Safer Highways Members Highway Care and Kier Spearheading Automated Cone Laying Trials with Highways

Two Safer Highways Members are at the forefront of trials which aim to remove one of the biggest risks to road workers. Both Kier and Highway Care are part of a consortium alongside principle client Highways England who are joining forces to create automated vehicles to lay cones on the country’s motorways and major A roads – and prevent workers having to lift an average 10 tonnes of equipment per shift.

“By taking out the human element in the laborious task of putting out cones, we will be taking out an element of potential risk. As well as taking away this physical labour, these automated machines could also save valuable person hours and allow us to redeploy the workforce to other traffic management duties".

“We are delighted to be working with all of our partners to create an innovative vehicle that will make this possible.”

Experts from Highways England, Kier, HW Martin Traffic Management and competitors Highway Care and King Highway Products are working together in a collaborative effort to resolve this potential safety risk.

Highways England are funding the development and establishing a minimum standard while the companies themselves are developing the vehicles.

Putting out cones is still currently undertaken by two people on the rear of a vehicle working in tandem. The bulk of this work is undertaken at night and carried out in most weathers.

An average 1m high cone weighs approximately 10kgs.

A typical 4km closure involves putting down – and later removing – approximately 260-300 cones, meaning that two workers will both handle between 5-6 tonnes per shift in cones alone.

When additional equipment such as frames, signs, lamps, sand bags are factored in, it is not unreasonable for them to lift between eight and 10 tonnes per shift.

A single kilometre of coning takes approximately 15 minutes to install and remove, resulting in an exposure time to live traffic of approximately two hours per shift.

Shocking video showing the perils our traffic management operatives face on a daily basis.

To date, ergonomics experts have struggled to identify a suitable method of placing and removing cones that doesn’t have an impact on workers due to the twisting of the body required and environmental conditions that the work is undertaken in.

Two automated cone laying vehicles are being developed with testing due to get under way next month at a centre in Lutterworth, Leicestershire. If the tests prove successful the two companies will be able to take their vehicles to the marketplace.

Highways England criteria stipulates that not only must the machines offer a safer method for highways workers, they must be safe for all road users and pose no further risk to traffic.

It is hoped both machines – if they prove themselves in testing – will be implemented in late 2020.

Highways England is committed to investing in innovation and this is the latest automated machine which has been put to use to improve safety and reduce disruption for drivers.

The news comes just 3 weeks after an automated pre-marking robot developed by another SH member WJ found an innovative way to wish our industry a happy new year with a clever message delivered completely robotically a fourth member Skanska trialled self-driving dump trucks which move huge amounts of earth and provide the potential to work around the clock so could help reduce the length of time roadworks are on the ground on the A14 widening programme in 2019. 

This year as part of the second annual SHL!ve event Safer Highways will bring industry together on the 15th and 16th September for what is, in effect, the only national safety stand down event, showcasing thought leaders through presentations and innovations - through demonstrations and recognition through our inaugural awards. For more information email

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