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Digital motorways lack 'consistent data'

Birmingham roads

Digital technology is set to transform the UK’s motorways, but consistent standards and improvement to wireless coverage will be required.

Car automation could transform how the UK’s motorways are used and maintained, according to speakers at New Civil Engineer’s UK Roads conference.

“When we are doing works, if there are connected autonomous vehicles on the network then we won’t need road cones. We won’t need temporary traffic management because all the vehicles will automatically come round the road works. We won’t have the challenges where there are vehicle strikes on road works,” said Highways England operations director Mike Wilson.

But there’s more to digital development on the UK’s roads than automation. 

“The thing that is out of Highways England’s control now is that children today don’t ask, ‘Are we there yet?’ they ask, ‘Do we have 4G yet?’. So maintaining connectivity and having the capability to have 4G and eventually 5G is crucial,” said Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) director Nick Reed.

Wireless infrastructure for entertainment and communication plays an important parallel role to automated cars. Data can be gathered from cars and connected devices to help transport planners. 

“One challenge is that we’ve jumped straight into reality without really thinking about planning and design,” explained Richard Bradley, technical director, intelligent mobility, Atkins. 

“We’ve not got a consistent data model to use. We’ve got European organisations trying to do this, but ultimately if we’re going to be able to share data we’ve got to get consistency and I think we’re quite a way off that.”

Bradley noted that potential developments outside automation include Head-Up Displays in car cabins that could replace traffic signs, and over-the-horizon warnings that a crash has occurred on the road ahead.

Behaviour modification is another possible development, with the potential for drivers to be issued with warnings for poor road discipline based on information from on board “black boxes”.

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