With more cars on the roads than ever and many contributors to distracted driving — like texting or talking on the phone — it’s no wonder that traffic fatalities continue to be a problem. It would be impossible to build enough new roads to meet the ever-increasing demand, so we must look to other viable options made available through technology in order to make our transportation systems smarter and safer.
Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) are defined as the application of sensing, analysis, control, and communications technologies to ground transportation in order to improve safety, mobility, and efficiency. ITS includes a wide range of applications that process and share information to ease congestion, improve traffic management, minimize environmental impact, and increase the benefits of transportation to commercial users and the public in general.
What is Vision Zero?
Vision Zero, which originated in Sweden in 1997 and made its way to the U.S. in 2000, is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. According to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, almost 50% of fatal car accidents happen at night, despite the fact that only about 25% of motor vehicle travel takes place during the night hours. Clearly, your chances of being involved in a serious or fatal car accident increase substantially when you are on the road at night.
In states where daylight savings is still in effect, many people find themselves spending more time driving in the dark. Some of the dangers we face on the road at night include shorter days, fatigue, impaired night vision, rush hour, and impaired drivers. In the dark, a driver's ability to see depth, colors, and their periphery may all be impaired, and the glare of oncoming headlights may cause temporary blindness. Reduced visibility and reaction times are especially problematic at higher speeds.
What are some of the key benefits for ITS?
Implementing ITS can reduce congestion by orchestrating stops and delays at intersections based on real-time traffic conditions. Less traffic congestion translates into fewer stops which could, in turn, reduce the number of rear-end accidents. Some of the key drivers include:
- Insufficient road development: It is not feasible to build enough new roads to meet the demand of the increasing number of cars, trucks, and mass transit.
- Increase safety and efficiency: The use of information, communications, and control technologies help make our transportation system more efficient, secure and safer.
- Reduce emissions: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, personal-vehicle idling wastes about three billion gallons of fuel per year — generating around 30 million tons of CO2 annually in the U.S. Idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel and produces more emissions that contribute to smog and climate change than stopping and restarting your engine does.
While the statistics are staggering, behind all of the numbers are lives lost and families changed forever due to deaths from traffic accidents. It is estimated that 90% of road fatalities could be reduced with the help of ITS. There is an unprecedented amount of federal grant funding available for intelligent transportation projects, and these investments will make great strides to get our nation one step closer to Vision Zero.