Kansas City, Mo. — Travel safety is the single most important issue emerging transportation technologies must address, according to the findings of a new national public opinion poll.

The latest America THINKS survey by HNTB Corporation, “Technology-driven transportation innovation — demand for safety, concern for personal privacy,” finds Americans want and expect new technologies and emerging innovations, such as connected vehicles, autonomous vehicles and smart roads, to improve travel safety. That expectation, however, is tempered by significant personal privacy concerns about access and use of information generated by those very technologies.

“With human errors accounting for nearly 90 percent of all highway crashes — and between 30 percent and 50 percent of all peak-period delays being caused by crashes — minimizing the human influence in driving performance can have a two-fold benefit. Not only can smarter infrastructure and vehicles save lives and reduce injuries, they also can lead to improved mobility of the traveling public,” said Jim Barbaresso, HNTB’s national practice leader for intelligent transportation systems and 2014 chairman of the ITS World Congress.

Privacy concerns surround the technology, too. At a June 2015 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Barbaresso joined Khaliah Barnes of the Electronic Privacy Information Center to discuss connected vehicle technology and related privacy questions. Both agreed standards and guidelines concerning data capture and its management will need to be carefully crafted. But Barnes also stated standards and guidelines are not substitutions for strong, baseline federal privacy protections.

Barnes said, “The public will not tolerate government agencies’ unfettered access to the information their cars collect and share.”

Safety first

The survey confirms the belief in a direct relationship between travel information and safety.

More than half (52 percent) of those surveyed agree the single most important use of transportation technology – for every means of transportation – is to reduce accidents or make travel conditions safer. Americans are far less likely to prioritize technology’s ability to enhance personal convenience, such as guaranteeing travel time or accurate route planning (10 percent), improving the environment (10 percent), enhancing the ability to use the best transportation option (8 percent) or reducing congestion (8 percent). Improving safety for pedestrians and bicyclists is the most important use of technology to 6 percent, and increasing traffic capacity is most important to 4 percent.

As new transportation technologies emerge, more than seven in 10 (71 percent) Americans believe they should be used to improve safety on highways, while 53 percent feel this way about providing traffic condition information.  Fifty percent want new technologies to reduce congestion, and 42 percent desire information about alternative routes or modes of travel.

The HNTB survey found most people are optimistic about transportation innovations, such as connected vehicle technology. They believe this technology will lead to increased safety (65 percent), fewer traffic accidents (61 percent) and reduced fatalities (58 percent).

“Evolving connected and autonomous vehicles will make travel on our cities’ streets, on our nation’s corridors and in our vehicles more reliable, predictable, faster and safer,” Barbaresso said. “The full benefits of this transformation won’t be realized overnight, but cities can start now to incrementally create a safer world for future generations of travelers.”

Who wants to know?

Connected vehicles have the potential also to generate a great deal of data and information that Americans are hesitant to share. In fact, four in five (80 percent) admit they would be worried about their personal privacy if they did have a connected vehicle, and almost one-third (32 percent) believe driver privacy will be reduced with the emergence of connected vehicle technology.

Nevertheless, Americans might re-evaluate their privacy concerns if connected cars positively impacted their safety or budgets. The top reasons Americans would consider granting access to their travel information via connected vehicles are the guarantee of safer roads (59 percent), lower gas prices (57 percent), and real-time notifications of key safety issues, such as impending collisions (47 percent).

A majority of Americans who think the data collected should be released believe that it should remain with the vehicle owner (65 percent) or driver (56 percent). Far fewer are willing to share information with organizations, such as law enforcement agencies (34 percent), departments of transportation (32 percent), automobile insurance companies (30 percent), vehicle manufacturers (25 percent) and the federal government (19 percent). 

“While vehicle-to-vehicle technology could become standard in our cars and trucks within the decade, educating the public now is key,” Barbaresso said. “Drivers will need to understand where their personal information is going and how it will be used. Currently, private- and public-sector stakeholders are working closely to develop standards for the use of connected vehicle technology and data in our cars and on our roadways.”

The more you know…

For many Americans, information about general road issues and transportation safety are closely related and are driving interest in popular technology applications available in today’s vehicles. Among them, blind spot notifications are most likely to be desired (65 percent) followed by expected traffic condition information (62 percent) and “sudden stop” warnings (61 percent). The ability to reroute a trip is of interest to 59 percent, and alerts to keep their eyes on the road is desired by 56 percent of Americans. Interestingly, women express more interest than men in each of these applications.

“With a goal of moving toward zero traffic fatalities, automated and connected vehicles will help reduce human error and reshape America’s cities, putting traffic accidents in the rearview mirror,” Barbaresso said.

About the survey

HNTB’s America THINKS 2015 transportation technology survey polled a random nationwide sample of 1,007 Americans between June 29 and July 13, 2015. It was conducted by Kelton, which used an email invitation and online survey. Quotas were set to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the entire U.S. population ages 18 and over. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent.