Electronic road signs can be a boon for our emergency services

Electronic road signs have potential for emergency service traffic

Modern digital road signage, where different messages can be displayed from a remote control unit, offer a marvellous opportunity to ease the way for emergency services.

With the advent of almost-instant 5G communications and the Internet of Things (IoT), joined-up sensors of all types feed a constant stream of real-time information to central control systems. It means that emergency vehicles, for example, could automatically inform road signs ahead of them on their route so that drivers have ample time to manoeuvre out of the way.

We already have these electronic signs on major roads and motorways, and the information they provide is extremely useful. For example, where one lane of a 3-lane motorway or A-road is blocked, these signs display text and graphics to warn drivers to switch lanes in good time.

Smart motorways depend on excellent overhead signs to function properly. Contentious though they may be, they seem to be here to stay. Find out more about how they operate and the three different types of smart motorway in this RAC guide.

It won’t be long before sensors in our cars receive these signals too. It means Sat Nav systems can obtain real time data long before vehicles come anywhere near blockages so that drives can choose alternative routes if they choose.

We already depend on sensors in our cars to control ABS braking systems. They respond instantly when we apply our brakes, to detect slippery road conditions and override the braking system as required for maximum safety.

Driverless vehicles are already on UK roads (almost)

Because 5G enables communications that are as near to instant as makes no practical difference, driverless vehicles are a reality. Sensors in the vehicle themselves, in roadside devices and in other vehicles provide critical information about other road users and the carriageway environment.

Although these external sensors and devices are not widespread as yet, they mean that the control units of driverless vehicles can interpret road conditions and take suitable action instantly – far faster than a human driver could. That makes them safer in theory.

Solihull Council, near Birmingham, is currently trialling a driverless shuttle bus:

Trials of a driverless shuttle bus using a suite of sensors to assess its surroundings have begun on a route by the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham.

Did you know?

If a motorway incident causes significant traffic jams, Highways England decide on workaround routes and usually publish the symbol or symbols to follow on road signs so approaching vehicles can avoid the congestion. The symbols are always black on amber and are the rectangles, triangles circle and other symbols you see on large road signs. Find out more here: The ‘secret’ signs waiting to help you jump gridlocked motorway junctions… emergency diversion symbols explained.