Rep. Miller: ‘Talking’ vehicles aid road safety

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller

Congress is on a five-year reauthorization of the national transportation bill. And while the obvious challenge of identifying an adequate source of funding remains an issue, traffic safety and the opportunity to embrace technological advancements that can save lives on our roadways is critically important.

Road safety is an issue I have been deeply involved in for two decades. When I took office as Michigan’s Secretary of State in 1995, I became a member of the Michigan Traffic Safety Commission, later serving as its chair. One thing that stood out almost immediately was the fact that our youngest drivers, a relatively small cohort of the overall population of motorists, were very much over represented in crash statistics. The fact was our youngest drivers were not prepared for the challenges behind the wheel.

We went to work to develop a new system for educating and training our youngest drivers and created a system that is still in use today, Michigan’s Graduated Driver Licensing program. Today, our youngest drivers progress through three levels of licensing before they become fully licensed. In addition, they must also pass a road test, which unbelievably wasn’t previously required.

The result has been a dramatic drop of young drivers being involved in crashes and countless lives saved. According to research by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, crashes involving 16-year-old drivers declined by 29 percent in the five years after the law was implemented. Fatal crashes were down by 44 percent in the same period. Graduated licensing was an application of common sense and achieved real results.

Another factor that contributed to unnecessary carnage on our roadways at that time was the sheer number of repeat drunken drivers, and those with very high blood alcohol levels, involved in injury accidents. Once again, we went to work with law enforcement, traffic safety groups, and the legislature to put in place tough new laws and penalties for drunken drivers, and the requirement that those who repeatedly put our communities at risk go to jail.

These laws also worked; as they were phased in over the last two decades, the number of alcohol-involved fatal crashes in Michigan has declined by 39 percent.

Today, as we work toward the development of new federal highway legislation, Michigan is in position to once again lead the way on innovative ways to make our roads safer and our travel more efficient. That's because the birthplace of the automotive industry is now home to some of the world's top innovators in the field of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications technology.

Developing this technology — which has the capability of giving motorists and their vehicles advance warning of upcoming road conditions and hazards — has almost boundless potential for advancing safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that V2I (and related vehicle-to-vehicle) communications systems could reduce or eliminate up to 80 percent of all non-impaired vehicle crashes on our highways.

With Michigan-based automakers as full participants, advanced testing of V2I technology is underway at the University of Michigan and on one our busiest freeways (I-96).

That real-world experience is expected to lead, in relatively short order, to widespread deployment of technology that will make vehicular travel smarter and safer.

And is why I have introduced legislation in the House that would authorize, in whatever federal transportation spending plan Congress adopts, states to use highway funding for V2I projects. Similar legislation was introduced June 3 in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Gary Peters.

The concept also has been endorsed by an array of stakeholders interested in making our transportation system the most advanced — and safest — in the world, including most recently the Auto Alliance, a group representing 12 leading motor vehicle manufacturers.

Maintaining and upgrading our transportation infrastructure, a vital component of future economic prosperity, will require a concerted effort from elected officials at both the state and national level.

Let’s face it, we all either drive or are driven on our roadways. Traffic safety is a common goal for everyone.

Congresswoman Candice Miller, R-Shelby Township, represents Michigan’s 10th District.