by Jim Barbaresso
Traffic deaths in the U.S. increased by 14 percent in the first six months of 2015, according to the National Safety Council. If this trend continues through the year, traffic deaths might exceed 40,000 for the first time since 2007.
In fact, over the next 30 years, 1 million people will die in car crashes in the United States. Globally, car crashes will kill almost 40 million people.
Moving toward zero
Over the next decade, experts anticipate that technology in the form of intelligent transportation systems (ITS) will increase traffic safety across the nation. ITS refers to advanced communications and information technology that connects vehicles to transportation agencies and systems, such as toll plazas and even stoplights. When combined with advanced sensors, driver assistance systems and smarter road design, ITS may be able to virtually eliminate traffic crashes.
Currently, nearly every highway, toll, transit, airport and rail project in the U.S. incorporates some aspect of ITS. A good example is the variable messaging signs that now operate on a number of major highways, including the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike. The Turnpike Authority installed 260 high-resolution, color LED variable message signs along the entire length of the Turnpike, making New Jersey the first state to fully employ the high-tech signs for traffic management. Now, motorists know instantly from the sign’s color whether they are about to encounter congestion, receive general information or enter a construction zone.
But coming soon – and likely by the end of the decade – is V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) technology, which will allow transportation agencies to send data directly to your car or truck about accidents, approaching storms and alternate routes. V2V also will collect data about surrounding cars’ speeds and even traffic volumes to prevent crashes or redirect drivers to alternate routes.
Meeting America’s expectations
According to a recent America THINKS survey conducted by HNTB, this is exactly what the public wants. Seventy-one percent of Americans believe emerging technologies should be used to improve safety. In fact, over half (53%) believe technologies should be used to provide up-to-the-minute information about traffic conditions.
Adopting ITS at the state level
In January 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation called for states to begin connected vehicle pilot programs. States, such as Florida and Michigan, are already exploring connected vehicle adoption. The Michigan Department of Transportation has launched a “Connected Corridor” program in southeast Michigan and has been an active partner in several national connected vehicle programs, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Footprint Analysis. These programs will refine systems and bring to light any issues that may come up as new technology makes its way to the roads.
Many agencies already are preparing for the new technology by including upgrades to their current projects. For example, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority recently used its massive Interchange 6-to-9 Widening Program as an opportunity to bury a 48-strand fiber optic cable along a portion of the Turnpike. In the future, when the Turnpike Authority needs that infrastructure to accommodate connected vehicles, it will be in place.
Not only will this emerging technology improve safety, the return on investment generally will exceed that of traditional highway expansion projects. Secondary benefits include maximizing highway capacity, decreasing travel times, and even offering environmental benefits by reducing stopping, idling, congestion and emissions.
ITS will keep drivers better informed than ever before. With human error a factor in nearly 90 percent of all highway crashes, and 30 to 50 percent of all peak-period delays caused by crashes, ITS has the potential to change highway travel as we know it, saving lives, reducing injuries, and providing improved mobility for the traveling public.
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