Investing in transportation technology will create positive outcomes for everyone

Dec. 2, 2021

This column published as "A Pivotal Moment" in November/December 2021 issue

I stepped into this role at a critical time, and I am proud to be leading the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America). As a working mother of three, I am passionate about the work we do every day because of the difference we can make in people’s lives.

Why is what we do so important? Our impact in transportation goes far beyond the system we operate. Transportation is foundational to access opportunity. It is a key connector to economic opportunity, healthcare, education, critical services and goods, and our overall social interaction and well-being.   

For communities across the nation, transportation is an essential component of economic inclusion and a contributor to a stronger society for everyone. Also essential is technology—it is a tool that can truly transform transportation and help us create opportunities for everyone, no matter who they are or where they live. We must, however, be thoughtful and intentional to ensure the benefits of technology are realized by all.

With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Congress will set in motion historic investments that will be integral to bringing about this change. Expanded technologies are eligible under this new law—but investing in them is a choice.

ITS America and our members were instrumental in ensuring critical technologies were made eligible for funding, including in the areas of cybersecurity and Mobility on Demand (MoD), key safety priorities, alternative fueling infrastructure, congestion relief, broadband deployment, and additional research funding.

The status quo is not working:

  • In 2020, when Americans drove less due to the pandemic, fatalities increased. According to NHTSA preliminary estimates, 38,680 people died on our roadways, a 7% jump over 2019 and the most lives lost since 2007. Vulnerable road users continue to be at greater risk. The Governors Highway Safety Association estimated pedestrian deaths increased 4.8% in 2020. This is despite a 13% reduction in vehicle-miles traveled.
  • Transportation accounts for 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.—the largest of any sector—at a time when climate reports are increasingly dire. Emissions are polluting neighborhood air and resulting in higher rates of childhood asthma and early mortality, disproportionately affecting people in minority and low-income communities across the country.
  • On average, Americans lose 100 hours a year due to congestion—and that congestion wastes 8.8 billion hours and 3.3 billion gallons of fuel, at a cost of more than $140 billion each year.

This is our opportunity to build a digital layer over our physical infrastructure and power our technology-driven 21st century economy. If we choose to invest in technology, we can create the kind of outcomes ITS America’s vision contemplates: eliminating or reducing the severity of up to 80% of non-impaired crashes by deploying V2X technologies, which will also significantly decrease congestion and emission levels; combatting climate change and alleviating negative health outcomes through electrification and wider use of public transit and alternative transportation modes; and connecting more people and neighborhoods to opportunity—through on-demand mobility options as well as automated and autonomous vehicles, which provide needed transportation and food for those who do not have access to either and the freedom that comes with mobility for people with disabilities and those who are aging.

This is a pivotal moment. Our path is clear—investments in technology will bring us closer to our vision: a better future transformed by intelligent mobility—one that is safer, greener, smarter, and more equitable.

About The Author: Chace is president & CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America).