Road Safety- Raising the ALARM
The annual release of the Asphalt Industry Alliance survey marks a culmination of data gathering and analysis that provide an insightful picture of the reality for Highways Engineers managing the maintenance of our roads.
AIA chair Rick Green summarised that the findings ‘Make for bleak, if not unsurprising, reading’ and that ‘engineers can do less, and many have been forced to postpone or cancel road schemes to make savings’ in the face of the current financial landscape.
But what are the solutions out there that can help tackle road maintenance and safety in the absence of changes to funding structure and allocations? And how do they realistically work in the context of the real challenges faced by those planning and performing the maintenance?
The 2023 ALARM survey released in March 2023 outlined interesting but not unexpected findings around road user compensation claims:
- Though the average number of claims received by English and Welsh local authorities has dropped overall, the total spent on road user compensation claims in England and Wales in the 2022/23 financial year was £22.7 million (up 14% on last year).
- Of that, only £11.6 million was the actual compensation paid out, a further £11.1 million was spent on staff costs dealing with claims (72% of which related to potholes).
These figures, in line with previous years, highlights the challenge faced by those managing safety and maintenance on our road networks. Not to mention the cost impact for the taxpayer, totalling the equivalent of £110.23 paid out each year per mile of road in England on Wales, and the adverse impacts on safety for those using the road network.
New Road Safety Solutions
The scale of claims and general upward trend of compensation claims paid out puts huge pressure on those managing road safety across their network. The ALARM survey cites an anonymous industry source summarising the broader challenge impacting road safety and negative outcomes, stating, ‘I don't think there is any local authority at this moment in time where road conditions are improving. It’s about managing decline’.
So how do highways engineers fight the rising tide of claims and declining road networks in the face of restricted budgets and finite staff resources?
Traditionally, road safety surveys take place across the full calendar year are performed by human inspectors who visually inspect (often in twos) the network for road safety defects.
There are huge benefits to this approach- the human eye and the human brain are incredibly good at filtering, assessing, looking at things in context, and making judgements. Which is great if you’re able to walk every single bit of your network and examine everything with the utmost care. However, in the context of the AIA report, it is clear the resources to do this are incredibly limited, putting increased pressure on stretched highways authority staff. To quote the report, ‘Highway engineers can only do so much with the resources they’re given and should be applauded for the steps they take to keep roads safe’.
No one argues that automation is appearing in many areas of our lives, however end-to-end, AI- based solutions are untested and pose fundamental questions about whether road safety should be placed in the hands of algorithms at this point in the developmental cycle of AI technologies. The expertise of the highways safety inspector and maintenance professional should be at the centre of any solution, the future lies in making the expertise of the highway inspector go further- maximising the reach of their years of training and knowledge.
By integrating image-based surveying and analysis into annual road safety surveying, picking out areas for investigation for the expert to inspect from their desktop. This can help take the pressure off safety inspectors by focusing their attention on areas of the network that have been highlighted by an initial visual inspection performed by trained inspectors, maximising their knowledge.
As full 360-degree imagery can be provided across the whole designated safety inspection routes in line with their safety inspection schedule, the routes are fully accessible from the desktop. This also enables the safety inspector to perform site visits only where they deem it necessary, full control remains in the hands of the human experts.
Image-based surveying and scheme outputs are now widely accepted as an industry standard for condition surveys across a large number of local authorities- the time is right to explore the benefits of image and human-based surveys in safety maintenance and surveying. The potential benefits in the face of such a difficult road safety maintenance landscape are overwhelming.
We would love to continue the conversation about the next generation of safety solutions, get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org to speak to us