21st century solutions

May 2, 2018

Towards a better future driven by transportation technology

Ah, the great American dream.

The interstate highway system was built during the post-World War II boom, and with it came the freedom to drive almost anywhere. Grandparents in Florida drove to see grandchildren in California. Families in Chicago and Philadelphia moved to far-flung suburbs.

But soon enough, all those people in all those cars turned the great American dream into the great American nightmare. . . traffic! Yes, we sigh, traffic is a necessary evil—or is it?

Americans are stuck in traffic 41 hours a year on average. An entire work week, a week most people would certainly rather spend doing anything other than sitting in their cars. A much more sobering statistic is that more than 37,000 people lost their lives on U.S. roads in 2016. What if we could give people back that time, and more importantly, what if we could prevent crashes and save lives?

We can. Intelligent transportation technology is our best tool to create a better future by saving lives, time and money, and improving the environment.

The technology in our vehicles today couldn’t have been imagined 10 years ago—automatic braking, lane centering, and blind-spot warnings. Vehicles are getting smarter, and now it’s time to modernize our infrastructure.

Twenty-first century problems require 21st century solutions. For decades, our answer to congestion was more asphalt. We don’t have that luxury anymore; we can’t just keep building and widening roads.

Smart infrastructure is the way forward, where connected and automated vehicles require less road width to operate. Imagine that—adding capacity by repainting and adding sensors!

Vehicles need to talk to each other as well as to the infrastructure, pedestrians, and bicycles. Big data is all well and good, but we need information. When an airbag is deployed, communicating that information to other cars, buses, and trucks in real time will alert drivers of a developing traffic problem.

Electric vehicles also are gaining in popularity, which means less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is terrific on the sustainability front, but “range anxiety” is seeping in. That will become less of a concern if we deploy charging coils along stretches of asphalt, allowing cars to charge while they are driving on the highway.

What if cars could travel at 200 mph on a hyperloop-like system but without the vacuum tubes, for shorter urban commutes with tracks running along existing roadways? That’s the plan for a test route in Colorado, where construction is scheduled to start next year. It could cut a 35- to 70-minute trip down to a mere 10 minutes. That’s not a bad start to recovering some of those 41 hours.

Intelligent transportation will revolutionize people’s lives. It will offer more choices of how to spend our time, because it will give us time back. It will make transportation more accessible to older adults and people with disabilities. And it will make us safer. Human error is linked to 94% of serious crashes, but in the future, vehicle-to-vehicle technology will be able to lessen 80% of non-impaired crashes.

I see a future in which cars don’t crash and people don’t lose weeks of their lives sitting in traffic. A future for my two young daughters where I don’t worry about them getting in a car. I may worry about who they’re with, but I won’t worry that a poor driving choice could lead to a tragic outcome.

Most of all, I see a better future transformed by transportation technology.

About The Author: Bhatt is president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America.

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