The arrival of self-driving and connected cars will add
weight to the case for improved road maintenance, not only to tackle the huge
backlog, but also to ensure the associated communication and information
systems are up to standard and offer comprehensive coverage, it is claimed.
Experience from the aviation and rail sectors suggests
that there could also be a need for a more highly-qualified and highly-paid
workforce, not just to ensure highway surfaces were maintained in better
condition, but also look after the network of telecoms equipment that connected
cars will rely on.
The RAC Foundation said that in the world of driverless
vehicles and a ‘zero tolerance for accidents’ meant that roads “must be perfect”.
In a report for the RAC Foundation, ‘Readiness of the Road Network for Connected and
the consultancy CAS said that much would depend on the ability of autonomous
vehicles to ‘read the road’ and make allowances for potholes, poor road
markings and complicated signals and signs.
The report gave the example of the danger faced if any of
the vehicles travelling in a fast-moving, close-formation platoon hits a
The report, authored by Dr Charles Johnson, said that
human drivers had four areas of competence which autonomous vehicles would be
required to replicate: Observation, analysis, decision-making and taking
The report said that “all four levels of ‘cognitive
performance’ required by autonomous vehicles will have implications for
infrastructure since the last three will all be dependent on the accuracy of
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Driverless
cars will make decisions based on their best assessment of their surroundings.
Throw in variables like potholes, unclear and obscured signs and lines, and intermittent
communication coverage from our currently patchy network and you could find
that far from offering the swift, comfortable travel we seek, our new
autonomous cars are condemned to crawling along in ‘proceed with caution’ mode.
“While motorists might accept a degree of human error and
its consequences when they themselves are at the wheel, the experience from
public transport is that when people are being driven rather driving they have
almost zero tolerance for safety failings. The record on our roads is a long
way from that today, but just focusing on the safety of the vehicle - its
design and its software - isn’t going to bridge the gap. Getting the road
infrastructure right is integral to ensuring an all-round safe system.”