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New world-class standards enable innovation while delivering efficiencies

Steve Davy, Head of Technical Standards at Highways England 

“UK roads and bridges are among the safest in the world and our motorways are world renowned for a consistent look and feel. This is a result of the volume and quality of technical standards and advice in the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB), a suite of hundreds of documents that define the requirements for every aspect of our road infrastructure."

Highways England is currently leading the transformation of the DMRB into a new form, setting the standard for how engineering documents can be drafted, used and maintained in a digital future.

A worldwide impact

The DMRB is focused on the requirements for the UK, but the website data shows that the international reach, with some DMRB documents downloaded millions of times every year. In addition to this, under the open government licence, authorities in non-UK countries are able to use and adapt the content of the DMRB for their own standards and documents. So the current project to update the whole of the DMRB is having an enormous impact, both in the UK and worldwide.

The Design Manual for Roads and Bridges is being transformed into a consistent and concise format that is clear and easy to use, with content that is up to date and more efficient to maintain, and arranged using the data structure and connectivity that is needed to realise Highways England’s digital roads vision.

This improvement to the usability, structure and content of the DMRB is happening at an unprecedented rate. The 15,000 pages of the DMRB and the associated Interim Advice Notes are being updated and improved in time for our March 2020 deadline from Government.

Delivering efficiencies – 60% reduction in ‘departures’ 

The new Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) suite is already enabling significant efficiencies to be realised, as seen by the reduced number of applications for departures from standards from the new-style documents.
So far, the new documents have delivered a drop in the departure rate of over 60% relative to the old documents. The cost for processing and responding to departures from standard is significant, and a 60% drop in departures would be equivalent to a saving of around £10-20 million per year.

Promoting innovation

While departures remain an important way of bringing innovation to schemes, the new DMRB documents are designed to allow increased innovation while simultaneously reducing the number of departures. This significant change in approach has been made possible by the new and rigorous drafting rules for DMRB documents, which draw on internationally leading research into how world-class systems of standards can be written to enhance ease of use and deliver benefits to infrastructure clients and their customers.

The drafting of the new DMRB documents has been tightly monitored for compliance with the new rules, delivering documents with a clear and unambiguous style that is explicitly based around the fundamental mandatory requirements of the overseeing organisations (clauses that say what “shall” or “must” be done). At the same time, the documents have been written in a way that avoids the technical content becoming quickly outdated. This new and rigorous approach to the way the documents are written and interpreted is having a transformative effect on the way that innovation can be incorporated into schemes, often without the need for a departure from standard.

In addition to the reductions in departures, the use of the new DAS 3.0 system for managing the applications for departures has delivered even more efficiencies, including a much quicker collaborative process for reviewing and approving (or rejecting) departures. The combined effects of increased innovation, reduced departure numbers and quicker processing of departures have delivered a transformation in efficiency.

Further information

About the new Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) and what’s new