Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) combine many different types of information and communications technology to create a network of systems that help manage traffic, protect roads and more. As more and more parts of our transportation network become networked, ITS will change the way drivers, businesses and governments deal with road transport. These advanced systems can help improve transportation in several ways.
Improving traffic safety
Unsafe speeds, dangerous weather conditions and heavy traffic can all lead to accidents and the loss of life; intelligent transportation systems help with all of these. Real-time weather monitoring systems collect information on visibility, wind speed, rainfall, road conditions and more, allowing traffic controllers up-to-the-minute information on driving conditions. In fully networked systems, this information can then be used to update warning signs and even speed limits as soon as the need arises, keeping drivers alert to the conditions around them. Emergency vehicles can respond quickly to accidents as real-time traffic monitoring alerts them. ITS traffic control helps divert traffic away from busy or dangerous areas, preventing traffic jams but also reducing the risk of collisions.
Reducing infrastructure damage
Heavy vehicles can put a lot of strain on the road network, particularly when they’re overloaded. Weigh stations and other older forms of weight control reduce the risk of overloading but at the expense of wasted time and delayed traffic. Weigh-in-motion systems measure the type, size and weight of vehicles as they move, communicating the collected data back to a central server.
Overloaded vehicles can be identified and appropriate measures taken resulting in higher compliance among hauliers and reduced damage to roadways. Not only do these systems make enforcement simpler, they can reduce expenditure on road repair, allowing it to be allocated elsewhere.
Existing centralised traffic control systems go some way toward alleviating traffic congestion and ensuring the smooth flow of vehicles through a road network. Intelligent transportation systems, however, allow traffic lights to respond to changing patterns themselves. Adaptive traffic light systems create smart intersections that control traffic in response to the patterns they observe among the vehicles using them. They can also prioritise specific forms of traffic, such as emergency vehicles or public transit. Large numbers of adaptive intersections working together produce a system in which lights change in response to traffic patterns rather than on a fixed schedule, reducing weight times and keeping traffic moving smoothly.
Illegal parking contributes to crowded, dangerous city streets and creates problems for disabled drivers, city vehicles and others needing access to reserved parking spaces. Overstaying drivers slow traffic to a crawl in busy areas as visitors find themselves unable to park. Traditional parking enforcement systems can be costly and inefficient; they may even add to crowding themselves. Smart parking violation detection scan parked vehicles and communicate with parking meters to identify and record illegally parked vehicles.
Instead of taking their chances with a human parking enforcement officer, drivers know they will automatically be cited for illegal or extended parking. These automatic systems help improve traffic flow by increasing driver compliance and smooth turnover of parking spaces.
Gathering traffic data
Proper traffic planning is impossible without detailed data about road use patterns. Existing traffic sensors can learn a lot about how many vehicles use a particular road or intersection, but intelligent transportation systems can do much more. Electronic traffic counters can measure the number and type of vehicles using a particular road or be visiting a particular part of a city, as well as peak traffic times, journey length and other data. This information helps authorities allocate their resources in the most efficient possible way.
As ever-growing populations of urban drivers and commuters put more and more stress on our road network, cities will need new and better tools in the constant struggle to prevent traffic congestion and keep drivers safe. The ever-growing ITS revolution represents a new way to think about traffic and road network management.