Austroads has published a report investigating possible changes to the way road networks are managed in preparation for the introduction of automated vehicles (AVs).

The project reviewed international and local documents and initiatives and consulted a range of stakeholders to determine the emerging requirements for AVs to operate on public and private road networks (including urban and rural areas).

The report captures key issues in three broad categories: physical infrastructure; digital infrastructure and road operations.

Physical infrastructure requirements of roads will differ for different AVs, and for different use cases. Feedback suggests that many AVs will be designed to operate on road networks as they currently are.

However, to best support a wide range of AVs and their use cases, the following physical infrastructure design and maintenance elements were identified as requiring consideration by road operators:

  • Physical attributes: road and intersection design may need to be considered differently depending on the AV use case that may need to be supported
  • Road pavement and structures: consider changes to loads on bridges, pavements, and barriers, if automated heavy vehicle platoons are to be supported. Road and asset maintenance programs may also need to consider increased loads from platooning. Feedback also suggested that road condition could affect the operation of some AVs
  • Signs and lines: need for consistency in design, implementation and maintenance of road signs and line marking. Existing infrastructure is noted to be problematic for a number of AV manufacturers. There appear to be issues with readability of electronic signs, and therefore greater consideration of machine readability is required when designing signs
  • Roadworks: there is a need for consistency of traffic management treatments which vary significantly between projects and across different jurisdictions. The need for real time information about current road conditions was also highlighted
  • AV certification: Some agencies are considering a need to “certify” roads as AV compliant. Another approach could be to provide some guidance or framework, outlining where certain AV use cases should or should not operate

Digital infrastructure requirements, in a similar manner to physical infrastructure, will vary depending on the AV and the use case being supported.

Data management, positioning services, and communication technologies are important areas to be considered.

The following issues with digital infrastructure may need to be considered to support AVs operating across the road network:

  • Australia and New Zealand are both challenged by relatively low geographical coverage of cellular communication services in comparison to many other developed countries
  • Many vehicle systems emerging overseas use free access to a Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS) for absolute positioning. Australia and New Zealand do not currently have access to such a system
  • There will be greater focus on digital mapping and data exchange as part of core operating capabilities in the future. Road operators will need to consider how best to support these elements, which data it should make available, and what it should be the authoritative source for. The fact that the private sector is currently collecting and supporting AVs with data, may mean that the balance of the roles of public and private sectors may shift over time. Ensuring that data is available to ensure the best operational outcomes on the network will be a key challenge for road operators. The need to consider and protect the privacy of road users will continue to be a significant issue.

Road operations may need to evolve to support new use cases that come with the introduction of AVs, and to optimise the potential transport outcomes across a road network. The following issues may require further consideration:

  • Network management approaches such as Movement and Place, and supporting tools like Network Operating Plans, may need to be reviewed and amended to ensure they appropriately consider future AV use cases
  • A range of standards, guidelines, and regulations will need to be reviewed and updated to ensure the best possible outcomes in implementing AVs. These processes will support consistency of operations, which is paramount for AVs
  • Roadworks are a key aspect noted to be of particular concern to AV manufacturers and system suppliers. It is necessary to ensure that roadworks become well planned events and real time information is provided to AVs. This information should include physical changes to the road layout, which may be more complex for an AV to negotiate

The report concludes with high level guidance for road agencies and operators. There are obvious challenges in providing practical guidance to agencies in a still evolving and changing environment, and some of the guidance, although still relevant, may be beyond the purview of individual road operators.

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