Detroit — A new America THINKS survey from HNTB Corporation finds Americans craving more technology to keep them safe and informed when they hit the road. And many Americans would be willing to part with more cash to implement a connected vehicle system, which would allow travelers to be notified about road conditions and potential dangers electronically in real-time.

“This research shows there is huge appeal among Americans for this next generation of automotive and roadway technology,” said Jim Barbaresso, HNTB vice president and national practice leader, intelligent transportation systems. “The introduction of connected vehicles and connected infrastructure over the next two decades will make our industry’s long-term goal of zero fatalities an attainable one,” he said.

In fact, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans think using transportation technology that keeps drivers informed is more crucial than eliminating technology that can be distracting.

More broadly, the survey found approximately 3 in 10 Americans (28 percent) think decreasing traffic injuries and fatalities should be the nation’s biggest surface transportation priority, along with decreasing traffic congestion (27 percent) and supporting economic stability/growth (26 percent).

Rob Slimp, PE, CEO, HNTB Corporation, said modern connectivity options provide a new paradigm for transportation planners as well as the people who use U.S. roads and rails. “Ultimately, people are going to interact with our transportation networks in a whole new way.”

Big changes driven by smart cars, smart roads

Technology already is changing the national roadscape, with many Americans reporting they have used GPS (48 percent) or a public transportation app (16 percent) in the last 30 days. One in 5 (20 percent) have relied on a back-up vehicle camera while many others have used electronic tolling (17 percent) or priced-managed lanes (10 percent). And nearly half (45 percent) of Americans think vehicles will protect the safety of those on roads even more in the next decade.

“With the recent advent of stand-alone automotive safety features, car sharing services and the futuristic potential of self-driving cars, the true value and opportunity presented by intelligent transportation systems is now beginning to reach the mind of the general consumer,” Barbaresso said.

Many Americans already see the next decade bringing the growth of beneficial technologies like electronic tolling (49 percent), digitally connected vehicles (36 percent) and smart roads (26 percent). But Barbaresso said the real advances on the horizon are even more dramatic.

“Soon vehicles will communicate with each other and with related infrastructure, giving vehicles 360-degree awareness and an ability to sense impending crashes and conflicts,” he said. “Drivers will be alerted to potential dangers and given warnings and alternate routes as appropriate. Better information will mean better decision-making and more efficient use of our existing highway capacity.”

Among potential safety features, close to one-quarter (24 percent) of Americans think the most beneficial notification would be a blind-spot warning, while almost 1 in 6 (16 percent) think an alert notifying drivers of dangerous road conditions ahead would be key.

Full-scale testing of connected vehicle technology is underway at the Model Deployment Project in Ann Arbor, Mich., conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation and supported by HNTB. Additional testing is being conducted across the country, including Virginia, California, Minnesota, Arizona and Florida.

Barbaresso said the impact of these technological advances will go beyond the driving experience to include other components of the transportation system, such as transit and parking. For example, HNTB also is working with the Michigan Department of Transportation on an innovative truck parking information system that provides commercial truckers with real-time information on available parking spaces along their route, improving safety while reducing fuel consumption and emissions.

U.S. DOT, working with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, is developing a national deployment plan for rolling out connected vehicle and infrastructure technology. It is expected to be the focus of U.S. DOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems program for the next five to 10 years, and earlier this month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking and a supporting comprehensive research report regarding the technology.

Moving in the right direction

“While there is much to be excited about, a lot of work remains to be done, on the side of public education as well as actual implementation,” Slimp said. While many Americans seem to understand the safety benefits of connected vehicles, less than 4 in 10 (38 percent) think connected vehicles will help reduce congestion. “We need to build public understanding and acceptance, as well as identify a dedicated funding stream, determine interoperability standards, and address security, certification, and national standards.”

In looking for potential funding sources, most Americans said they are willing to pay a premium to gain the benefits connected vehicles provide. More than 2 in 3 (67 percent) Americans would be willing to spend more money if it went toward funding connected vehicle technology. Men are more likely than women (71 percent versus 63 percent) and 18-to-34-year-olds are more likely than those 35 and older (71 percent versus 65 percent) to be willing to put money toward connected vehicle integration.

Among the 67 percent of Americans willing to spend more money if it went toward funding connected vehicle integration, traditional revenue sources that ranked the highest included tolls (45 percent), vehicle registration fees (41 percent) or public transportation fares (29 percent). Three in 5 (60 percent) would increase spending on taxes, spread across several options, including gas (37 percent) taxes, sales (23 percent), property (13 percent) and income (15 percent) taxes.

But more than half (51 percent) of Americans would be likely to support a vehicle-miles traveled tax to help pay for connected vehicle technology, and many (50 percent) would back a VMT system to help fund overall transportation needs. Many industry experts and two presidential commissions have concluded that in the long-term a VMT mechanism would be the best solution for addressing the declining effectiveness of the gas tax as a primary funding tool for surface transportation needs.

More than a quarter (26 percent) of Americans believe the best way to introduce VMT would be an annual fee based on odometer readings through state inspection or registrations, while just as many think it should be introduced through a GPS-based system (23 percent) or just with electric vehicles that don’t pay gas tax at all (22 percent).