Written evidence submitted by Mr Derek Cozens,
Manager, Search Techniques Ltd (RSM0069)

Summary

  1. Live lane vehicle breakdowns are always potentially dangerous and the all-lane running design of Smart Motorways only increases the likelihood that these events will occur.  Fast detection of a stranded vehicle is crucial not only in protecting the lives of the vehicle occupants but also in preventing any knock-on incidents from occurring.

 

  1. Highways England Stopped Vehicle Detection system has limitations in the reliability of detection and warnings provided.

 

  1. A more efficient safer solution to the problem of live lane breakdowns would be to exploit readily available mobile phone technology to upgrade safety across the entire road network by the introduction of In-vehicle Smart Safety Hubs to monitor vehicle movement and provide in-vehicle warnings.

 

  1. By deploying identical communication equipment in every vehicle we could bring an end to many of the serious collision scenarios that can occur and in doing so the United Kingdom could lead the World in connected vehicle and infrastructure technology.

 

  1. The project would benefit from being undertaken in collaboration with an international technology partner who can provide the necessary resources and technology needed to be successful.

Introduction

  1. Smart motorways have only intermittent emergency refuge areas as opposed to a continuous hard shoulder increasing the likelihood of live lane breakdowns.  Therefore to improve safety, a fast reliable method for the detection of vehicles stranded in live lanes is needed and an efficient method to rapidly warn all other vehicle drivers of their presence on the carriageway. 

 

  1. The retrofitting of the Highways England Stopped Vehicle Detection on existing stretches of Smart motorway will be expensive, disruptive and will provide limited improvement in the levels of safety.  A more reliable, safer solution is needed that can provide a much faster response to protect the safety of stranded vehicle occupants and other road users.

Highways England Stopped vehicle detection system

  1. The system uses Swedish design radar sensors positioned at 500 metre intervals to detect stationary vehicles and generate alarms signalled to the Highways England control room. The control room then initiate the emergency response which includes the activation of warnings on the overhead gantries located prior to the stranded vehicle. 

 

  1. Here are the limitations of the system

Smart safety hubs; Making every road Smart, Saving money, saving lives

  1. Using Smart phone technology in a bespoke application the safety of the entire UK road network could be transformed by the installation of in-vehicle Smart Safety Hubs.  Every vehicle Hub would communicate with the central computer which would be aware of the position of every vehicle on the carriageway and its speed of movement.

 

  1. The system would automatically generate warnings to other drivers almost instantly if a vehicle becomes stationary in a live lane and initiate emergency responses.  The drivers of all the vehicles following immediately behind would be alerted to the presence of any stranded vehicle.

The strategy 

  1. The Government could meet with senior representatives of suitable international technology corporations to enter into a strategic partnership to develop the systems needed for the design and introduction of connected vehicle and road infrastructure technology on the UK roads.  The UK could benefit financially as the systems developed and proved on our roads are rolled out across other nations of the world.  

A practical proposition

  1. Many of the features that are now standard on our vehicles started life as bolt-on accessories, even windscreen washers were once an optional extra. There will never be a point in time at which all vehicles will be fitted with the same communication technology unless we make it happen. Now is the right time for the UK to make a giant leap forward in the management of our roads by the introduction of ‘connected vehicle’ technology through the installation of ‘Smart Safety Hubs’ in all vehicles.  

 

  1. Communication is the key that will unlock a whole range of exciting opportunities to deliver a safer and more efficient road network.  Once the vehicle hardware is installed, the ongoing process of software development would continuously improve upon the systems operability and functionality.  We could revisit the designs of our street furniture and integrate them into the system, a ‘connected road network’, optimising both safety and efficiency.

 

  1. There are so many advantages to be gained from the introduction of connected vehicles and a connected road infrastructure with opportunities to improve on the way our roads are managed with substantial cost reductions going forward. There will be a number of issues to address for the introduction of the system such as the provision of safety hubs to vehicles visiting from overseas and fixtures for other road vehicles such as motorcycles but none that cannot be overcome.  The net benefits of the introduction would far outweigh both the costs and the challenges presented.

The benefits of the introduction on all motorways

  1. Safety enhancements for motorways

A safer, more efficient UK road network 

  1. Safety improvements for all roads

A vision of the future 

  1. If you use the navigation application WAZE on a smart phone in your vehicle you will get a glimpse of the potential that technology now has to offer. Audible alerts are given such as “beware, vehicle on hard shoulder ahead” and “pothole reported on carriageway ahead”.  

 

  1. The opportunity of providing in-vehicle alerts to any hazards on the road ahead, coupled with the engagement of drivers in the reporting of hazards is definitely the way forward to enhance the safety of our roads.  

The Vehicle Safety Hub hardware 

  1. Key features

Practicality of installation 

  1. Every vehicle spends time in the garage, for services, MOTs, tyres, brakes etc., so there are ample opportunities for vehicle fitment of the hubs to take place. Using the data available on the vehicle makes and models currently in use on the UK roads, brackets and fitting instructions could be optimised to provide rapid fitment including the identification of suitable locations for the driver information screen.  Where opportunities exist, the safety hub would be integrated to communicate with the vehicles existing information technology systems.  

 

  1. Vehicle statistical data would be entered into the hub so that alerts would be automatically generated when roads are unsuitable for access, e.g., height restrictions, weight limits and width restrictions, eliminating damage to the road infrastructure though dangerous incidents such as bridge strikes.

The cost of the system 

  1. The technology needed is readily available, so the work needed to create the vehicle hardware is a design exercise to identify and bring together the parts needed to meet the specification. Likewise a significant proportion of the central control system software required may already be available in some form, so the total development costs for an initial introduction may be minimal given the potential benefits.  

 

  1. The high production volumes of the vehicle safety hubs will minimise the parts and manufacturing costs.  The equipment and installation in the vehicles could be paid for through vehicle insurance, amortised over a number of years and potentially offset by reduced insurance claims going forward.  

Conclusion

  1. Being present in a broken down vehicle in a live lane on any motorway or dual carriageway must be a frightening experience.  Something as trivial as a flat tyre can culminate in a multi-vehicle pile-up involving deaths and life changing injuries. 

 

  1. Not just smart motorways, but the whole road network could become much safer if the nation invests in 21st century communication technology.  An incident such as hundreds of vehicles colliding into each other in heavy fog would simply no longer happen.

 

  1. Regardless of the age, make or model of vehicle every driver would have access to the very latest safety features. Drivers would become engaged in the safety process, easily able to report any hazards they encounter on the Highway to warn other drivers and also generate reports to the relevant authorities.

 

  1. The ability of the police and emergency services to be able to select and talk directly to any vehicle occupants would be a real game changer when it comes to the safe handling of any incident that occurs.   Investment in this project would not just save lives, it would also reduce a whole range of ongoing costs associated with traffic monitoring and surveys.

 

  1. The technology needed is there and ready to go. The UK has the innovation, enterprise and skills needed to join forces with an international technology company to produce a World beating system to transform the safety and the management of road networks. 

 

‘Many of the deaths and injuries that occur on our roads could be prevented with adequate control measures in place.  We need to understand why collisions have occurred, look beyond blaming the individuals involved and identify the changes needed for future accident prevention.  The technology needed to improve on road engineering, driver information and driver training is already here. It is time to put the safety guards in place and to engage every road user in the safety process.’

 

April 2021