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A To-Do List for the new U.S. Transportation Secretary - Anthony Foxx

by Roger Lanctot | Jul 07, 2013

Congratulations came from far and wide last week for the new U.S. Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx, former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. Given the brief 4.5-year tenure of his predecessor, Ray LaHood, it is important that Secretary Foxx get right down to business and we have a few recommendations.

In the interest of brevity, we have kept the list to 10 items and we apologize in advance for focusing exclusively on the automotive industry but it is worthwhile noting the industry’s impact on the U.S. economy* (which is equivalent to its impact globally):

  • 8 million jobs
  • $500B in compensation
  • $70B in tax revenues
  • 4.5% of all jobs supported by auto industry
  • 3-3.5% of gross domestic product

Ten To-Do’s for the New U.S. Secretary of Transportation

#1 – Mandate: Do Not Touch Your Phone While Driving

The current state-by-state patchwork of anti-texting and driving laws and hands-free phone laws have created confusion and inhibited compliance and enforcement of driver distraction mitigation measures. A single, simple nationwide guideline with pre-approved legislative language and a deadline for adoption will crystalize consumer understanding while simplifying the planning of car and app developers and the wireless industry.

#2 – Endorse California legislation AB 397 for the creation of a VIN-based Next of Kin Notification database.

Formally support California's introduction of a legislative mandate (AB 397) creating a voluntary national motor vehicle emergency contact (aka next-of-kin) database accessible to authorized law enforcement agencies nationwide:

Earlier this year the California legislature introduced legislation that will ensure law enforcement personnel can notify next-of-kin quickly in the event of a traffic incident in which victims are incapacitated. Often, it can take days for family members to learn their loved one was killed or seriously injured in a crash. The California Motor Vehicle Emergency Contact Locator Act of 2013 will solve this problem.

Many times, a family’s only indication that something bad happened is the fact that the loved one did not arrive at home when they were expected. AB 397 will establish a low-cost, efficient, and immediate way for law enforcement personnel to find and inform families about their loved ones.

AB 397 does not propose any changes in the manufacturing of vehicles, but utilizes a law enforcement database. For example, a crash occurs, and John Smith is critically injured and unable to communicate. Law enforcement cannot locate the victim's emergency contact information and/or family; but law enforcement can tap into the database established under this bill and obtain contact information within seconds necessary to notify designated emergency contact(s).

#3 - Implement the back-up camera mandate.

Unlike other rule-making or standards-setting activities, the back-up camera mandate was the result of legislation - followed by millions of tax payers' dollars in research.  With the legislative branch having already weighed in, it is important to move forward on this item to restore confidence in the ability of the U.S. government to make progress even in the face of strong industry lobbying.

Car companies have already made the preparations for this requirement which is reflected in television advertisements from Honda, Nissan and Buick among many others. While there is an anti-competitive element to requiring all car makers to implement this solution, the wider impact of stimulating the adoption of safety systems as standard equipment will be immediate and significant.

Make no mistake, the U.S. is a leader in killing people on the highway – 100 people die every day on U.S. roadways. If it weren’t for Brazil jumping into third place on the global list of annual highway fatalities, the U.S. would be right there “behind” China and India.

The automotive industry’s assertion that the cost per life saved is onerous is not an argument that the industry can sustain. At least 200 lives are likely be saved annually once all cars are rear-camera-equipped – but the stimulus to the adoption of lane keeping, blind spot detection and collision avoidance systems resulting from the mandate will save many more. Furthermore, the integration of in-vehicle displays for the purpose of achieving safer driving will also be transformative and set the stage for vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity systems.

#4 – Provide a legislative framework and guidelines for states to register and license self-driving cars with the sole requirement that drivers must be in the driver seat and responsible for control of the vehicle.

A recent survey by the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers revealed that about a third of the U.S. driving public thinks self-driving cars are a good idea. Those results are a clear sign that Google (and DARPA) are on to something. The DOT should be more supportive of the efforts of Google, Audi, Continental and others to bring self-driving cars to U.S. highways. Promoting and supporting this technology is a stimulus package that will be widely welcomed by the automotive, wireless, and semiconductor industries.

#5 – Initiate a process for mandating the installation of DSRC modules on commercial vehicles in FMCSA Classes 6, 7, 8.

In 1999, spectrum was allocated without an auction or fees by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the U.S. in the 5.9GHz band for dedicated short range communication (DSRC) applications. For 14 years, the industry has been testing and hypothesizing about those potential applications, but the country has precious little to show for the effort.

DSRC is intended to save lives by ultimately enabling safer driving by creating a driving environment where cars communicate with each other and with infrastructure. The inability of the DOT to drive adoption of the technology in the large-volume passenger vehicle market segment has meant 14 years wasted while preserving usage of the 5.9GHz band for the auto and fleet industries.

