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ITS time for an integrated approach

When the first cars made their debut on the UK’s roads in the 1890s, there was just an open highway for a handful of drivers to navigate.

Fast forward 125 years and the scene is very different. There are now millions of cars utilising single highways, dual carriageways and motorways whilst conforming to traffic control measures such as traffic signals, speed enforcement and rights of way.

Over the years, advances in technology have made vehicles a standard household feature and have created a whole new sector of employment in highways and the development of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), which has been introduced to manage demand on the roads.

Up until recently, it could be argued that technology in the road has only just begun to come to the fore and be recognised for its potential.

A retro approach to delineation

In the 1930s, the first retro reflective studs were installed in the UK’s roads. Reliant upon the beam of a headlight, the studs provided the first concept of highway delineation and although the design was upgraded over the years, retro-reflective studs remained the unrivalled choice for enhancing driver visibility for decades.

It was only about 60 years later, that LED road studs, such as those developed by Clearview (known then as Astucia), began to offer a sustainable alternative that provided clients with a more cost-effective solution.

Since 2010, Clearview has sold 163,500 of its fourth generation SolarLite Active Road Studs to clients across the globe. Unlike retro-reflective road studs, which rely on a vehicle’s headlight efficiency to perform effectively, the SolarLite road stud uses superior solar powered high intensity LEDs to provide reliable year-round performance. This is maintained throughout its lifespan, which is in excess of eight years. This contrasts with retro-reflective road studs which begin to see a decline in performance within six months and typically need replacing after two years.

Proven to reduce night-time accidents by up to 70 percent, the road studs offer ten times more visibility and time to react to changes in the road ahead compared to retro-reflective studs. The enhanced visibility makes road users more confident driving at night, which in turn, reduces erratic driver behaviour. This is evidenced in Scotland, where installation of the studs along an unlit stretch of the A1 has improved the confidence of 78 percent of surveyed drivers; more about this can be read via our case study.

Highlighting the benefits

We continually develop these products and have recently released the next generation version of the stud. This started to be deployed on the UK’s roads in spring 2018 following a £4 million Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative (AMSCI) Government grant. As a result of this funding the performance of the SolarLite stud has been heightened and improved features include an even more robust design and brighter LEDs.

While new companies continually enter the road stud market with prototype products that claim to provide greater communication abilities, they often lack the understanding of what it takes to deploy technology on the highways and ensure it is sufficiently robust to last in such a challenging environment. That’s why we believe evolution rather than revolution is the best course of action to keep the UK’s roads running effectively and safety.

Gearing up for the future

Vehicle detection. Enhanced delineation. Route safety. Traffic management. All contribute to the overarching sector of Intelligent Transportation Systems but until now all have remained individual focuses of the companies that develop the solutions.

With a record number of vehicles on the road, the need for efficient and cost-effective solutions is more important than ever. Installing and maintaining products is expensive and disruptive with lane closures impacting on motorists who endure the frustration of diversions and delays.

Yet across the UK there are highways which incorporate a range of solutions, all in close proximity, but working independently of each other. Inductive loops or wireless vehicle detection systems are situated alongside SolarLite or retro-reflective studs. Neither influencing the other, yet both working under the same industry sector of ITS and trying to achieve similar aims.

If a vehicle detection solution fails, the road must be closed for maintenance. If a stud fails, the same road must be closed for maintenance. But perhaps, if the two solutions were integrated, this would double the productivity and halve the disruption brought about through installations and repairs.

As the population continues to grow, so will the demand on the UK’s roads and the subsequent impact of road closures. It is time for the ITS industry to embrace its innovative skillset and look for new ways to create solutions that use existing systems as the foundations for building a more integrated highway for the future.

Author: Jemma C |Date Published: September 2018

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