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When it comes to the future of road transport, the UK has been making big plans. With driverless cars set to hit our roads by 2021, the belief is that the autonomous vehicle industry could be worth an estimated £28 billion over the next 17 years. In preparation for self-driving vehicles, proposals for autonomous car insurance laws and codes of practice for testing have been drafted. But what does their introduction mean for the future of our roads?

Well, according to a report by the Department of Transport published in 2016, self-driving vehicles could lead to an increase in congestion and traffic jams that could disrupt the country’s roads for several years.

At present, the UK is home to some 32 million vehicles and its roadways remain reliant on pre-digital technologies. According to the National Infrastructure Committee driverless vehicles will force a change in the country’s roads.

So, in order to successfully accommodate the arrival of autonomous vehicles, we need to start by addressing the limitations of current transport management systems and deploying technology that makes our roads more intelligent.

Current traffic management technologies — such as cameras, over-roadway sensors and inductive loop detectors — are based on traditional timing and often programmed using outdated traffic data. This means that transport systems are not able to provide dynamic responses to events such as accidents, roadworks or construction.

As a result, when the pre-programmed flow is disrupted, the knock-on effects are heavy congestion, jams and gridlocks. To a large extent this failure is due to a lack of truly ‘physical’ sensor data that can provide continuous, real-time monitoring of traffic flows.

Through the deployment of digital technologies such as DAS, governments and local authorities can begin to tackle this issue and start preparing the UK’s roads for an influx of autonomous vehicles.

By augmenting the fibre optic cables that run both under and alongside roadways, DAS can provide local authorities with real-time data streams of their entire traffic systems. Through the analysis of the acoustic/seismic data created as vehicles pass over roads, authorities can dynamically adapt traffic controls and redirect traffic to balance overall flows and avoid crippling congestion.

As we move towards a future that includes driverless cars, we have to get serious about improving traffic flows and gathering new insights into road management and transport networks. And the use of technologies such as DAS can help deliver a level of automation that has not been seen before in traffic systems.