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Improving car and lorry drivers’ lives

Author: John Batterbee, technology solutions director

Self-driving cars and lorries; a long-term future, right? Well, maybe.

There are certainly a lot of innovative technology companies working towards making that future a reality. However, connected cars and lorries are already on the road. And yet these connected cars and lorries still can’t talk to even the smartest roads.

Here at Costain, as well as working with clients and partners to shape the long-term self-driving vision and future of transportation, we’re busy helping to deliver near-term benefits for car and lorry drivers today.
 
Hot on the heels of winning Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS-UK) Project of the Year for the A2M2 project, we’re now working on the Connected Digital Roads project, together with Highways England and partners in the automotive industry. This project is accelerating the transformation to Digital Roads.

Key to this is ensuring benefits for everyone are achieved at every step of the journey.

  • Step 1: Confidence relying on in-vehicle signage. In-vehicle signage is being developed to further reassure drivers that the information displayed on the dashboard, such as variable speed limits, can be relied on. This is a simple but valuable enhancement of the existing in-vehicle signage feature leading automotive manufacturers, already provide to their customers. Essentially, this involves broadcasting the message sign data straight into the vehicle which provides added assurance the data is correct
  • Step 2: Convenience of enhanced cruise control. Once the in-vehicle signage can be relied on, vehicle manufacturers will be able to enhance the adaptive cruise control and variable speed limiter features already available in an increasing number of models. Leading automotive technology companies  are already making this possible. This means drivers will have the convenience of being able to leave the adaptive cruise control and/or speed limiter feature on, let it adjust automatically to the conditions and be confident of never getting a speeding fine. If there was ever any conflicting view of speed excess, adjustment to the legislation would allow the in-vehicle signage to take precedence and drivers would be able to choose to use the data from their own vehicle to quickly and unequivocally prove their case.
  • Step 3: Faster journeys, fewer accidents and less pollution. With in-vehicle signage established, road operators will benefit from a much greater ability to finely tune the traffic flow so all drivers will benefit from faster journeys, fewer accidents and less pollution due to reduced stop-start traffic flow. Currently smart motorways are only able to adjust the speed limit in discrete steps of 40/50/60/70 and only at gantries typically 500-1000  metres apart. With in-vehicle signage, adaptive cruise control and variable speed limiter features this can be much more precise. Highways England’s own study concluded that only a small percentage of vehicles needed to be able to respond to variable speed limits for the majority of the benefits to be realised. The benefits can be achieved quickly and uniformly as the flow does not rely on driver reaction time to the information and for every vehicle to be ‘ready’.

Essentially, this is the next logical step to enhancing the 400 plus miles of smart motorways already in service and proven to deliver these benefits.

Once in-vehicle signage is established, the foundation will have been laid for all sorts of new features and benefits. For example, further reducing accidents by enhancing blind-spot assistance features many vehicle manufacturers already offer by providing real-time data from roadside cameras to warn drivers about potential hazards beyond the line of sight. In-vehicle signage means gantries would no longer be necessary and driver confidence in the information on their dashboards would mean the traffic smoothing benefits of smart motorways could be extended to other roads. This would significantly improve people’s lives with reduced journey times across the entire road network for all, increasing productivity, as well as minimise congestion, safety hazards and air pollution in our communities.  

Regardless of your view about when, indeed if, self-driving cars and lorries will become a mainstream reality, the benefits of connected cars and lorries can be had today.

Please get in touch with our experts via [email protected] to see how we can help.

Costain has been awarded a range of new highways contracts in the last quarter, incorporating a mix of services from consultancy and digital technology solutions through to programme management and complex project delivery, demonstrating Costain’s strong capabilities to add value in shaping the UK’s future transport infrastructure.

One of those projects sees Costain completing a feasibility study as part of the GovTech Catalyst SBRI competition for the creation of Oxfordshire County Council’s new Traffic Management System, suitable for both traditional vehicles and new mobilities (e.g. Connected Vehicles). This will be based on Costain’s Open Mobility Services Platform (OMSP) that will enable direct communication between the Oxfordshire Urban Traffic Management and Control and connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV). It will allow the potential for in-vehicle signage and road works warnings to be communicated to CAV using Oxfordshire County Council data. OMSP will also enable third parties, including industry suppliers, SMEs and universities, to access data and develop new services to benefit the citizens of Oxfordshire.