‘Electronic goalposts’ to make UK roads safer by preventing bridge strikes


Following several recent nationally-reported collisions between vehicles and low bridges, UK company VPS Security Services is highlighting the benefits of its Over-Height Vehicle Detection System (OVDS) that could make the country’s roads safer for all users.

Lorries or buses strike a low bridge in the UK nearly 2,000 times a year; almost five times a day. Bridge collisions by over-height vehicles lead to road and rail delays, heavy congestion and the consequential environmental hazard from fumes and emissions, and sometimes derailment and bridge collapse. In the worst cases, they can cause injuries and fatalities. In a major incident last week, a double-decker bus carrying Christmas shoppers, commuters and students crashed into a railway bridge in Wales, slicing off part of the roof. The bus had been diverted from its normal route between two Swansea University campuses and the city centre by roadworks. Eight people were injured, two seriously, and a third had to be airlifted to hospital with life-threatening injuries.

VPS Security Services has created a system of ‘electronic goalposts’, that combines sensors, variable message signs (VMS), alarms and monitoring systems, to warn over-height vehicles in time before they reach a low bridge. The company’s OVDS offers a proactive solution that actively monitors traffic on routes where overhead obstructions pose a strike risk, and provides strike warnings to drivers of vehicles that are too large. Using quad beam laser sensors to monitor traffic on approaches to obstructions such as tunnel entrances, low overpasses and bridges, if a vehicle is too large to pass safely, it is detected, automatically triggering a bright LED sign, displaying ‘Warning Low Bridge – STOP’, and an audible alarm that instructs the driver to alter their course or stop before they reach the obstruction.

Easily deployed, the OVDS is mounted on and powered by the VPS Smart Tower, which is a rapid deployment CCTV tower that is normally used in temporary, mobile or semi-permanent applications, such as construction zones. Capable of supporting a variety of sensors, cameras or illumination units, the Smart Tower features an extendable mast up to 24.5 feet (7.5m), an integrated loudspeaker system and multiple power options, including mains, battery, generator or hydrogen fuel cell. The OVDS was piloted during seven weeks of roadworks on the A66 in Cumbria last year, when approximately 2,000 over-height vehicles were detected heading in the direction of Kirkby Stephen, where a low bridge is situated. No bridge strikes occurred. The company has now submitted the innovation for a 2020 Highways England Road Safety Award.

“No matter how many warning signs are plastered all over a bridge, or on static signs leading up to it, drivers either ignore them or think they can still get under,” said Andy Leigh, from the VPS traffic technology team. “But when a flashing light is displayed, along with audible warnings, then it’s much, much more likely they’ll notice the potential danger. This system helps prevent potentially fatal and costly bridge strikes, and directly improves customer safety.”

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Adam joined the company in 1994, and has been News Editor of TTT since 2009. In his other role as Circulation Manager, he helped create the original Traffic Technology International distribution list 23 years ago, and has been working on it ever since. Outside of work, he is a keen fisherman, runs a drumming band, and plays an ancient version of cricket.