The Future of Roads: Intelligent Road Studs
Despite the efforts made to improve road safety, traffic collisions still regularly occur. The latest development in road infrastructure aims to reduce the numbers of accidents even further by evolving the tried and tested ‘cat’s eye’ into something more.
Invented in the UK in 1934, the cat’s eye has been quietly doing its job for over 80 years - the simplicity and effectiveness of its design standing the test of time and seeing it adopted around the world.
The ‘Intelligent LED Road Stud’ is the evolution of the cat’s eye taking it from the simple reflective lane indicator to a powered light visible from a kilometre away, which can also be connected to other traffic systems and turned on and off to help direct traffic flow.
One of the primary uses it is being tested for is on roundabouts, where fixed cats eyes are not usually possible because of the multidirectional and fluid nature of the traffic flow around them. These new road studs will be synchronised with the traffic lights, turning on as the lights turn green and directing drivers to their correct lane eliminating confusion.
Roundabouts are proven to reduce the numbers of fatal collisions compared with cross junctions, but a side effect is that they can sometimes increase the total numbers accidents depending on the complexity of the layout. Drivers can sometimes struggle to interpret road markings (if the road markings haven’t been worn away) and signs quickly enough and can lose lane discipline - it is hoped the new studs will solve this problem.
Work is underway on a road layout near Liverpool notorious for its high rate of traffic collisions – and significant because it marks the first occasion this new piece of technology is to be used on an operational junction in England. Up till now the technology has only been used in tunnels and on one roundabout in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Switch Island junction in Merseyside controls the merging together of two motorways and several A-roads, incorporating a roundabout, and producing an average of one accident every two weeks. The introduction of the Intelligent Road Studs to its layout intends to increase driver awareness and improve lane discipline by showing the exact line they should be taking when joining the roundabout, reducing collisions and improving safety as a result.
Having road studs that are controllable is incredibly useful for traffic control and there are numerous other applications for the technology pending successful trials. Using them to indicate whether road markings are in effect or not is a simple expansion of the same concept, for example indicating when bus lanes are in effect and warning drivers not to enter them.
Although it’s not clear as to whether they will be available or not, having road studs that can change colour is also well within the realms of possibility and would allow traffic controllers to alert/direct traffic instantly by switching the colours as a way of forewarning drivers of lane closures or restrictions.
It has to be said that this is one of the few instances where a significant improvement in road safety can be achieved relatively easily without demanding anything more from already overtaxed drivers – and actually helps to reduce their burden.
The UK’s road network is getting increasingly crowded, and drivers are bombarded with information they have to quickly interpret and prioritise. Simply telling drivers to ‘drive better’ isn’t productive in every instance; there are times when drivers need more assistance - and chastising them for not being better in a clearly difficult situation only adds to the frustration when the feeling is some of the responsibility lies with the poor road layout/signage/markings.
Switch Island highlights this. Local drivers avoid it whenever they can, and those from outside the area who don’t know to avoid it are the most likely to be involved in an accident because of their unfamiliarity with it. It all points to a badly designed road section that is making things harder for drivers instead of easier
No driver is safe from suffering the uncertainty that can come with approaching an unfamiliar and complex road layout, particularly some of the more confusing designs on the network. This development is something all road users can look forward to as making a real difference without resorting to fines and penalties.