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Roads for a modern Britain — a review of this year’s Highways UK event

Last week Clearview Intelligence joined the great and good of the highways industry at the NEC for the Highways UK show. Hosted by Highways England the show is growing in size each year and is clearly becoming a major annual event on the calendar.

With 10 theatres and a broad spectrum of presentations and discussions there were topics for every industry role. From current on-road safety and nurturing young talent, to future gazing, there was a lot going on at any one time and potentially too much for a two-day event. If the amount and range of content continues next year then, for the organisers, it may be worth considering a 3-day event to reduce clashes of interest and give people time to visit and talk with exhibitors in the hall.

What was clear from the presentations is that the industry is facing significant challenges as it moves into the next 5 years of development. Unsurprisingly the main topics covered were similar to last year but the information and discussions felt like the industry had moved one step down the road to understanding what needs to be done and by when.

The intelligent infrastructure hub clearly showed that new tech and ideas are starting to convert into trials and that the industry can respond quickly to real life challenges. It felt like this was the beginning of real, practical and genuine ideas on how to solve the anticipated problems of connected roads and smart cities.

Government Funding Will Drive Change

It’s these kind of project trials, backed by further government funding that are starting to drive clarity on what issues the industry will face. Confidence is growing that in 18 to 36 months there will be visibly significant change in the tech used on the UK roads.

On the Clearview stand there was much interest in the launch of the new SolarLite 2 stud—offering up to 150% greater luminosity versus the previous version thanks to improvements in LED technology. We found that the interest in this new tech almost always led to a wider discussion on what innovations are available for use today, with many visitors looking for real life examples of new thinking solving problems on today’s roads.

Clearview carried out some ‘on the ground’ research with delegates, which found that whilst almost two thirds (60.3%) feel new technologies and road safety innovations are vital to improving driver behaviour and road safety, nearly half (44%) of attendees are not actually adopting new road safety innovations today. Sadly, the research also revealed a small minority of highways professionals (1 in 10) are still not planning to invest in road safety innovations over the next five years.

Local Constraints

The disconnect between feeling that the industry is beginning to get to grips with the issues and a lack of local adoption is worth noting. Much of the lack of adoption comes down to barriers to implementation of new technologies. Most respondents rated financial constraints (42%) as the most significant obstacle due to the lack of available budgets for highways projects combined with Government constraints on infrastructure spending. A further one in three (32%) felt unwillingness to change and aversion to risk were key challenges.

These findings mirror the conversations on the Clearview stand. Many delegates were searching for new ideas but wanted to see them in action before committing to using them for themselves.

So, whilst Highways UK showed movement of the industry towards a more connected and integrated future, it’s worth bearing in mind there are still real and difficult constraints to the pace of innovation over the next five years.

It will be very interesting to revisit the above findings at next year’s show and see how the industry is adapting to the challenges ahead.

If you have a vehicle detection or road safety challenge and would like to hear our thoughts on how current and future technology can help solve it, contact us or ring us on +44 (0)1869 362800


Notes on survey

Research methodology: Sample size 59 adults. Research undertaken at Highways UK on 8th November 2017.

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