By now it is clear that the FCC has lost patience with the DOT and is threatening to open up that spectrum to unlicensed use – something the ITS community is strenuously fighting to prevent. Nothing would be more effective than to foster immediate adoption of DSRC for commercial fleet applications.

The good news is that companies such as Kapsch TrafficCom have already begun moving in this direction. Earlier this year Kapsch announced the first deployment of DSRC technology for a parking availability application for fleets - in cooperation with the Michigan DOT.

A mandated adoption of DSRC in FMCSA Classes 6, 7, and 8 will create an immediate market for DSRC applications and stimulate adoption of DSRC technology in passenger cars as well. The rationale and use cases are too numerous to describe here, but the efficacy of such a strategy is manifest.

#6 – Require the installation of DSRC modules on all emergency and service vehicles.

Knowing the location and movements of emergency vehicles is of critical importance to both drivers of passenger cars and transportation authorities. In addition, responding emergency vehicles have a need to know the presence of other vehicles potentially responding to an event. The rationale and use case here is clear. The live-saving prospects will be immediate.

Service vehicles parked along highways are a routine hazard faced by drivers every day. No amount of cones, signs or lights can replace the power of a wireless beacon embedded in such vehicles warning off heedless drivers of passenger vehicles – night and day.

#7 – Add LTE and LTE Advanced modules to all current DSRC tests.

We’ve all heard the arguments that the latency of LTE signals is too great and the current network too unreliable to be appropriate for safety applications. Yet we also hear of tests of LTE that show promise for safety applications. It is time the DOT put this debate to rest or at least settled the matter once and for all by insisting that LTE be tested alongside DSRC in all cases – including the Safety Pilot currently underway in Michigan. It is clear that these two technologies will be used cooperatively, so it is best to get the testing out of the way.

#8 – Highlight elements of Next Gen 911 research focused on the acquisition of crash scene information including text, video, data and voice via smartphones.

While the European Union continues to pursue its ill-conceived eCall mandate, the U.S. is leading the charge to enhance the acquisition of information associated with vehicle crashes. While the EU mandated the means of data transmission – data over voice – the U.S. has, instead, focused on enhancing the capabilities of the 911 responder community to capture all forms of inputs from crash scenes.

Hence, the EU is struggling with forcing both car makers and public service access point (PSAP) responders to adopt the mandated technology. The EU has also gone so far as to discourage the use of mobile phones for reporting crash information. And, lastly, even European wireless carriers have balked at the eCall flag and related requirements.

A far different picture emerges in the U.S. where emergency response leadership is seeking ways to leverage smartphone connections at crash scenes to enhance response protocols. Given the potential value of a connected and operating smartphone at a crash scene there is an opportunity for the US DOT to recommend the adoption of specific safety-related protocols when connecting smartphones in cars in anticipation of the data acquisition opportunity in the event of a crash. More attention paid here will pay significant life-saving dividends.

#9 – Highlight app development intended to improve the functioning of all transit including public transportation, traffic information, schedules, traffic, car and ride sharing.

The DOT can do more to foster the sharing and dissemination of public transit information for the purpose of stimulating app development and, as a result, increase awareness and expand usage. Apps have the power to make transit more user friendly and the DOT should support these development efforts – more DOT hack-a-thons perhaps?

In addition, there is a crisis brewing between Taxi & Limousine commissions and ride-sharing services. Some benchmarking and identification of best practices from other countries ought to be conducted to create basic guidelines for implementation of these services in a manner that guarantees driver and passenger safety and preserves existing commercial rights.

Finally, there is a need for more complete disclosure regarding the usage of tolling and traffic and enforcement camera images and information. Drivers benefit from the use of data derived from roadside infrastructure for the purposes of better managing traffic, but confusion exists regarding the use and availability of this information for other forensic purposes. The ownership and handling of this data must be more clearly defined for the driving public to preserve confidence in the transportation system.

#10 – Roadside Bluetooth installations should be required to add DSRC.

Roadside Bluetooth scanners from TrafficCast, Traffax, Post Oak, Siemens and other suppliers should be required to include DSRC technology. The vast majority of these installations are the result of local or national DOT contracts, so insisting on this enhancement ought to fall squarely within the purview of the DOT. Such guidance will go a long way toward dissipating lingering concerns regarding the cost of roadside DSRC devices – and Wi-Fi-based technologies, such as DSRC, are increasingly being enabled by combination chipsets.

Good luck and God speed, Secretary Foxx.  Now get to work!

*Center for Automotive Research, “Contribution of the Automobile Industry to All 50 States and the United States.”

 

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