In the future, cars will be equipped with all kinds of advanced sensors, computer processors, on-board displays and communications systems. In essence, the car will become part of an integrated network of connected vehicles and roadways.
Features we might expect:
· Cars that warn drivers about unsafe conditions, imminent collisions and excessive curve speeds.
· Dashboard screens with preloaded debit cards to pay tolls electronically, order meals at the next restaurant or download a movie for the kids to watch in the backseat.
· Vibrating seats alerting you that you’re veering onto the shoulder or falling asleep.
Imagine approaching an intersection and getting a warning when someone is about to run a red light. Or if there is an accident up ahead, getting real-time information alerting you to the incident and providing alternate routes.
This technology is being developed and tested across the country, in places like California, Florida, New York, Michigan and a number of other states.
Some advanced applications, such as navigation systems, lane departure warnings and backup cameras, are already deployed on higher-end automobiles. Within the next decade, these technologies and others will be installed in most vehicles.
Unfortunately, this timeline could be lengthened by rising fuel costs. Most of the revenue for transportation improvements comes from the gas tax. As fuel consumption decreases, revenue for roads also decreases.
Yet the adoption of these technologies will allow us to move away from reliance on the gas tax and toward a more equitable mileage-based user fee. Ultimately, this can help us restore our economy and global competitiveness.
In the next federal highway funding bill, due in 2009, we must look at ways to reinvent how we fund and deliver transportation projects and services. ITS certainly can be part of the solution.
Jim Barbaresso is national director of intelligent transportation systems for HNTB Corporation, which works with many state departments of transportation as well as the USDOT to design, develop and deploy technology to reduce congestion and improve safety on America’s roads, bridges, tunnels and highways.