Highways England opting for 'connected highways not autonomous vehicles'


Highways England is ‘looking beyond autonomous vehicles to connected highways’, chief executive Jim O'Sullivan has told Transport Network.

As the race to put fully autonomous vehicles on the road reaches a new stage of deliverability, the national strategic roads authority has suggested the difficulties of high speed travel on motorways have prompted it to look for other solutions.


Speaking exclusively to Transport Network, Mr O’Sullivan said: ‘On the high speed road network we have a different set of problems.

'If you look at the Google car, if it has a problem it stops. That would not be a good solution on a high speed road. So we have to solve the problem of an autonomous vehicle having difficulty at speed. What does it do next? It is like an aeroplane, an aeroplane has to keep going if it has problems in mid-air.

‘We are looking beyond autonomous cars to connected vehicles. We think that connected vehicles and the connected highway is the best answer. I would very much like, for example, if one vehicle is following another, for the two of them to be connected such that the second vehicle knows the first has applied its brakes.

‘The idea is that is done by the lights at the back of the vehicle coming on and the car behind receives a signal.’

The Department for Transport has announced plans for HGV platooning, where two or more vehicles connected with vehicle to-vehicle communication effectively operate as a single unit.

A trial is planned ‘to assess the benefits that could be obtained when operating platoons on our roads’.

Mr O’Sullivan said truck platooning ‘interests us’. He added that Highways England hopes to employ in future next generation variable message signs that can send messages to sat navs about delays.

‘The sat nav knows what route you are following and so we only tell you about the delays you are likely to encounter on that route.’

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