How Will Driver Behavior Change with Advancements in Roadway Technology?
Melanie Scott, Marketing Manager at Vaisala and contributor to Vaisala News, interviewed Mr. Harrod to ask about his thoughts on the future of road weather.
Vaisala News (VN): Hi, Simon. Thank you for chatting with me today. Can you tell me a little about your role at Vaisala?
Simon Harrod (SH): Certainly. I look after the Vaisala Transportation business in Asia Pacific and China. This covers three main market segments, Airports, Maritime and Roads & Rail. I am currently based in the Vaisala Tokyo office, but originally from Melbourne, Australia.
VN: I imagine Tokyo and Melbourne are very different. I haven’t been to either city, yet. In your experience with roadway agencies in that part of the world, what has been the most interesting application of a roadway product?
SH: There have been a few. I personally find the use of our products in the driver behavioral studies to be the most interesting. For example, determining that the drivers will slow down when the road surface is wet and it is raining, but that they do not slow down if the road surface remains wet but it stops raining. The hazard is still present, but the drivers perhaps don't behave as they should. It helps to understand the challenges that road authorities face when trying to advise the public of hazards. At the same time it demonstrates how technology can assist and be part of the solution.
VN:Yes, I am sure driver behavior is a challenge, especially during rain or snow, and then there are some drivers who don't want to slow down for conditions! How do roadway agencies address this issue, and what are some other challenges that they ask you to help them solve?
SH: It is a challenge. Usually Variable Message Signs are installed in the vicinity of the hazard to provide the public with real time information on the conditions, and advise of the appropriate action or speed limit. These can be driven by the Traffic Management Center, or directly by our Road Weather Stations. This approach enables them to deal with a large variety of weather related hazards from winter ice, frost and snow, through to high winds, poor visibility and heavy rainfall events. We see examples of each of these conditions somewhere in Asia Pacific. We have also provided solutions to help the road authorities deal with these. The two most significant of these would be the management of winter maintenance activities and specific hazards, such as black ice.
VN: Variable message signs are a good way to communicate to drivers; it is nice to learn they are used all over the world. Thinking of driver behavior in Asia Pacific, what do you think transportation will look like 20 years from now? Are connected vehicles gaining popularity there?
SH: Whilst the public may not yet see it on the streets, there is certainly a lot of effort being put into the next evolution of transportation. There are numerous projects in our region that are laying the foundation for the future transportation system. Whilst the number of connected vehicles is still very small, the push by both government and private industry is very clear. I believe road weather will also play a part in this. We have a proposal in for an innovation grant that, if successful, would see a pilot project relating ITS, road weather and connected vehicle technologies.
If we consider 20 years’ time, I think it is likely our daily commute would have changed dramatically. Autonomous vehicles are a big talking point at present. With the large corporations involved and likely benefits to accident reduction and increased efficiency of the road infrastructure, it will happen at some point. I personally would look forward to commuting in an autonomous vehicle and not having to worry about the stress of the daily commute.
VN: Me too! Let's talk about the role of weather information. You have a proposal to participate in a grant, which sounds very interesting and forward thinking. How important will weather data be for roadway agencies and connected vehicles? There is a lot of weather data out there; how will drivers know which sources to use?
SH: That's a good question. I think broadly speaking, weather related accidents account for about 20% of all road accidents. So, the weather data will definitely be important, with good quality weather data being even more so. As the quantity and use of big data grows, being able to have access to a good set of high quality observation data, or reference data, will be vital. That will be a key role for Vaisala. One that we already provide today and that will be even more important in the future.
VN: With Vaisala contributing quality weather data, do you think we’ll ever see a reduction in accidents that are caused by weather conditions?
SH: I'd certainly expect so. I also think the road safety aspect is a key driver for the current levels of investment. I expect all of these technologies – ITS, connected vehicles, autonomous vehicles – will lead to the more orderly and efficient use of the existing road infrastructure, which will in turn, improve road safety and accident reduction. As this all needs to happen through all seasons, and all weather, Vaisala should also play a part of this improvement.
VN: Sounds like Vaisala has an important role in the future of transportation! Thank you for taking time to answer my questions today. Any last words about the weather or our roadways?
SH: You are welcome! Last words...well, I expect one thing that will remain certain in the future is that there will still be weather impacts on our roadways. To manage them we will need to first measure, manage, and distribute the data. With that task we are always happy to help!