How LiDAR Scanning Can Improve Road and Railroad Safety

You might not see LiDAR systems every day — you might not have even heard of LiDAR before now. But it’s a tool widely used in several different industries

LiDAR has transformed the way we survey landscapes, buildings, and transport corridors. It has played a huge role in improving the safety of roads and railroads. And with more and more people traveling by road or train to reach jobs or experience new adventures, transport safety has never been more important. 

LiDAR Data Is Used to Calculate Speed Limits

If you’ve ever questioned a speed limit before, know that there is logic behind the maximum speeds of roads, cars, and trains. And at the center of that logic is LiDAR technology. 

LiDAR scans collect data from roads and railroads in the form of coordinates or “points,” which form a point cloud. This data is then processed with the help of point cloud software, and a 3D digital image of the scanned environment created. 

3D digital maps of roads and railroads are analyzed in terms of curves in the road or track. Point cloud processing software carries out complex calculations in just seconds and then suggests a maximum speed limit based on the road layout. This maximum speed limit will reduce the risk of collisions or loss of control when vehicles travel around bends and curves. 

LiDAR processing software also produces vehicle simulations. A virtual vehicle can be moved through the 3D digital map to test out speed limits and road layout. 

LiDAR Scanning Reduces Risks for Survey Teams 

Previously, surveying road and railroad quality was a big job that required a lot of effort from a team of skilled individuals. But taking measurements — especially of railroads — could be a dangerous job. Live rails and high-speed trains meant that surveying could be a risky task. 

Luckily, LiDAR systems can now be used to reduce that risk. Less human resource is needed for surveys, as LiDAR systems do most of the work. Rather than having whole teams on the ground to acquire point cloud data, mobile or airborne LiDAR systems can be used to scan miles of road and railroad in no time at all. 

By handing point cloud acquisition over to LiDAR technology, survey personnel are free to put their skills to use elsewhere — such as survey areas that are unreachable with a laser scanner. 

LiDAR Data Can Analyze Guard Rail Heights 

Unless you work in the transport industry, you’ve probably never even thought about guard rails before. If you’re not sure exactly what they are, think of those metal barriers on road curves and in the middle of highways — those are guard rails. 

While you’ve probably driven alongside guard rails countless times, I bet you’ve never actually stopped to think twice about them. But they actually play a massive role in road safety

Guard rails can prevent cars from straying into danger. For example, if a vehicle drifts off course on a highway, the guard rail prevents that car from driving into oncoming traffic. Guard rails can also protect drivers from sudden drops and other roadside hazards, while also protecting pedestrians. 

When effective point cloud processing software combines with LiDAR, guard rail heights can be extracted and analyzed. Hundreds of feet of guard rail can be measured in seconds. Then the height can be assessed by safety specialists. The perfect guard rail height will cause minimal injury to the driver upon collision, and won’t cause the car to roll. 

LiDAR Data Also Assesses Sidewalk Safety  

Road and railroad safety isn’t just important for drivers and passengers. It’s also crucial that pedestrians walking alongside train tracks or roadsides have a safe place to walk.

Sidewalks in poor condition — or those that aren’t suitable for wheelchair users — can be a major hazard. The last thing anyone wants is to trip and fall beside a road, or even worse on a train platform. 

So LiDAR systems can scan sidewalks and software can be used to analyze the condition of the pavement. It can quickly identify holes and uneven ground, so allow plans for improvement. 

LiDAR can also measure the width of sidewalks, and the gradient of sidewalk ramps. Sidewalks are then checked for ADA compliance, which makes sure they are suitable for wheelchair users. 

LiDAR Scans Can Reduce the Risk of Collisions

Because LiDAR data enables feature extraction and vehicle simulation through point cloud software, engineers can test how vehicles interact with road layouts and speed limits. This means they can check for any points in the road where collisions are more likely and make the necessary improvements. 


Junctions are assessed for traffic flow, curves are measured, and speed limits analyzed. By moving a digital “vehicle” through virtual traffic corridors, engineers can also check roads and railroads are clear pathways. If any vegetation or man-made structures such as walls jut out into the road or over the track, these are identified and resolved as quickly as possible. 

By assessing the risk of collision in the digital world, LiDAR ensures action can quickly be taken to prevent accidents or injuries in the real world. 

If you need help processing your point cloud data, TopoDOT software makes point cloud processing more productive and profitable. Contact us today to learn more about how you can make the most of your LiDAR data.