“Chaotic” roads could stall driverless cars | Smart Highways Magazine: Industry News

“Chaotic” roads could stall driverless cars

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Poorly maintained road markings and traffic signs could hamper the introduction of driverless cars on the UK’s road network.  

That’s the view of the Road Safety Markings Association (RSMA) following a government announcement that it has given the green light for driverless cars to take to UK roads from January 2015.

The RSMA points out that driverless cars, which are guided by a system of sensors and cameras, could be hampered by the daily routine of roadworks, potholes, worn road markings, burst mains and failed traffic lights.

National director George Lee said: “By 2025, at least half the travel on Europe’s roads will be in vehicles that can read the road ahead including markings and signs. But vehicles, like drivers, cannot function if basic road markings and signs are non-existent, non-compliant, worn out, obscured, inconsistent or confusing.

“In spite of the best efforts of local authorities and utility companies, roadworks are frequently chaotic, and difficult to negotiate for even the most experienced driver.

“We know from our own extensive survey of the UK’s local and national road network that half of markings need replacing immediately or scheduled for replacing.

“Poor maintenance and worn and inconsistent road markings and traffic signs are now a major obstacle to the effective use of technology in vehicles, such as lane departure warning and traffic sign recognition.

“The prospect of self-driving cars is exciting; the reality of cars that can read roads is already with us; but it would be a huge step forward if we could have roads that can be read easily by humans – who still account for the vast majority of road users.”


Lining has long been the poor man of maintenance, if you don’t routinely monitor it, how can you know it needs “fixing”. A band of terrorists with a line sprayer could probably fill a field with autonomous vehicles by spraying and edge line around and down the dip!

The Chaos resulting from the interaction of the first autonomous vehicles and the fleet of “real” cars will be well worth viewing. Our day to day existence on the roads is reliant on “sort of complying with the rules” so as not to result in an damage or injury to ourselves primarily, this driving behaviour, effectively as a flock, continuously accommodating each other, is highly unlikely to ever be able to seamlessly integrate with a vehicle with the equivalent of logical old Mr Spock behind the wheel!

The smart car will need to pass the automotive equivalent of the Turing Test, or be forever excluded from the wild and woolly world of the UK…. who would take the risk otherwise?

There’s always a comprehensive rail network to fall back on……. whoops… we ripped a lot of it up and we are building roads over some of the trackbeds……

(The comments above are personal and they are not necessarily the view of my employer)

I fully agree with John Bullas’s comments above. Autonomous vehicles on UK roads today are bound to fail because of the poorly maintained network. It will not be because of a vehicle failure but because of the quality of the inputs which the vehicle has to read. To make the vehicles work will need a lot of maintenance and re-thinking of service examination and repair schedules by Local Authorities. The worn away stop or give way lines at a junction mouth may suddenly assume a higher priority.
Is there a possibility of a split system of roads? Autonomous vehicles can be used on certified, well maintained roads (at extra cost of course!) but must revert to manual control on the rest of UK’s worn out and ill maintained road networks.
Will the words, “You must assume manual control of this vehicle.” take over from, ‘Turn left 50 metres ahead’ on your integrated sat-nav?