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New ways to monitor road conditions

Last week [26 April] research body TRL published a study of different road condition monitoring technologies. It was commissioned to feed into a new PAS – publicly available standard – on road condition monitoring.

A first draft of the new standard, PAS 2161, was published on the BSI website for consultation on 10 April. Anyone wanting to comment must do so through the website by 7 May.

The TRL report, Road Condition Monitoring Data, Network Study, provides some background.  TRL’s chief technologist Dr Alex Wright is the lead technical author of PAS 2161 and of the network study report.

The aim of PAS 216 - and the study – is to set out new parameters for road condition monitoring that allow local authorities to use innovative technologies. New systems such as smartphone apps, dedicated mobile technologies or vehicle telematics are promising, but they all work differently and measure different things – which means that if the technology used varies between local authorities, it could be difficult to get a nationwide picture of our roads’ conditions.

Currently, an assessment method called SCANNER (Surface Condition Assessment for the National Network of roads), is used, with automated surveys conducted using accredited vehicles. This leads to the classification of road conditions as red, amber or green based on their condition.

One of the first things that Wright and his committee of industry experts did was to set out a new range of road condition categories. Instead of red, amber, green, there will be categories 1 to 5, where a category 1 road has no deterioration and needs no maintenance and a category 5 road is so deteriorated it would probably need full resurfacing or reconstruction.

But can the various new technologies reliably classify a range of different roads in those categories? The study, which ran between May 2023 and April 2024 on 100km of roads in Surrey, asked that question of 11 different technologies, using highway engineers to calibrate them.

However, even after calibration, there was still a fair bit of variation, according to the TRL study: “The consistency (across all RCM devices) may not yet be at a level that is comparable with the consistency of current devices applied for national reporting of pavement condition.”

The report goes on to say that we may have to accept that there will be greater variability between authorities while the various technologies adapt and bed in. It also suggests that it may be necessary to establish some sort of performance threshold that technologies must meet before they can be used for monitoring.

Transitions from existing to new technologies are often challenging. And it can be existing standards which slow down the adoption of new ideas, as National Highways has acknowledged. So, it’s good to see this work by TRL and others to help the industry unlock the potential of new technology.


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