Home PublicationsCommentary Big Data Drives Roadway Safety

Big Data Drives Roadway Safety

by Scott Belcher
Brooklyn Bridge

The following is a guest post from a Data Innovation Day partner.

The future of transportation lies increasingly in the continued investment and use of real-time information to make our infrastructure smarter, including enabling vehicles to communicate with each other and with the world around them. It is estimated that by 2050, the number of vehicles around the world is set to double to two billion, placing enormous demands on the global transportation infrastructure and on the networks designed to support them.

Here in the United States, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT), in coordination with other federal and state agencies, private industry and the nation’s leading universities, is working to advance life-saving connected vehicle technology and real-time data to help prevent traffic fatalities and injuries, while reducing traffic congestion, improving environmental performance and making our transportation system more user friendly. According to U.S. DOT, nine out of 10 drivers would like to have vehicle-to-vehicle safety features in their own vehicles and believe the technology would be useful in improving driver safety overall.

Connected vehicle technology – consisting of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications – will make our transportation system smarter by embedding connected sensors that would enable cars, trucks, buses and trains to “talk” to each other, as well as to traffic signals, school and work zones, toll booths, and other types of infrastructure. This technology could also alert drivers through in-vehicle warnings of a potential hazardous roadway condition or impending collision.

The massive amount of data that will be created through the millions of real-time interactions between vehicles, and between vehicles and the infrastructure will enable transportation managers to use data analytics to optimize the transportation systems that they operate in ways that have not yet been imagined.

While the needs for vehicle connectivity could be met to some degree with cellular and other “wide-area” technologies, localized vehicle safety applications that demand drivers’ immediate attention while navigating in heavy traffic requires a fast “local-area,” short-range connection.

In an effort to support intelligent transportation systems (ITS) deployment, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established licensing and service rules in 2003 for the Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) Service, specifically in the 5.9 GHz band. The U.S. DOT is committed to leveraging DSRC as the foundation and future of connected vehicle technologies. As a Wi-Fi based technology, DSRC allows for fast, secure, and reliable communications at highway speeds among vehicles and between vehicles,roadsideinfrastructure and mobile devices.

The 5.9 GHz band of spectrum is a critical component to the deployment of connected vehicle technology. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has conducted research on connected vehicle technology that relies on DSRC in the 5.9 GHz band and concluded that a connected vehicle network could address approximately 80 percent of all unimpaired vehicle crash scenarios, saving many thousands of lives each year.

Beginning in 2011, U.S. DOT contracted with the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) to conduct a large-scale model deployment examination of connected vehicle technology and real-world applications. The Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot program is being undertaken in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where a highly concentrated environment of approximately 3,000 vehicles, has been equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle communications devices. The Safety Pilot is studying the real-world effectiveness of connected vehicle technology at reducing crashes without causing unnecessary driver distraction or having other unintended consequences. NHTSA will use the results as part of their determination, expected by the end of 2013, on whether and how to proceed with a formal action to require or encourage DSRC-enabled safety technologies on new vehicles.

While this potentially life-saving innovation is finally nearing the finish line, concerns have arisen from comments made by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski during an onstage interview at the 2013 International CES, where he announced the FCC’s intention to open up a substantial amount of additional spectrum to unlicensed users in the 5 GHz band. Coupled with the FCC’s formal notice of proposed rulemaking to allocate spectrum within the 5.9 GHz band to unlicensed users, it would appear policymakers are rushing to judgment in their attempt to free up space for new Wi-Fi applications. Consideration needs to be given to the impact on the deployment of life-saving vehicle technologies that depend on maintaining the 5.9 GHz band free from interference.

ITS America represents a broad cross section of the transportation and technology communities, and we understand and support efforts to identify spectrum that may be utilized to ease the predicted spectrum shortage resulting from the proliferation of wireless broadband services and devices. However, we also recognize that government and private industry must work together to develop solutions to the spectrum shortage without stifling theinvestments made to date within the 5.9 GHz band. It is the development and deployment of innovative technologies such as connected vehicles that will successfully harness big data to advance our nation’s economic future and improve safety on America’s roadways.

Since our country’s inception, the ability to move people and goods safely, quickly, and efficiently from point A to point B, has had a direct influence on our economic advantage and quality of life. Today we stand on the cusp of the next stage in roadway safety and mobility. The deployment of a modern transportation-based wireless network that utilizes real-time data and analysis is key to keeping our people safe and our economy moving.

Scott F. Belcher is the President and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. Follow him on Twitter @scottbelcher3 and join the conversation @ITS_America.


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons User Farragutful

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