How Driving Is Evolving – The Future of Our Roads


The Road

Since its creation in 10,000BC, this tool of transportation has given humans access to the most difficult geographical locations. Before knowing just where our roads are going, it’s important to know just where they’ve been.

The oldest known paved road is thought to have been laid between 3000 and 2000 BC in Egypt, whilst the entire Roman Empire was connected by 29 major roads, covering an astonishing 53,000 miles of paved roads. Chances are, if you look out of your window right now, you’ll be greeted with that familiar sight of tarmac. Even some birds have started to evolve shorter wings in order to survive on roads.

What is new for roads?

Whilst the idea of roads is nothing new, there are a number of interesting developments to enhance the usability of roads for all users.

Driverless cars are definitely worth mentioning. A viable technology that exists on the roads today, these are fully autonomous vehicles, which sense their environment and navigate accordingly without direct intervention from a human.

It is estimated that all major car manufacturers will have some form of automatic driving technology available over the next decade or two.

The benefits are numerous, including;

  • Computers will always adhere to the set parameters such as speed limit and navigation instructions. This can lead to less accidents.
  • People who drink alcohol will not be tempted to try and drive home as their car can safely do it for them. Again, this would be a safer way to travel.
  • Overnight travel would let passengers gain much needed rest
  • Decreased congestion and better traffic flow management means less time spent travelling to and from destinations

Image via Imgur

The downsides of driverless cars

Of course, there are negative aspects to consider too; namely money. Technology is always expensive to create and to maintain. Of course, the more widespread a technology becomes, the less it eventually costs. Remember when basic DVD players were upwards of £1000? Today, you can buy high quality ones for as little as £20. However, in its advent, it will prove to be extremely expensive to own these types of cars.

The consideration that in the future driverless cars can be considered a service, rather than material goods, has to be addressed also. That an army of these vehicle can provide the transport needs for an entire city or country, reducing costs for car products, park spaces, traffic congestion and resources, is simply too big an argument to ignore.

Furthermore, there is an argument that this tech can actually endanger society as a whole in the long term, but probably not in the way you’re thinking. A recent post states that Google’s driverless cars have completed more than 700,000 miles on American motorways so far, and have not received a single traffic violation.

Whilst this is great news on a safety front, it raises concerns that local governments will be left without a substantial source of its income – namely speeding fine penalties. In the US alone, speeding fines amount to around £3.65 billion pounds annually.

If this was to suddenly disappear due to more automatic cars keeping to speed limits at all times, it would mean budget cuts within police departments. This can equate to less officers on the road or streets, raising crime figures in areas drastically.

Government entities such as the Department for Transport are very enthusiastic about where our roads will eventually lead us when it comes to driverless cars. A spokesperson of the DfT stated:

“Driverless cars have the potential to transform our roads and create opportunities for UK companies to develop new technology and create economic growth. We need to ensure their use on UK roads is safe and that the wider public benefit.”

Encouragingly, the DfT is now working with Oxford University, who are trialling the technology. They have also allocated a staggering £10 million pound prize fund for any town or city willing to develop a test site for driverless cars.

They are also reviewing current regulations in relation to this form of technology, with a report due out at the end of 2014.

Magnetic Attraction

Another proposed innovation is magnetic levitation (Mag-Lev). Yes, floating cars. Using two opposing magnets, it can be possible to keep a vehicle lifted above the surface, and propelling it forwards or backwards. The science is slowly overtaking fiction when it comes to this type of technology. Mag-Lev has already been deployed effectively as train transportation in China. The question is whether it can be utilised on road surfaces also. Again, the downside is that it would cost a lot to relay the current infrastructure of a nation’s road transport with this technology. In fact, it is argued that the cost of maintenance and upkeep to such a system will outweigh its advantages, effectively relegating it to ‘white elephant’ status.

Solar Power

More encouragingly, a recent project has been discovered which aims to take existing technology and employ it in a completely new and innovative way; Solar panels.

Solar Roadways aims to provide a convenient and safer way to use our roads. By laying segmented solar panels over the road surface, numerous benefits appear. These include:

  • LED lighting to illuminate and direct drivers safely during transport. These lights could change to reflect traffic flow and inform of accidents ahead.
  • The energy collected from solar heat can be used for various things, including powering the panels themselves, along with nearby lighting and other traffic signage.
  • Heating elements contained in the panels can keep the surface of the road warm during colder months. The can prevent ice and snow build up, leading to a decrease in potential accidents.

Image by Sam Cornett via Solar Roadways

The future of our roads is not set yet.

Car safety is always going to be a vital part of the road experience, so why not enter your registration in the box above for an instant car warranty quote today!