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Highways England to test driverless cars on UK motorways

Agency sets out strategy for connected vehicles and promises to test fully-autonomous cars on motorway network in 2017

Highways England, the agency responsible for managing England’s core A- and M-road network, has published an innovation strategy setting out its goals for connected vehicles and driverless technology.

The strategy elaborates on plans briefly set out by chancellor George Osborne in his March 2016 Budget, and supports his pledge to test fully-autonomous cars on the motorway network within the next 18 months.

Jim O’Sullivan, chief executive of Highways England, said the organisation is “committed to using innovation to benefit the millions of journeys made on England’s strategic road network today and in the future.

“We will work with our partners in the supply chain, technology specialists and the automotive industry to trial new technologies that will help make journeys on our roads safer, more reliable and better informed.”

Besides testing autonomous vehicles on motorways to collect performance data and assess potential impacts on capacity and operations, the multi-million-pound initiative will support a number of other schemes.

These include a trial of acoustic technology in the Hindhead tunnel on the A3 in Surrey to monitor traffic movements and detect any vehicles that are stationary inside the tunnel.

It will also support a trial that will see journey information sent wirelessly to adapted vehicles on the A2 and M2 in London and Kent, routing users around slow traffic or managing lane changing to avoid obstructions ahead.

Another project will look at the value of improving junction signalling on motorways to increase traffic flow, which would involve adapting signal timing at junctions based on time of day or traffic volume.

Read more about driverless cars

Elsewhere, Highways England will explore the use of internet of things (IoT) sensors to provide information about the condition of the road, bridge and tunnel infrastructure, opening the door to more targeted and efficient maintenance programmes.

Finally, it will develop the use of the ‘expressway’ concept on A-roads to help traffic flow more freely using technology to provide more in-depth and accurate journey information, alongside physical improvements such as modernised junctions and emergency refuges.

Highways England said its wide-ranging plan will bring benefits to road users around the country and unlock economic growth.

“Quicker, safer roads will improve access to jobs and opportunities,” said roads minister Andrew Jones. “Placing Britain at the forefront of innovation and research in this area will also create more jobs and investment.”

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