Can pothole scanners improve road safety?


Clearview Traffic’s Wayne Stant responds to news that a UK-based research team is developing ‘smart scanning’ technology to detect the early signs of potholes – and provides some food for thought about their feasibility

I recently came across this interesting article on the subject of potholes and the introduction of pothole scanners, and it got me thinking.

I support the idea of pothole scanners in principle – anything that supports more timely preventative maintenance and reduces the likelihood and severity of road accidents (and therefore disruption to road users) should be applauded. Anything that can minimise road closures or more costly roadworks is a good thing for road safety in Britain. Prevention is better – and often cheaper – than cure.

So, it’s a great idea in principle, but how viable are these scanners? It prompts a number of practical questions about their deployment on our roads:

How quick are they at scanning the road? How do they recogniz ae deal with surface debris? If slow, how much disruption will this cause? How many will be needed to cover the UK road network? Who will pay for this investment and it is viable?

There are lots of different ways of gathering this data – ranging from pothole reporting apps to new technology being trialled at the moment that uses fiber-optic cable sitting alongside the road connected to microphones that measure disturbances in the signal, resulting from vibrations of the road surface – and interpreting these as potholes or cracks in the road surface.

Another option in the ‘connected future’ would be for this sensing to be carried out in-vehicle, and somehow centrally reported: even just equipping the millions of public sector fleet vehicles with sensing equipment and then pushing this back to a central system that could calculate levels of wear and tear and highlight critical failures in the road, and help inform and organize maintenance work teams, could save the country millions of pounds in temporary repairs and claims from the public for damage to their vehicles.

We could start using vehicles as the sensors. Many already have this level of technology already built-in.

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