Road to 2050

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Road to 2050: Using Technology In Road Design.

Roads need to evolve and use developing technologies for the benefit of users...

The technology behind our roads has a long history…

  • Traffic lights – 1868
  • Tarmac – 1902
  • The first motorway at Preston – 1958

…and coming right up to date… the first smart motorway – the M42 in 2006. 

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A lot of how we build our roads has been known for years, but new technologies will help ensure our roads are safer and more sustainable.

Road planners have to work around the fact that our road network is old – from Roman through the industrial revolution to Victorian expansion, and to avoid huge costs of new roads, we have to work with what we’ve got – even when network demands change.  

New technology is helping planners design and build things in new ways for the benefit of all road users, whilst also protecting the environment.  Let’s take a look at some exciting ideas.

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1) Connectivity

More and more vehicles today are connected, using internet connectivity and sensors to communicate with each other and other devices in real-time, sharing data to optimise traffic flows, reduce congestion and enhance safety by alerting drivers to potential hazards.

Connected vehicles are expected to revolutionise our roads by reducing congestion, emissions and accidents, as well as the need for road signs.

Connectivity is also important for autonomous vehicles which will help increase accessibility for people with disabilities.

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2) Artificial intelligence

Our motorway network already uses dynamic traffic management systems, collecting and analysing data from various sources and using this information to provide real time information.

This includes adjusting traffic signals, speed limits and lane assignments to optimise traffic flow.

In the future, dynamic traffic management is likely to be even more sophisticated, using artificial intelligence to analyse data more quickly, predicting traffic patterns and congestion before they occur, and communicating directly with connected and autonomous vehicles.

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3) Solar panels

Lots of people already use solar panels, normally on buildings and in solar fields to generate cheap electricity.

There’s even a few cars with their own solar panels!

Given the expanse of the road network, road planners are already experimenting with placing them along the sides of roads, not just to generate power for towns but also for street lights and road signs.

They could potentially even charge cars as they drive.

There are also experiments in using solar panels as the surface of the road itself.

Whilst trials haven’t been successful yet, as technology improves, they may yet see the light of day on our roads.

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4) Road markings

You might not think road markings are particularly high tech, but they have important roles to play.

Many vehicles with autopilot functions rely on the white lines to help centre them on the road.

But in low light and bad weather conditions, it can be hard for both car and driver to see the markings, but this could all soon change.

There are already trials replacing streetlights with glow in the dark lines to help guide drivers.

During the day, the strips absorb sunlight and at night emit the light back out.

Replacing street lights, especially on less used roads, provides a sustainable solution without jeopardising driver’s safety.

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5) Warning signs

Another road marking innovation is creating warning signs using temperature sensitive paint.

They illuminate when there’s a drop in temperature, such as warning drivers of icy patches ahead.

A similar idea uses solar powered LED lights built into the road surface, displaying road and warning signs at night.

They could also use their gathered heat to melt snow and ice on the road

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Let’s time travel to the year 2050…


Is it a bird?  Is it a plane?  No, it’s a flying car!  Amazing new drone technology is enabling cars to hover and fly above the existing road surface.  It means twice as many cars can safely use our double-decker roads – those with wheels on the ground and those with wings up above!

…aaaand we’re back in 2023.

So… would you rather stick to the ground or fly high?  The future could be bright with innovative uses of the technology – really changing the way we use our roads.

You could be part of the change. We want you to use your imagination and think about how technology might help us use our roads more safely, efficiently and sustainably.

Tell us your ideas about how YOU would build a better road in the future for your chance to win.

Enter here!

Have a go at our Road to 2050 Word Search!

MOBILE: Road to 2050

Find out more about the history and future of our roads

Created with support from Rees Jeffreys Road Fund.

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Road to 2050

Find out more about why roads are built and how they help us get around the country.

More From Road to 2050