Innovative monitoring for road transport safety
The EU-funded 'ASSET-Road' project has opened a new test site on the A8 Salzburg-Munich motorway in Germany. The objective is to reduce the number of serious road accidents, especially those linked to heavy goods transport.
At a time of increasing vehicle registration, increasing traffic density, and limited road space, traffic monitoring has become an essential element for efficient and safer road transport. The growth of heavy goods transport in particular, and the increasing share of transit traffic on motorways have had a real impact on the number of accidents resulting in injuries or fatalities.
Stiff competition in the freight transport sector means more and more lorries are overloaded while maintenance can be haphazard. And, under increasing cost pressures, some drivers still choose not to observe regulations concerning driving and rest periods, and speed limits.
The ASSET-Road project is developing new sensors and automated methods to detect lorry and passenger car offences.
Speaking at the ASSET-Road test site opening in Germany, Ludger Rogge, Project Officer at the European Commission’s Research Directorate-General, said, "With a total budget of more than €8 million and bringing together 19 partners from 10 different EU countries, as well as from Tanzania and India, ASSET-Road is one of the most important 'road safety' projects currently being funded under EU's Seventh Research Framework Programme.
"In contrast to many other research projects, which focus on specific areas of road safety research, ASSET-Road is taking a holistic approach, integrating all of the main transport elements, including the driver, the vehicle, infrastructure and control systems."
Improving the current situation
Today, traffic speed monitoring is typically carried out by automated stationary systems, i.e. speed sensors fitted to traffic signs and other road infrastructure. In addition, mobile units employing light barriers or radar sensors are often used. Enforcing authorities inform road users of their offences and issue fines.
Meanwhile, the inspection of heavy goods transporters involves mobile checks in free-flowing traffic and inspection of conspicuous vehicles. On Bavarian motorways, these checks are carried out by traffic police. They are time-consuming and staff-intensive and are therefore quite limited in terms of traffic coverage.
ASSET-Road integrates already available technologies to detect offences automatically, representing an enormous step forward compared to current practice.
A new ASSET-Road test site has been set up on the federal A8 motorway between the Inntaldreieck motorway interchange and the Bavarian capital of Munich. Its purpose is to test new sensors and automated methods for detecting truck and passenger car offences.
At the site, a high-speed weigh-in-motion (WIM) system measures the weight of vehicles or individual axles without their needing to stop. In case of overload, a lateral freeze-frame picture of the vehicle is recorded, allowing its identification. This image and the related data are then automatically transmitted to a computer at a control station for further processing.
A multifaceted detection system
In the near future, explains ASSET-Road project coordinator Walter Maibach, road vehicles will be equipped with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, in addition to their conventional licence plates. This means that, in case of an offence, details necessary for vehicle identification will be automatically readable while the vehicle is still in motion.
To test this detection method, the ASSET-Road test site also includes RFID readers, together with the WIM sensors, which means overloaded vehicles can be immediately and automatically identified while in motion. Furthermore, special cameras and 3D equipment monitor for other possible offences, including inappropriate underrun (the distance between the back of a lorry and the rear of the rearmost tyres), improper driving behaviour such as tailgating and speeding, or prohibited overtaking.
Based on 3D pictures, the computer can calculate vehicle speed, vehicle height and the distance between vehicles.
If an offence is suspected, an enforcement officer positioned at a sorting point diverts the vehicle in question off the motorway and into an inspection facility in order to verify the suspected offence. Here, vehicle weight is checked, as well as the state of brakes, tyres and bearings, by means of a subsurface infrared camera that measure tiny differences in temperature.
All in all, says Maibach, the ASSET-Road project constitutes a milestone in the improvement of traffic safety and the protection of road infrastructure.
Rogge agrees: "The innovative technologies in the areas of dynamic traffic management and automated enforcement as developed by ASSET Road, including current and upcoming ICT and automated procedures, can have a major impact on traffic management and above all on road safety in Europe, particularly for heavy goods vehicles. These technologies can help to improve the behaviour of road users and harmonise traffic, reducing speeding, minimising speed variation and increasing risk awareness of the drivers."