Tech innovation ushers in new era of driving

Is modern driving as much about understanding technology as learning the Highway Code?

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Smart motorways, radar signs, automatic number plate recognition…driving these days is as much about understanding technology as learning the Highway Code.

Smart motorways, for example, employ active traffic management techniques to ease congestion and improve safety.

So, overhead signs alert drivers to use the hard shoulder and impose variable speed limits to keep the traffic moving at busy times.

Radar love

Radar signs are another increasingly common sight on many of our roads.

The signs tell you how fast you are driving and are proven to effectively slow traffic down to comply with the relevant speed limit.

Then there is automatic number plate recognition technology, which is not only used by the police but also by car parks and toll operators.

Local heroes

Motoring looks set to become even more sci-fi, too, because the government has invited local authorities to bid for a share of a £2 million fund to capitalise on the latest innovations to improve car journeys.

Councils might, for example, look at roadside sensors that can provide drivers with real-time traffic alerts.

They are also expected to develop technology to allow information about traffic and weather conditions to be sent directly to motorists.

Park life

Some councils already employ hi-tech gizmos to make life easier for drivers.

Westminster City Council’s ParkRight app, for example, directs your vehicle to an empty parking space in central London and even takes payments automatically.

Councils across England have until the end of September to apply for the funding with the aim of completing any schemes by March 2018.

Bids are expected to range between £30,000 and £300,000 and councils must stump up at least 5% of the project’s cost.

Ditch the pilot

The fund is the latest government initiative aimed at speeding up technological innovation on the roads.

Only last month, the Department for Transport launched a public consultation on on the use of advanced driver assistance systems and self-driving vehicles.

It intends to alter the Highway Code and other regulations for the safe use of advanced driver assistance systems that enable changing lanes on motorways and parking the vehicle by remote control.

Trials of driverless cars have already taken place in several UK towns and cities and in March the government confirmed that autonomous test drives would be allowed on motorways for the first time in 2017.

Brave new world

The government is, of course, keen to push the benefits of technology.

But there is a flip side to the brave new world. The safety of autonomous cars has been called into question, most recently after a self-driving car in the US was involved in a fatal crash for the first time.

Then there’s the Big Brother aspect to some of the technology. There are, for example, thousands of cameras on our roads that capture potentially sensitive data about us and our cars.

Hole lotta love

Perhaps there would be less opposition to the cutting-edge technology if it did something really useful. Something like alert drivers to the presence of potholes in the road, maybe?

The number of vehicle breakdowns caused by pothole-related damage has more than doubled over the last 10 years, according to the RAC.

In the year to June 2016, RAC 22,000 call outs were for pothole-related breakdowns and thousands of motorists require assistance each month for problems such as broken shock absorbers or faulty suspension springs.

Other road rescue organisations tell similar stories.

Gone to pot

Potholes are caused when moisture gets into the cracks in the road.

The water then expands when it freezes, compromising the fabric of the roadway. When it melts, water washes away material, with passing traffic exacerbating the problem.

But cash-strapped councils also bear some responsibility for the extent and persistence of the pothole problem because many adopt a ‘patch and dash’ approach to potholes.

So, instead of resurfacing the road properly, they quickly repair the hole, only for it eventually to reappear.

Damage report

Some reports suggest that a third of all recorded vehicle damage is as a result of potholes.

Hitting a pothole can lead to buckled wheels and cracked alloys. It can also knock out a car’s tracking and wheel balancing.

In more severe cases, it can cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle.

Under pressure

The RAC advises drivers to check their tyre pressure regularly and watch their speed when driving over a pothole as the higher the speed the greater the likely damage to the car.

You should also try not to apply the brakes because the vehicle will then tilt forward, placing more stress on the front suspension.

But what if someone could design a pothole alert system?

Drivers could then manage their journeys to avoid holes in the road.

Maybe a council should bid for some of the Government’s £2 billion to develop a device that warns drivers of impending potholes – and put both technology and public money to good use.

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