including the organisation of tunnel management, plays an important role in tunnel safety as it determines what the tunnel users see or have to respond to, in both normal and critical situations. The nature of the traffic regulations, motorists' compliance with them and the degree to which they are enforced contribute significantly to the level of tunnel safety. The properties of the vehicles using the tunnel and the loads they carry also play an important role.

Additional measures (with respect to the minimum requirements set by the EU-Directive) could be considered when focussing on human factors and human behaviour in terms of tunnel safety. At this stage, the focus of this chapter is on the interaction between the tunnel system and tunnel users; additional information is provided regarding the interaction with tunnel staff and emergency teams.

The main conclusions regarding tunnel users are that (see details in Section Users):

  • the design of tunnels and their operation should take account of human factors;
  • drivers need to be more aware of how they should behave in tunnels;
  • a fairly long stretch of road (if possible 150 - 200 m) before the tunnel portal should not contain too many signs and signals; the necessary signs and signals at the point of entry into the tunnel should be strictly limited in number;
  • the tunnel safety facilities should be easily recognisable even in normal traffic;
  • alarm signals should be provided by multiple-redundant sources.

Regarding tunnel operators and emergency teams it can also be concluded that it is of utmost importance for operator's staff (see details in Section Operators.) and emergency services (see details in Section Emergency teams):

  • to organize consultation and cooperation during the tunnel design process,
  • to construct contingency plans in order to prepare for tunnel user protection and fire fighting operations, and to keep these plans up-to-date,
  • to organize familiarisation visits to tunnels and arrange exercises to test operational training,
  • to define the measures necessary to minimise the time required to mobilise the emergency services,
  • to organize post accident analysis, including events of limited importance.

Designing for optimal human use should include assessment of human abilities and limitations and ensuring that the resulting systems and processes that involve human interaction are designed to be consistent with the human abilities and limitations that have been identified. Human abilities and limitations refer to those physical, cognitive and psychological processes that deal with perception, information processing, motivation, decision-making and taking action.

General recommendations are presented in Section General recommendations.


Fig. 3.0-1: Emergency exit

This chapter of the manual was written by Marc Tesson (France), associate member of C4 committee and leader of working group n° 3 "Influence users' behaviour".

The previous leader of this working group, Evert Worm (The Netherlands), contributed to the production of the English version.

Didier Lacroix (France), the former Committee Chairman, re-read the French version.

Reference sources

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