With Trump, a new age of transportation safety is within reach
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With the recent focus by the White House on planned infrastructure and digital capabilities initiatives, now is the perfect opportunity to start empowering private sector investors and innovators to advance a safer and more connected transportation system.

Technology is revolutionizing almost every industry and facet of our lives. New innovations are making us more efficient, safer and paving the way for American leadership in the 21st century economy.

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Yet even as technology seems to be everywhere, many of America’s core industries — including the infrastructure sector critical to our safety and economy — are still relying on decades-old technology. Industry is hungry for the promise of this next-generation connectivity, but the massive disconnect between the innovation and regulatory cycles threatens to paralyze technological advancement just when we need it the most.

 

Since 2014, U.S. traffic deaths have surged 14 percent — the largest increase in more than half a century. Last year, the number of fatalities jumped 6 percent, to 40,200.

And yet, as one example, implementing a regulatory change in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards can take more than ten years. Think about how much technology has changed over the past decade! Ten years ago, the first iPhone had just been released, high-speed wireless broadband was in its infancy and mobile apps that make our lives more efficient and enjoyable didn’t exist. Even the most luxurious cars didn’t offer the safety features that come standard with today’s basic models.

While there is no silver bullet to eliminating risk in our transportation systems, technologies do exist to make them safer. However, the pace of innovation and the adoption of these lifesaving technologies rarely align. All too often, the government entities responsible for writing and enacting regulations have not kept pace. To ignite the innovation revolution that has benefitted us in so many other ways — now is the time to rethink the ways the federal government regulates transportation. 

The good news is that change seems afoot. With fresh agency leadership in Washington, there is a palpable sense of optimism that the new guard will create an environment inspiring the acceleration and adoption of cutting-edge technologies. While some naturally worry that rethinking regulations could reduce safety, the exact opposite is true. Modernizing the regulatory landscape will actually make us far safer, and it can be done in a way that still provides necessary oversight, reviews and standards.

One of the most promising areas to integrate technology into our transportation network is the emergence of next-generation wireless connectivity. In addition to consumer benefits, new technologies will pave the way for exciting innovations, such as highway safety sensors, traffic flow monitoring, better signaling at rail crossings and more reliable connectivity for first responders.

When I chaired Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, I became familiar with some of these most innovative companies, including a satellite communications business known as Ligado Networks. Ligado is preparing to deploy a next-generation satellite and terrestrialnetwork that would provide ultra-reliable and secure connectivity for critical industries. This would be the first of its kind integrated network, and the benefits are undeniable. 

For the transportation industry, a reliable, secure and pervasive network could mean better real-time data collected from highway sensors to keep drivers safe, particularly as we move closer toward the age of autonomous driving. It will provide train conductors with better communications and GPS data, ensuring safer crossings, particularly in rural areas with limited coverage today. This network would help in times of natural disaster, with constant, pinpoint-accurate data aiding evacuations and resource mobilization. It could mean the difference between life and death.

Yet the decision about whether or not to authorize terrestrial service in Ligado’s licensed spectrum has been held up in agency review for years and allowing a process to linger in a state of uncertainty for extended periods of time threatens innovation and investment.

Spectrum is both a limited resource and a critical driver of the 21st century economy. We must ensure that we use it efficiently and smartly to the benefit of all Americans. Federal regulators must seize this opportunity and exercise leadership to break down the barriers that stand in the way of real progress. 

It’s time to deliver the technology we need to make our country safer, stronger and more prosperous.

Paul Brubaker is president and CEO of the Alliance for Transportation Innovation. Previously, he served as the Department of Transportation administrator of its Research and Innovative Technology Administration as well as Deputy Assistant Secretary and Deputy Chief Information Officer for the Department of Defense.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.