Back-seat drivers could be left speechless because of devices touted as helping cars and highways talk to each other before the rubber even hits the road.
Innovations billed as being able to save lives, time, and money by reducing traffic snarls, improving safety, and reducing wasted fuel and emissions are being unveiled this week during the 15th World Congress on Intelligent Transportation Systems, a gathering of transportation and industry officials from more than 45 countries that opened today in New York City.
"These technologies allow cars and roads to communicate with each other," said Scott Belcher, president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. “They can prevent accidents before they happen, minimize traffic delays by reducing congestion and suggesting alternative routes based on real-time data, and even find you an available parking space."
President-elect Barack Obama and congressional leaders should consider such advances as they address improving the nation’s transportation infrastructure, the society said in a news release.
The society listed problems technology can help overcome: Traffic accidents, which the society says occur every five seconds and kill more than 42,000 Americans each year. Wasted gas, which the society chronicles at 7 million gallons daily. Squandered time in traffic, as the average rush hour commuter loses almost a full work week each year being stranded in traffic.
The economy loses more than $300 billion a year to wasted gas and time, the society says.
Organizers of the gathering constructed two testing areas — one on the west side of Manhattan and the other, along the Long Island Expressway — to demonstrate the innovations. The areas are equipped with sensors and probes that transmit data to a traffic management center.
The information allows transportation officials to: Detect bottlenecks and post travel advisories and speed-limit changes, adjust signal timing, and employ other measures to help drivers react. Respond to crashes more quickly to save lives and prevent gridlock. Send out maintenance crews in response to changing weather conditions.
Organizers also closed five blocks of 11th Avenue in midtown Manhattan so automakers can exhibit their safety technology, including some devices that alert drivers to potential crash situations and prompt them to avoid such areas. Others even take control of a vehicle temporarily and employ systems that help drivers avoid potential collisions.
"Next year, lawmakers in Washington will be working to pass new federal surface transportation legislation," Belcher said. "For the sake of improved safety and mobility, economic productivity, a cleaner environment, and a better quality of life, Congress and the new administration should make the deployment of intelligent transportation systems a centerpiece of the bill."
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