Building Europe’s roads for driverless age

Creating smart, co-operative road transport systems that harness the white heat of technology won’t be easy but a new document shows the way – Andrew Stone does some reading…
June 17, 2022
By Andrew Stone
The mix of connected,  not-connected, autonomous and  not-autonomous vehicles, will make managing the network far more complex until at least 2040 © Sawitri Khromkrathok |
The mix of connected, not-connected, autonomous and not-autonomous vehicles, will make managing the network far more complex until at least 2040 © Sawitri Khromkrathok |

Traffic management is changing fast. Our ever more digitalised world creates streams of priceless traveller, vehicle and roadside sensor data. The advent of autonomous vehicles (AVs), while further in the future, presents opportunities that must be planned for today.

The potential to transform Europe’s road networks is clear. More integrated and automated transport systems capable of dynamically managing, directing and incentivising the best use of the network are in prospect.

The prizes include better use of limited network space, cleaner air, less carbon-intensive network use, as well as fairer and smoother access for all network users.

The intricately complex task of building the physical, digital and organisational capabilities needed to achieve all this is the topic of a new report from the Conference of European Directors of Roads (CEDR) and tolling organisation Asecap.

Called Intelligent Transport Systems for Safe, Green and Efficient Traffic on the European Road Network, it looks at the work of the European ITS Platform and lays out the challenges facing road network operators and proposes a route map to overcoming them. As the report highlights, these challenges are both technological and social.

Managing risk, managing change

Waves of new technologies in smart road infrastructure, in data capabilities and in AVs, present high levels of uncertainty for planners.

At the same time, road operators must also consider changing social and policy themes that impact on how they build out modern intelligent transport systems.

Fairer access for multiple road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, are being given ever-higher priority along with approaches that achieve cleaner air and lower-carbon networks.

The pace of change is perhaps a key overarching challenge that complicates the long-term planning and investment required.

The challenge is not simply predicting which technologies will succeed and how fast, but also how the adoption of a combination of technologies might catalyse faster adoption or present entirely new solutions.

Such future-watching must also be conducted while retaining a focus on managing networks as they are currently configured, the report adds. “A long transition period is ahead of us,” it reads. “It is not clear what will change, when it will happen and how it will impact traffic management.

Uncertainty about these changes makes it difficult for road operators to anticipate these changes. This particularly holds true for the introduction of automated vehicles: it is expected that it will be at least 2045 before half of new vehicles are autonomous, and not until 2060 before half of the vehicle fleet is autonomous.”

The mix of connected, not-connected, autonomous and not-autonomous vehicles, will therefore make managing the network far more complex until at least 2040, it adds. “The risk exists that this will negatively influence safety and congestion. Road operators have to prepare themselves.”

A range of actions and approaches will help road operators anticipate, plan and adapt.

These include: tracking and modelling the rate of technological change; preparing traffic management for autonomous driving; establishing the necessary digital infrastructure; developing appropriate incentives that engage road network users; and working with the emerging business models that will drive much activity on the network.

Tracking and modelling

Road operators can better prepare for change through closer cooperation with the automotive sector, with licensing agencies and research institutes as well as by closely monitoring technological S-curves and tipping points, says the report.

“Questions to be answered are: Which technology is the ‘winning’ technology? What does the S-curve look like? In which year will the impact on traffic management occur? And which roles/actions come with it for road operators?”

Such an approach will help road operators better assess when a particular innovation will have an impact on traffic management.

Detailed modelling here can help anticipate and plan for rapid, but unpredictable, change. An approach worth emulating is that of Dutch road operator Rijkswaterstaat, which developed a Leading Innovation Timeline (LIT) model to help it visualise future innovation.

A model like this helps direct timely investments and enables road operators to better assess the opportunities and risks of new innovations.

The LIT is now part of the European ITS Platform (, a group of European road authorities and road operators aiming at the harmonised implementation of ITS on European motorways.

In these modelling approaches, a range of experts give their opinion on which topic should be included and in which year the first impact (25% penetration) is expected, helping guide discussions and gaining better insight on what will - or could – happen, and when.

Imminent innovation adoption can then be planned for in the short term, leaving more time to reflect on technological disruptions that are further away.

Traffic management and automation

Facilitating the growth of smart mobility while supporting conventional traffic safely will initially cost more since existing systems will have to be maintained while new ones are developed and implemented.

This requires careful planning of the timing of investments in new systems and technologies and an assessment of how long overlapping systems may need to operate for.

Perhaps the key area of overlap will be the mix of legacy and automated vehicles, which is expected to last between 15 and 30 years. AVs will need to be safely integrated into the transport system without endangering existing practices of prioritisation, road safety and traffic stakeholder cooperation, says the report.

“AVs will drive next to legacy ones. Recognising the challenge, the EC CCAM (connected cooperative automated mobility) system aims to create new ways to communicate with automated vehicles, which may require changes in physical infrastructure. In preparation to host mixed and (later) fully-automated traffic flows, the transport community has been working on identifying Infrastructure Support for Automated Driving (ISAD) levels that will be able to indicate to users and vehicle systems if and at what level certain parts of infrastructure can host and support automated vehicles.”

Partially automated driving, meanwhile, may require various road guidance systems such as lane and other road markings. Specific use cases, such as truck platooning and automated shuttles or higher levels of automated driving, may require further investment in physical infrastructure.

Investment in digital and connectivity

Building out the digital infrastructure to support modern C-ITS systems is vital and has three key elements, says the report. They are: digital twins, connectivity and positioning.

Digital twinning provides to an automated vehicle the digital image of the road transport system, as well as relevant rules and regulations, real-time data of traffic, traffic management, weather conditions and so on.

Connectivity is widely regarded as a necessity for highly-automated vehicles, and encompasses short-range, Vehicle to Vehicle and Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) connectivity, as well as medium- and long-range V2I communication. “The accurate positioning of the vehicle is essential for the vehicle to link correctly with the digital twin and to navigate safely in the physical road infrastructure,” the report states.

These are all very much works in progress, it notes. 4G cellular coverage is widespread but not short-range communications. HD maps coverage capable of supporting autonomous driving is limited, while satellite positioning is not accurate enough. The quality of real-time event, traffic and road weather information needs improvement. Digitised rules, regulations and traffic management plans with secure access points need to be developed.

New business models, new incentives

Optimising road networks by dynamically routing road users in ways that balance the needs of the wider network with the individual aims of its users by providing clear guidance and incentives to change their choices is another job of work for road operators.

Traffic managers will increasingly use geo-fencing to control road traffic passing through designated parts of a network such as residential/school or hospital areas or high-pollution zones.

The connected user will be increasingly nudged into making informed decisions and will ideally be willing to contribute to the optimisation of the entire transport network.

This is where new business models to influence user behaviour come into play - but deeper study of mobility patterns and human behaviour is needed to work out how to best nudge people’s behaviours towards their use of the various modes of mobility.

• The full report is available at