Connected Vehicles: An important step forward for the transit community

Posted on August 14, 2013 by Scott Belcher

Signal equipment used in the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute connected vehicle test.
Signal equipment used in the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute connected vehicle test.

Later this year the U.S. Department of Transportation will make an important decision about the future of connected vehicles, widely seen as the next major breakthrough in vehicle and pedestrian safety.

You may have heard of connected vehicles. This innovative technology enables real-time communication between vehicles and with the roadway infrastructure and mobile devices to help prevent crashes while providing new mobility benefits.

Excitement has been growing as automakers, tech companies and transportation officials work together to create a secure, interoperable wireless communications system that has the potential to save thousands of lives each year and modernize the driving experience.

While vehicle safety efforts have historically focused on reducing the impact of crashes after they happen, connected vehicles will warn drivers about dangerous situations in real time so they can avoid crashes in the first place.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that a connected vehicle network could potentially address 80% of all unimpaired crash scenarios, a safety leap exceeding even seat belts and airbags. Just last month the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made a formal recommendation to NHTSA that the technology be installed on all newly manufactured vehicles.

Right now in Ann Arbor, Mich., nearly 3,000 cars, buses, trucks and motorcycles are driving around equipped with connected vehicle technology in a final real-world test before U.S. DOT makes its highly-anticipated decision later this year on whether and how the technology should be implemented. A similar decision for heavy-duty vehicles will be made by the end of 2014.

While much of the focus has been on the future of automobiles, the extremely important impact of connected vehicles on public transportation is often lost in the excitement.

The U.S. DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) are working with transit agencies and stakeholders to advance connected vehicle applications that will help improve safety, mobility and convenience for transit riders.

Among these is an application that will warn a bus driver turning into an intersection if a pedestrian is in a crosswalk. Another application will warn drivers about vehicles making illegal right turns in front of transit buses as the driver pulls away from a bus stop. I am comfortable guessing that almost all transit drivers have experienced one or both of these scenarios.

Many existing technologies will also be greatly enhanced as a result of connected vehicle technology. A few examples include transit-preferential traffic signals that stay green longer when a bus is approaching, real-time bus and train arrival and departure information, dynamic ridesharing applications that require real-time location information and demand-responsive transit services that match low-income and elderly travelers with human service transportation providers.

We are living in an increasingly interconnected world, and our transportation system is playing catch-up. Thankfully, connected vehicles and smarter infrastructure are fast-approaching solutions that will change the way we live, work and travel.

To learn more about ITS America and Connected Vehicles, visit us online at www.itsa.org or visit the U.S. DOT’s ITS Joint Program Office online at http://www.its.dot.gov.

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