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Highways England details £150m autonomous vehicle testing plan

Date: 05 April 2016   |   Author: Daniel Puddicombe

Highways England has set out how it will spend £150m to test driverless and connected cars in the UK.

The Government-owned body said the plan aims to keep pace with the advancement of technology, bringing benefits to road users and unlocking economic growth.

According to Highways England, a 'wifi road' could see vehicles and infrastructure being connected wirelessly, with motorists receiving warnings of congestion and road closures in advance, while the plan also includes trials of radar technology on motorways and in tunnels to improve the way breakdowns are detected.

This £150m pot follows on from the announcement by George Osborne in this year's Budget that autonomous vehicles would be tested on motorways by the end of 2017.

Areas of research and development will include:

  • Trial radar technology on motorways and acoustic technology at the Hindhead Tunnel in Surrey to improve breakdown detection. The technology would continually monitor traffic and notify control centres within seconds of a stationary vehicle being detected.
  • A trial that would see information sent wirelessly to specially adapted vehicles on the A2/M2 between London and Kent. The on-road technology would wirelessly transmit the latest journey information directly to vehicles, which could suggest changing lanes or taking an alternative route.
  • Ensure that trials are being undertaken for autonomous vehicles on motorways by the end of next year, to start to collect real-world data on performance and potential impacts on capacity and operations.
  • Improving the signalling of junctions on motorways to increase traffic flows. This would involve adapting timing of the signals at junctions depending on the time of day and use.
  • Investigate the use of sensors that could provide better information about the condition of roads, bridges and tunnels on the network. In the future this could allow for more targeted maintenance programmes and save money over the lifetime of the road surface or structure.
  • Exploring the creation of a Test and Innovation Centre to pioneer new research.
  • Develop the use of 'expressways' on A-roads to encourage more free-flowing traffic by having modernised junctions, provide emergency refuge and maintenance areas and use advanced technology to provide journey information.

"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," said roads minster, Andrew Jones.

"Placing Britain at the forefront of innovation and research in this area will also create more jobs and investment," he added.