The University of Southampton
Engineering and the Environment

Intelligent traffic systems

As Britain’s roads get busier and busier, we need intelligent and sustainable solutions to keep traffic flowing swiftly and safely. Members of the University of Southampton’s Transportation Research Group (TRG) are investigating ways of improving how we get around our cities and exploring how to cut congestion on motorways and major trunk roads. Their expertise is also in demand around the world from transport planners who want to avoid gridlock in their communities.


Research challenge

Academics in the TRG are in demand from policymakers at home and abroad who need to improve traffic flows in urban areas. For the last 40 years, researchers have tackled a wide range of challenges, too numerous to list here. A major theme is the reduction of congestion by encouraging increased use of public transport. If buses carrying dozens of passengers can be given priority on the roads, more commuters may leave their cars at home. Better forecasting of traffic peaks and troughs can make motorways flow more freely. Improving in-car control systems is likely to reduce accidents and improve driver satisfaction.


The UK government has promised to establish a transport system to be ‘an engine for economic growth, but one that is also greener and safer and improves the quality of life in our communities.’ The TRG shares this aim and is in demand from companies and policymakers who seek technological solutions to their complex transport problems. Millions of pounds are lost every year around the world as commuters and delivery lorries sit in traffic jams. Solutions are urgently needed.

Our solution

The TRG brings together academics from different disciplines within engineering to tackle these complex problems. Understanding traffic systems required 14 studies to analyse city transport systems, then design and evaluate bus priority algorithms to control traffic lights and signs. They have now been built into the latest versions of commercial urban traffic control software. This technology helped the transport used by Olympic athletes get around London faster during the 2012 games. Sophisticated algorithms were also required to support the Highways Agency’s management of major roads and motorways in the UK. Eighteen months of national traffic data were analysed to produce new methods to forecast traffic flows. The Group’s expertise in human factors in engineering assisted Jaguar in designing in-car information devices so drivers can make the most of modern instrumentation. Research for the car company using the Southampton University Driving Simulator (SUDS) suggests voice-activated systems look likely to become very important in future dashboard designs.

What was the impact

 Research into traffic systems at Southampton has produced practical and workable answers to tough challenges for 40 years. Careful analysis of problems is followed by the application of engineering and technological solutions that are rapidly adopted by leading commercial and public sector clients in the UK and further afield.

Financial advantages are clear. Transport for London (TfL) says the intelligent traffic light systems have generated economic benefits of £29million a year between 2009 and 2014. Early detection and identification of motorway and trunk road incidents is estimated to have saved £50m a year from budgets in 2008-13. Jaguar puts the value of TRG research at £1m a year.

Follow-up projects are already underway to enhance and develop the innovative transport solutions achieved by the team, which are already making a difference to road systems around the world.

Intelligent Traffic Systems


Research Staff

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