Mind the data gap: Calls for a national strategy on connected vehicles


Gaps in the 'data chain' surrounding connected vehicles are preventing the technology from delivering maximum value for the market and drivers, a new report has argued.

While connected vehicles generate huge amounts of data in key areas like safety and congestion the information is not being fully utilised due to institutional factors including market complexity and a lack of knowledge and strategy.


Gaps between data generation, collection and use must be plugged, the report argues, as the key 'lies in getting [the data], appropriately processed, into the hands of those taking the decisions' whether that is a driver or teams designing and managing traffic control systems.

Commissioned by the RAC Foundation, the report analysed four examples where data is collected and shared through connectivity:

  1. In-Vehicle Signage (IVS) – displaying road signs and warnings to the driver inside the vehicle;
  2. Green Light Optimal Speed Advisory (GLOSA) – which tells drivers what speed to adopt to pass through the next set of traffic lights on green;
  3. using vehicle data to improve road maintenance; and
  4. using vehicle data to improve traffic light timings.

The analysis concluded:

  • there are often gaps and obstacles in the end-to-end chain from data generation to action being taken;
  • where new services augment existing applications of technology, such as traffic lights, that base technology may need investment to bring it up to standard
  • neither the benefits of the services nor the costs involved in achieving them are yet sufficiently clear and compelling to prompt the actions needed to realise them by the various parties involved.

On the back of the findings, report author Andy Graham called on the Department for Transport (DfT) to develop a connected vehicle data strategy 'to provide a clear plan of what services to deploy, when and why' and evaluate the real-world benefits 'to build and sustain a national business case'.

Government should also 'help tackle the difficulty local highway authorities have in procuring data by running a central national procurement and hosting a subscription hub for data supply' as well as provide cash to boost skills in highway authorities.

The report also calls on authorities to explore using real-time data collected from vehicles, and review the procurement of maintenance services to reward innovation, in particular 'more flexible levels of service using data from vehicles'.

Complexity and practical benefits

Gaps and obstacles were not uniform and instead, 'they tend to involve multiple players rather than having a single owner, and mostly they are not technology-based, but arise from organisational, institutional and human issues'.

However the report also found that targeted applications through existing systems could deliver some early benefits, including:

  • delivering IVS on motorways to provide additional information to drivers on stretches of road between fixed signs and gantries, through working with satnav service providers;
  • deploying GLOSA on a temporary basis for busy heavy goods vehicle routes – for example, to major construction sites (already the subject of a trial at Hinckley Point power station);
  • using data from dashcams and pay-as-you-go insurance to inform many types of highway asset management decisions; and
  • using existing Floating Vehicle Data to improve traffic light timings.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: 'The modern car is sometimes described as being akin to a mobile phone on wheels, such is its ability to receive and transmit information.

'But what benefits might connectivity enable? Location and speed data can enable highway authorities to monitor queuing at traffic lights and retune their timing, while processed images of the road surface and data on acceleration and braking can allow real-time monitoring of road surface condition and thus inform highway authorities’ maintenance and repair plans to save money.

'Tackling these issues now by filling these gaps could be an important step on the way to ensuring highly automated and ultimately autonomous vehicles both generate and receive the data they will need to provide smooth, safe and efficient travel for the road users of the future.'

Mr Graham said: 'The four services I looked at can all use existing 4G communications for ‘good enough’ services and also ‘piggy back’ on one another to increase benefits. We need to combine services as drivers do not know or care about the difference between them. We need to think of what the driver wants first, not the technology definitions.

'The UK leads the way technically in many of the service areas I looked at, especially with new innovations in traffic lights and asset management. But taking these ideas from technical research to wider day to day use by practitioners remains the challenge.' 

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