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From Rural Roads to Smart Regions and Smart Transport: The Role of Local Authorities in the Automated Vehicles Bill

Image illustrating the concept of a connected car with vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communicationillustrating the concept of a connected car with vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication
From Rural Roads to Smart Regions and Smart Transport: The Role of Local Authorities in the Era of Automated Vehicles

The Automated Vehicles Bill, introduced to the UK Parliament in February 2024, marks a significant milestone in the evolution of transportation within the country. Aimed at regulating the use of automated vehicles on roads and other public places, the bill sets the foundation for a future where technology and transportation merge to create safer, more efficient roadways. However, this future also brings with it a set of connectivity challenges and requirements, particularly for local authorities, that necessitate careful consideration and proactive planning of digital infrastructure.

The Bill necessitates advanced digital infrastructure

The bill encompasses several key areas, including the authorisation and licensing of automated vehicles, safety and operational standards, and the legal framework governing their use. It addresses the need for a structured approach to the deployment of automated vehicles, ensuring that these technological advancements contribute positively to public road safety and efficiency.

A pivotal aspect of the bill is its focus on the interaction between automated vehicles and traffic management systems, highlighting the necessity for advanced infrastructure capable of supporting these next-generation vehicles.

For local authorities, the Bill signals a call to action

Although the Bill is still at the second reading stage on the House of Commons and there will be a while until it reaches Royal Assent, for local authorities, the Automated Vehicles Bill signals a call to action.

The Bill implicitly requires an upgrade to existing infrastructure, necessitating the adoption of connected or smart traffic management systems. These systems are essential for the smooth integration of automated vehicles into the road network, facilitating vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications crucial for their operation.

Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) and Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communications over Standalone 5G are key technologies in intelligent transportation systems, where V2I allows vehicles to exchange information with road infrastructure (like traffic signals, signs, and road conditions), and V2V enables direct communication between vehicles.

Given the ultrafast and low latency nature of this information exchange makes it a prime candidate for the deployment of standalone 5G small cells and full fibre networks.

These technologies are crucial for enhancing road safety, improving traffic efficiency, and supporting the operation of automated vehicles by enabling them to anticipate potential hazards, optimise routing, and reduce the likelihood of collisions through real-time data sharing.

Rural authorities can’t use their rurality as a justification for lagging

The challenge is particularly pronounced for authorities in rural areas, where the perceived need for such advanced infrastructure may not have been a priority until now due to the low levels of traffic encountered.

The bill underscores the importance of preparing all areas, urban and rural alike, for the advent of automated vehicles. This includes planning for upgrades to traffic signals, road markings, and communication systems to ensure compatibility with these vehicles and to support the necessary communications.

Rural authorities can no longer hide behind their geographical designation as a justification for lagging in the adoption of smart traffic management systems and the necessary infrastructure for automated vehicles.

To fully harness the potential of automated vehicles and comply with the Automated Vehicles Bill, all local authorities will need to invest in a suite of digital technologies for smart, connected traffic management systems. These systems are predicated on the backbone of high-speed, reliable communication networks, of which 5G and fibre networks are foundational.

Failure to act could result in safety and efficiency setbacks and deter investment and innovation

Local authorities that do not take the requirements of the Bill may risk being left behind in the transportation revolution. Failure to upgrade infrastructure and adapt to the new regulatory environment could result in safety and efficiency setbacks, as roads become less equipped to handle the unique needs of automated vehicles. This could lead to increased congestion, higher accident rates, and a general decline in the quality of road transport services offered to the public.

Moreover, the inability to support automated vehicles effectively could deter investment and innovation in local areas, putting them at a competitive disadvantage compared to regions that proactively embrace these technological advancements.

Technology is shaping the future of road travel

The Automated Vehicles Bill represents a forward-thinking approach to transportation, one that acknowledges the role of technology in shaping the future of road travel. For local authorities, the bill presents both an opportunity and a challenge.

By proactively upgrading infrastructure and aligning with the bill's requirements, authorities can ensure their regions remain competitive, safe, and efficient in the era of automated vehicles. Reduced emissions and improved air quality could reinforce the broader societal and environmental advantages of embracing these technologies.

Conversely, a failure to act could have significant negative implications, not just for the authorities themselves, but for the safety and well-being of the public. The bill, therefore, is not just a legislative requirement; it is a blueprint for the future of transportation, urging local authorities to prepare for a world where roads are shared by both human-driven and automated vehicles.

Local authorities need to realise that they have a critical role in enhancing digital infrastructure for traffic management and broader urban mobility solutions. Failure to do so may not only hinder their ability to manage traffic efficiently but also impact their competitiveness and ability to attract investment and to meet net zero targets.

About Intelligens Consulting

Intelligens Consulting is a multiple award-winning telecoms, smart city and digital transformation management consulting firm to investors, operators and public bodies.  Intelligens Consulting collaborates closely with local authorities to enhance digital connectivity and transform communities into smart cities, driving innovation, efficiency, and sustainable growth. Please contact us on should you wish to discuss anything discussed in this article or if you should require our support.

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