It’s no secret that traffic congestion and limited transportation options affect many communities across the country. It is especially evident to those who live in a city where crowded streets and loud traffic are commonplace. Shailen Bhatt, president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, shares his thoughts on some challenges facing the United States’ transportation industry and how technology has the potential to solve these problems and improve lives.

Challenges in transportation

Congested and distracted driving are huge problems for consumers and leaders within the transportation industry, Bhatt says. In the last year, 37,461 people died on American roadways — and that doesn’t include serious injuries. On average, drivers have spent approximately 42 hours a year just sitting in traffic.

“As we move into a future of connected and autonomous vehicles, intelligent transportation technologies provide solutions to many of our biggest challenges including saving lives,” Bhatt says. “We want to be thoughtful about the solutions we deploy so that we solve problems and don’t create new ones.”

Folks need to prepare, because the future is here, now.

There has been a steady increase of approximately ten percent annually of U.S. traffic fatalities. “When you dig into the data, it’s the vulnerable users of the system who are dying in greater numbers,” Bhatt says. “It’s an epidemic of distracted driving — more and more drivers are distracted, so it’s becoming less and less safe to be a pedestrian, bicyclist or motorcyclist.”

As with any large industry, the transportation sector doesn’t undergo change very easily. “It’s hard to take an agency or entity that, for a hundred years, has been focused in one area and pull it into the 21st century,” he explains.

How to adapt

This may not come as a huge surprise, but technology is going to play a huge role in how the transportation industry transforms over the coming decades.

“For the past hundred years, departments of transportation (DOTs) have been building and repairing roads and bridges, and car companies have been building vehicles that, regardless of the type of roadways, are reliant on human drivers,” Bhatt says. “Now, departments of transportation, whether they are state-wide, city DOTs, or metropolitan planning organizations, have to be on the cutting edge of implementing this technology piece very quickly.”

Bhatt says effectively implementing these solutions will require partnerships between private companies and public agencies.

Regarding some of the distracted driving issues and fatalities among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, Bhatt shares that there are certain technologies that can help drivers increase awareness. For instance, there are programs that “can broadcast the location of a cyclist or pedestrian to the vehicle.”

“One of the challenges in the United States is that for 50 years, we’ve been building sprawling suburban areas where it probably takes 20 minutes to walk out and get to the main road to catch a bus,” Bhatt says. But now instead, “you can take a ride-hailing service to a train station, take the train to the business district, and you no longer have to drive. Or, you can use something like an ebike.”

It’s certainly a transitional time for the transportation industry, and it’ll be interesting to watch how technology helps it further develop.

“We are undergoing a transportation technology transformation that will be just as revolutionary as the Industrial Revolution or the invention of the Model T, except it’s going to happen on a much faster scale,” Bhatt says. “Folks need to prepare, because the future is here, now.”