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Who’s in the driving seat?

The government says innovation is critical to its £15bn investment plan for the nation’s roads, which includes trials of radar and autonomous vehicles and other smart technology

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Innovation is king of the road
Innovation is king of the road

Highways England has released its Innovation Strategy that details how it aims to bring benefits to national road users as well as boost the economy.


Proposals include a connected corridor or ‘wi-fi road’ that could see cars and infrastructure wirelessly connected and drivers receiving news of advanced road closures or congestion warnings.


The strategy also includes trialling radar technology on motorways and tunnels to improve the way breakdowns are detected. The strategy builds on the announcement made that driverless vehicles will be tested on motorways by the end of next year.


Minister for Roads, Andrew Jones said, “Innovation is absolutely critical to our £15 billion investment plan for roads. A more reliable road network is good news for motorists and good news for the economy. Quicker, safer roads will improve access to jobs and opportunities. Placing Britain at the forefront of innovation and research in this area will also create more jobs and investment.


Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England chief executive said: “We’re committed to using innovation to benefit the millions of journeys made on England’s Strategic Road Network today and in the future. We will work with our partners in the supply chain; technology specialists and the automotive industry to trial new technologies that will help make journeys on our roads safer, more reliable and better informed. This will involve supporting trials of better connected and autonomous vehicles on our motorways by the end of next year, testing radar technology to better detect breakdowns, and trialling fuel price signs on the M5 between Bristol and Exeter.”


Highways England also confirmed its commitment to R&D strategy in the following areas:

  • Trial radar technology on motorways and acoustic technology at the Handheld Tunnel in Surrey to improve breakdown detection.
  • Join a trial that looks to see how information sent wirelessly to specially adapted vehicles on the A2/M2 between London and Kent would wirelessly transmit the latest journey information directly to vehicles, which could suggest changing lanes or taking an alternative route.
  • Ensure that autonomous vehicle trials begin on motorways by the end of 2017, and to begin to collect real world data on performance, potential impacts on capacity and operations.
  • Improve the signaling of junctions on motorways to increase traffic flows involving adapting timing of the signals at junctions depending on the time of day and use.
  • Explore the use of sensors that could provide better information about the condition of roads, bridges and tunnels on the network, allowing possibly in the future for more targeted maintenance programmes
  • Create a Test and Innovation Centre to pioneer new research.
  • Develop ‘expressways’ on A-roads to encourage more free-flowing traffic by upgrading junctions, provide emergency refuge and maintenance areas, and use advanced technology to provide journey information.
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