London Heathrow

We are pleased to bring you this latest in our series of stories behind the signs we develop and install. In this edition we are off to London’s Heathrow Airport, where our installation of a speed sign and ANPR system on the perimeter road has led to a significant reduction in collisions and a safer environment for the thousands of people who work at or near the airport.

What’s the background

Heathrow is the UK’s premier airport, occupying a busy site approximately 14 miles to the west of London. More than 80 airlines operate from Heathrow, serving 203 destination cities. Each day there are on average 1,303 air transport movements. 

Behind the scenes on an operation as large-scale as this is a huge collection of road-based support, with many thousands of vehicles entering and leaving the airport site every day. The airport’s safety culture requires these vehicles to do their work with the lowest possible risk of incident or injury. One key way for this to be achieved is to ensure that drivers and vehicles are compliant with the rules.

About the location

The Heathrow Perimeter Road runs all around the edge of the 1,227-hectare site. The road is owned by Heathrow Airport Ltd but the Road Traffic Act and other regulations still apply to traffic using it. High volumes of freight vehicle traffic use the road, as well as private cars, taxis and minibuses on their way to and from one of the airport’s terminals. Access to some airport parking areas is via the Perimeter Road, while a number of public and private buses also use the Road on their way into and out of the terminals.

Heathrow Airport Ltd works closely with the Metropolitan Police (the law enforcement agency within whose jurisdiction the airport falls) to ensure the highest possible levels of compliance with road traffic laws in the airport area. 

Within the airport boundaries the maximum speed limit is 30mph on single carriageway roads and 40mph on dual carriageways. All forecourts have a maximum speed limit of 20mph, while in staff car parks the limit is 15mph.

The single-carriageway Perimeter Road used to have a mix of 30 and 40mph speed limits. There was concern about the use of illegal speeds by some delivery and business drivers on the road, as well as at the number of collisions occurring. It’s a very busy road, and the police need to ensure that whenever possible there is a free low of traffic along it. One small incident on the Perimeter Road can easily have a knock-on effect for traffic trying to enter or leave the airport. 

In order to assist with greater levels of compliance, members of the safety team at Heathrow Airport approached Westcotec to discuss the practicalities of a comprehensive system of matrix speed signs and ANPR cameras. The purpose of this would be to reduce the speed of vehicles travelling around the Perimeter Road and to improve safety for everyone using the airport.

The technology and how it works

The system is operated by Heathrow Airport Ltd in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police. It consists of a network of 50 matrix speed signs covers the entire Perimeter Road – a distance of approximately seven miles. These signs, positioned at the roadside, display a vehicle’s speed with an additional ‘Slow Down’ message if the vehicle is travelling above the speed limit. These signs are deliberately positioned to be high profile and easy to see.

Approximately 100 metres past each speed sign is an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera, housed in a small yellow box at the roadside and set to identify and record any vehicle that is still speeding after it has passed the sign. The cameras all do this by capturing images of speeding vehicles and their registration numbers. 

Each image is passed direct to the central control room at Heathrow, where it can be processed and appropriate action can be taken. If an offending vehicle is operating on behalf of one of the organisations who have business at the airport, then that organisation will be contacted and asked to follow up the individual driver’s behaviour. The emphasis is on information and education rather than prosecution and punishment to bring about a safer road environment.


According to the Metropolitan Police, the installation of the matrix speed signs and ANPR cameras has led to a three per cent reduction in average traffic speeds on the Perimeter Road, with an impressive 70 per cent reduction in collisions. 

Another benefit of the installation is that high levels of compliance encouraged by the signs have allowed a single 30mph limit to be introduced along the entire Perimeter Road, with high levels of confidence that compliance would be maintained. 

These successes are possible thanks to the strong partnership working between Heathrow Airport Ltd and the Metropolitan Police.


The Westcotec overview

Westcotec managing director Chris Spinks said: “It has been a great pleasure working with the dedicated and enthusiastic team at Heathrow Airport who are so committed to a safer working environment for everyone. The excellent collaboration they have developed with the Metropolitan Police paved the way for this initiative to happen, while the emphasis on education creates a safer working environment for everyone and reduces the risk of collision and injury around the airport.

“Gaining a full initial understanding of this was vital. We needed to familiarise ourselves with the physical layout, the extent of the risk and the most effective mechanisms for addressing and reducing it. This ensured we could recommend and provide the most appropriate solution. 

To find out more about our projects please contact us.

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