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November 23, 2015 4:00 AM, EST
Opinion: ITS: A Path Forward for Transportation’s Future
This Opinion piece appears in the Nov. 23 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

By Rodney Slater

Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation

and Regina Hopper

President & CEO

Intelligent Transportation Society of America

It’s hard to believe, but on average, more than 90 people die each day in motor vehicle crashes across the United States. That’s nearly 33,000 people a year who leave their homes each morning never to return to their families and friends.

If this was happening in other forms of transportation, there would be an uproar from media, lawmakers, regulators and the public.

However, technology — specifically intelligent transportation system technologies, or ITS — is already at work making our nation’s roads and vehicles safer and infrastructure smarter and transforming the way we live, work and travel. The good news is that in our increasingly mobile and data-centric world, ITS technologies can do even more — such as prevent vehicle crashes and help state and local transportation agencies make the most efficient and effective use of existing infrastructure by reducing traffic congestion, time and fuel costs and emissions.

Leading research institutions, Silicon Valley innovators, wireless companies and new ventures pioneering innovative ITS-fueled business models are joining automakers, freight haulers, equipment suppliers and others in the traditional transportation sphere to revolutionize how we more safely and efficiently move people and our economy.

ITS encompasses varying innovative technologies. For example, by prioritizing connected traffic signals to stay green longer, traffic can move without as many delays. Additionally, mobile apps can provide real-time traffic information and dynamic re-routing, while smart parking sensors allow us to pay for — and even reserve — parking spots ahead of time. Also, services that match low-income and elderly travelers with on-demand transportation providers are increasing.

New technologies are leaping out of the test beds and onto our roads. Vehicle-to-vehicle, or V2V, communication technologies, or cars that share information with each other, sometimes called “connected cars,” and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure, or V2I, communications, where cars and the infrastructure they travel on or around share information, are at the heart of this transformation.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a connected network that enables real-time communication among vehicles, the infrastructure and mobile devices could address up to 80% of all unimpaired crash scenarios, a safety leap exceeding even seat belts.

On the connected vehicle front, many manufacturers already are debuting safety advances that will be steppingstones to entirely connected fleets. The U.S. Department of Transportation also is working to accelerate the deployment of V2V and V2I technologies throughout the nation.

This fall, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced that New York City, Wyoming and Tampa, Florida, will receive up to $42 million for three competitive pilot programs to test next-generation technology in vehicles and infrastructure. The pilots are part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s national Connected Vehicle Pilot Deployment Program.

This announcement was a big step forward for the future of transportation as these projects will play a critical role in advancing greater adoption of innovative ITS technologies, in rural communities and cities. With USDOT’s support, the ITS community — from the private sector and research facilities making the big ideas real to public transportation officials committed to putting this progress in action — is working to unlock the enormous opportunity these types of smart investments in transportation technology present to save thousands of lives on our nation’s roads and expand how future generations travel.

We know that even if we wanted to we cannot fiscally afford to build our way out of the gridlock and congestion we now face. With bipartisan passage of long-term surface transportation reauthorization bills in the House and Senate, critical funding choices lie ahead for how to make more intelligent transportation systems real on our roads.

There’s no doubt we are in the middle of a transportation revolution, and the United States leads the world in innovation. There is no reason we shouldn’t lead the charge into a new world of intelligent, more efficient and safer transportation that will save lives, improve mobility, give us all more time in our day and strengthen our nation’s economic competitiveness.

ITS technologies hold that promise and a path forward that will benefit us all.

Slater, a former secretary of transportation during the Clinton administration, serves as partner and co-leader of the transportation and logistics practice at law firm Squire Patton Boggs. ITS America is dedicated to advancing the research and deployment of intelligent transportation systems creating a more sustainable transportation network.