Traffic snow

Weathering the storm caused by bad road conditions

By: Mark Timms, Director, Product Management, INRIX
Published: Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - 14:31 GMT Jump to Comments

We are a nation obsessed with the weather. In fact, ‘talking about the weather’ topped the list of 50 most typically British traits. What can be done to prevent cases where bad weather kills?

As we approach winter, the weather will, undeniably, be our go-to conversation topic of choice. It’s not surprising: adverse weather conditions lower productivity across the country as people’s journeys into work are disrupted and bad road conditions cause lower output across industries. In fact, bad weather costs the UK economy £2.5 billion, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).

Unfortunately, it also costs lives. Around 8,000 fatalities and 61,000 injuries in the EU are the result of bad road weather conditions, from black ice to aquaplaning. Avoiding dangerous road conditions altogether would mean that these numbers would dramatically reduce, but this isn’t always possible.

What we can do instead is give drivers and transport agencies more accurate and immediate information about road conditions, so that they can then react to the conditions more quickly and safely.

Old legacy models have traditionally relied on weather forecasts that only use atmospheric conditions, but these are not always the best source of information for drivers on the roads. By definition a forecast is a prediction or an expectation, and is therefore not particularly accurate. For example, the atmospheric temperature might be below freezing, but the roads themselves may be well above this.

In addition, some transport authorities enhance these atmospheric forecasts with data from road sensors. But whilst these provide great insight into what’s happening on the roads, they too have their flaws. On average, there is one road sensor every 23 kilometres in England. 

With such broad information available to them, and with weather alerts acting as a forecast advisory, drivers are not able to find out what is happening on the roads right now. This has consequences on their ability to take remedial actions in adverse weather.

The silver lining

With the rise of the connected car, this is all set to change. According to Gartner, there will be a quarter of a billion connected vehicles on the road by 2020. By gathering the billions of data points from these connected cars every day, we can start to build a more accurate picture of the road weather situation.

Leveraging the on-board sensor technology already inside cars via advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) means that we have access to a wealth of important data such as road temperature, precipitation intensity and visibility.

Collating this information produces a much more granular picture of the situation on the roads. This benefits not only drivers, but also transport agencies and urban planners, building tomorrow’s smart cities.

In particular, with more accurate, real-time road weather information, transport agencies are better prepared to make more strategic actions when bad weather hits. In turn, this significantly reduces response times and operational costs. In most instances, operators and transport agencies have a plan of action in place, based on historical cases of incidents, to inform their strategy. This may not always result in the most appropriate routes being attended to.

Delivery of real-time road-weather information, derived from vehicles actually on the affected roads, means that route optimisation strategies can be much more informed and transport agencies have better insight for urban planning.

Finally, by moving away from simple forecasting, operators and transport agencies can inform and advise drivers on their journeys much more effectively. If the public receives more accurate information about what is happening right now via mobile apps or directly into their cars, they are instantly armed with the insight they need to make informed decisions and avoid hazardous roads.

By embracing road weather information derived from connected car technology, we are moving away from the old legacy models intended for road management use, towards a means of giving drivers more personalised and relevant information.

With this insight, drivers’ journeys can be safer as transport authorities have accurate, real-time information about what is happening on the roads right now and drivers can make remedial actions to ensure getting from A to B is as safe as possible in adverse weather conditions. It’s about being more strategic when it comes to weathering the storm, and consequently, being safer.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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