By Rosie Manins
7:59 AM Thursday Aug 29, 2013
Potentially life-saving technology, first trialled on Dunedin roads, is being installed throughout Otago in another world first.
About 700 PATeye road markers, which flash blue in icy conditions, are being installed across the region to warn motorists and prevent crashes.
The two-year trial of the Christchurch-developed technology has already attracted global interest, as well as praise from national organisations including the New Zealand Automobile Association (AA) and New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).
"These markers are a world-leading technological development that should help prevent crashes. By flashing blue, these markers will give people a potentially life-saving warning that there is ice ahead," AA Otago chairman Jeff Donaldson said.
Last year, Christchurch company Solar Bright put 20 of its globally patented PATeye markers on North Rd in Dunedin's Northeast Valley and on Main South Rd at Sunnyvale.
Solar Bright's Pat Martin invented the technology in response to a request from the Dunedin City Council, in conjunction with Fulton Hogan, for a sustainable device to warn motorists of road ice.
National data showed about 84 per cent of motorists exceeded speed limits in general, and about 79 per cent did so in icy conditions.
Last year's PATeye trial in Dunedin indicated only about 23 per cent of motorists exceeded the speed limit when the markers flashed.
"It was a very small trial, but unbelievably successful," Solar Bright global sales director Rob Haywood said.
The Central Otago District Council and Queenstown Lakes District Council have become involved, as well as the NZTA.
Once data about traffic volume and speed has been collated, PATeye markers will be installed at those locations so a comparison can be drawn.
NZTA Otago/Southland highway manager Ian Duncan said the markers would have been installed on state highways earlier, if there had been more ice during winter.
Markers might not be installed on state highways until next year, he said.
Mr Haywood said Solar Bright was supplying the trial markers free of charge, and they were being installed by contractors including Downer through existing contracts with territorial authorities.
A University of Otago professor would analyse data collected during the trial, as a private assignment, he said.
The Canadian ministry of transport was among international organisations interested in the technology.
PATeye markers were solar powered and an eight-hour charge provided more than 450 hours of continuous flashing.
Vehicle headlights also powered the road markers, which when flashing were visible in any light and when covered by snow.
Solar Bright was working on associated "smart roading" technology, so the markers could send signals to activate other road signs and alert authorities about ice so they could in turn update road condition websites and move quickly to spread grit, Mr Haywood said.
"We've spoken to just about every council in New Zealand affected by ice and they are just dying for it (PATeye) to be put in. We've had really strong support from police, the fire service, St John, AA and the insurance council," he said.
AA principal adviser of regulations Mark Stockdale said any improved advice to motorists was good.
"This is a very accurate and localised warning where at present we only have static signs warning of possible ice, and people have to judge whether it's cold and wet enough for ice to form," he said.
Between 2008 and 2012 there were 520 crashes on icy roads in Otago, resulting in 175 people being injured.
By Rosie Manins