Some 60 percent of fatal car accidents occur on rural roads and there is a role for pop-up LTE communications, drones, and geofencing in managing the safety of road networks in remote areas.
Despite some of the lowest road casualty rates in the world, road safety remains a priority in Britain. Every year, around 2,000 people die in car accidents on British roads, and nearly 200,000 are injured. Most fatal crashes take place on rural roads, which account for only 40 percent of vehicle miles traveled across the country. Statistics show that rural roads aren’t safe for any type of road users: drivers, their passengers, and cyclists are twice as likely to be killed on rural roads than on urban roads, while motorcyclists are nearly three times as likely to suffer a fatal crash while driving through the countryside.
Research doesn’t provide conclusive evidence as to why rural roads are more hazardous, but a combination of factors including difficult road conditions and increased speed likely contributes to the severity of incidents on country roads. The quality and speed of medical response in remote areas can vary greatly, and since many rural areas suffer from poor connectivity and network signal, the contact with local medical assistance in the critical first 10 minutes after the crash is often hindered.
While road operators across Britain have introduced numerous measures to improve safety on roads by investing in infrastructure and vehicle enhancements, promoting safer behavior and equipment, and raising the safety standards of roads, rural connectivity remains an issue. The digital divide is nothing new — Ofcom reports that only 41 percent of rural homes in the UK have 4G coverage (comparing to 81 percent of urban premises), and due to the geographic spread of the motorways, highways, and other roads managed by road operators across the country, there are inevitably areas where communications networks are patchy, non-existent, or contend with commercial traffic.
The availability of a reliable communications network that enables coordination with multiple stakeholders – including emergency services — and tools to improve situational awareness at incident sites and during work roads is key to minimizing the risk of death or injury to the general public and roadside workers. Cubic believes one technology that can make a difference is a temporary LTE communications network.
A case for LTE communications
LTE is increasingly recognized as the preferred international standard for mobile wireless voice and data communications. Exploiting the opportunity afforded by this technology allows road operators to embrace next-generation communications, using the best in LTE radio and antennae technology to deliver a proven, secure, wireless, high-bandwidth network communications bearer. In remote places with no or poor network coverage, pop-up LTE can become a straightforward, cost-effective, and vital tool to support incident management, roadside work, and other operations across the UK road network.
Of course, existing national cellular provision (2G, 3G, and 4G) could provide a route path for road operators. However, operating a proprietary LTE platform has significant advantages over preceding technologies and commercial provision. Apart from offering dependable signal in areas with unreliable network access, a proprietary network can achieve a much higher user count that doesn’t suffer loss of bandwidth at critical times. On a commercial network, prioritization is in the gift of the operator and perceived capacity is not always a true reflection of the actual network state — as many of us find out when trying to make a call at midnight on New Year’s Eve! This can be particularly troubling during an incident situation, where multiple users share the same bandwidth, reducing the availability of emergency care personnel to share data reliably and in a timely manner.
In addition to increased bandwidth, when designed for proprietary use, LTE can guarantee speeds and data transmission over significantly longer distances (through private spectrum and non-traditional LTE frequencies), which is particularly handy in remote, hilly areas. Coverage can be dynamically adjusted using additional, temporary assets such as masts, drones, and mobile base stations. Further, the availability of a temporary pop-up LTE network can offer the necessary support for the aging Airwave TETRA network, which is set to continue providing mission-critical communications to first responders in the UK until at least 2022, due to the delays to the planned LTE-based Emergency Services Network.
A temporary LTE communications network that ensures dedicated and exclusive communications access for all roadside personnel and emergency services can facilitate more efficient coordination of services during a road incident as well as improve the overall incident management. Since, by definition, pop-up LTE can be deployed quickly from a patrol or response vehicle, it can become an easy-to-use access point into the LTE infrastructure, improving multi-agency cooperation while an incident is in progress.
In addition, making use of the LTE communications to relay real-time HD video feeds from the scene allows remote locations (e.g., a control room) to give direction to on-scene personnel based on what can be seen on the ground. This could include instructions to a first responder from specialist personnel before a suitably qualified person physically arrives on the scene.
With the use of pop-up LTE technology comes the ability to deploy drones for the management of major road incidents and to provide additional support functions beyond what can be achieved on the ground. Cubic operates advanced, stable, military-grade drones with long flight times (either free-flying or tethered) that are capable of carrying heavy and multiple payloads. Combined with pop-up LTE, they can revolutionize accident scene response in rural areas by serving multiple purposes: providing a persistent overhead for LTE access, thus ensuring reliable and powerful communications, securing the integration with the emergency services, and providing persistent CCTV coverage of the incident from variable positions and angles, emergency dynamic floodlighting, and emergency PA systems to relay audible instructions to road users. Both pop-up LTE solutions and drones can help facilitate post-incident analysis and the flow of high-volume intelligent data and information, including high-definition CCTV from multiple sources (e.g., fixed cameras on temporary masts, mobile on drones or personnel), directly to the control room in real-time. Recorded aerial footage of the scene can speed up investigative work, helping road personnel reopen roads more quickly, even after a serious incident, and can be used for incident reconstruction after the event to ascertain fault and for training and accident prevention purposes.
Apart from improving incident response, portable LTE communications can provide additional value to road operators by ensuring the safety of contractors, road users, and traffic controllers at roadworks sites in remote locations. Often, safety supervisors (both local and remote) are faced with inefficient working practices — they are unable to suitably monitor the location of personnel and vehicles in relation to roadside work and their communication on the ground is limited to short range radio. In addition, all roadside working (whether for day to day operations and maintenance or during incident management) carries inherent risks and dangers to the safety of the personnel involved.
Using a pop-up LTE communications network in conjunction with suitable communications interfaces and GPS devices facilitates positional tracking for all roadwork personnel as well as the creation of geofences — virtual geographic boundaries in work zones designed to protect safe or controlled areas where work is being undertaken, monitor vehicle movement, enforce site speed limits, or prevent equipment theft. Site personnel, vehicles and tools can be equipped with an LTE Communications Interface, which allows them to be individually identified and tracked on a live map in real-time, locally or remotely from the control center, enhancing site safety and traffic management during roadworks.
The availability of a reliable communications network is key in improving incident response, site safety, and helping road operators uphold the principle that no one should be harmed when traveling or working on a road network — particularly in rural areas. Investing in proprietary, pop-up LTE communications, along with drones and geofencing technology can bring significant efficiencies to road operators, helping them better manage road networks in remote areas and make the most of technological innovation to make roads safer for us all.
Written by David Powell, Head of ITS EMEA, Cubic