Study results

Roads, road operators, and the introduction of autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles will arrive on our roads. They bring many potential benefits to us as individuals, and to society in general. They also present new major challenges to the transport eco-system. Road operators will likely share much of the responsibility of managing and monitoring this evolving mobility environment. A recent study of road operators reveals that UK roads operators are looking to play an active role in supporting and managing CAV-inclusive traffic. However, many road-operators lack, and expect to continue to lack, the tools required to enable them to monitor, manage, and maximise the benefits of these new technologies, while reducing the associated safety risks.

Roads are the single largest asset on earth – yet with limited data coverage

With over 480,000 km of roads in England, and 30 million km of roads worldwide, the road network is the largest infrastructure on earth. It is estimated that over £1 trillion is spent on roads globally every year. Highways England recently announced its RIS2 worth over £25B for the Strategic Road Network, which represents ~3% of the nation’s road network (albeit >30% of traffic).

Despite those spending, roads remain one of the ‘darkest’ areas when it comes to data and monitoring. Only ~4% of UK roads have any type of active monitoring and management technologies in use. In comparison, most major infrastructure, such as telecom, power and rail, can achieve near complete cover of their networks. This lack of data leaves road operators with limited tools to manage their networks and is especially unfortunate in light of a recent Siemens study indicating that comprehensive information systems in roads could reduce congestion by up to 20% and road injuries / fatalities by up to 31%[1]. With the introduction of autonomous vehicles, the role of road operators will likely evolve. Likewise, the lack of data from our roads may present challenges to how these road operators must manage and optimise the road network.

A recent study conducted by Valerann, with the support of Transport Systems Catapult, assessed the readiness of the UK road network for the introduction of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs). The study included interviews and surveys of over 40 road organisations, ranging from road operators and traffic management professionals, to transport research groups. The study looked to understand how traffic management technologies are used on UK roads, what traffic operators expected to need in a CAV rich network, and what are the gaps between what is available and the ideal.

The results revealed valuable insights into the evolving traffic management landscape. As of today, road authorities seem to primarily use ITS to manage traffic flow and congestion. Safety is not managed as actively. Moreover, it seems that the ITS currently deployed does not meet the needs of road operators – and this is mainly due to resources constraints (both budgetary and trained personnel). In the meantime, while looking to the future, they expect the full automation of CAVs (commonly called L5 autonomy) to reach UK roads in under 20 years’ time. Road operators identified a technological gap between current use of ITS and upcoming needs. Respondents do not expect to have the systems required to monitor and manage an autonomous-vehicle inclusive traffic environment in time. Their main concern regarding CAVs is around safety and security; how to mitigate system malfunctions and cyberattacks, and how to safely integrate CAVs into current day traffic. Road operators expressed a preference to continue to monitor traffic from independent road-based traffic management systems, and none would solely rely on data sent from vehicles (floating car data).

You can read the rest of the study here.

This article is from the 3rd issue of TaaS Magazine. For more news subscribe to their Digital Magazine and Newsletter here.

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Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas from Pexels.