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Future Says S5E4 Recap: Building Tomorrow’s Transportation Safety Frameworks

Transportation is, and always has been, a fundamental part of life. As Laura Chace, our latest guest on season five of Future Says puts it: “Transportation is the nexus that connects us to all the components of a thriving life. It connects us to jobs, healthcare, education, social activities, essential services. It’s about connecting people to opportunity.” 

That means that any discussion of what tomorrow’s world will look like must keep transportation – and transportation safety – at the forefront. In her role as president and chief executive officer of the Washington D.C.-based Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America), talking about the future of transportation and transportation safety is what Chace does day in and day out. After all, she heads a not-for-profit organization that, according to its latest strategic plan, seeks to be “the leading voice advocating for the scaled deployment of innovative transportation technology through policy, thought leadership, and developing a diverse workforce.” More broadly, ITS America “facilitate[s] collaboration between private companies, public agencies, research institutions and academia while educating the public about the importance of intelligent transportation systems” with the vision of creating “a better future transformed by intelligent mobility.”

But why is intelligent mobility so important? How does it create a safer, smarter, more equitable transportation sector? How does it help our society meet safety and sustainability goals? 


What’s at Stake in the Present and Future of Transportation

Chace’s emphasis on transportation’s importance to both individuals and society is an acknowledgement of how it transforms lives and our planet. ITS America’s first objective is to create safer systems of transportation so that fewer people in the U.S. suffer needless transportation-related injuries and death. “We have 43,000 deaths on our roadways in the U.S. every year. That is tragic,” Chace says. In addition, transportation also shapes the ways in which we go about our days, including the time we spend and the stress we endure moving from one place to another. “We lose hundreds of hours a year [as a result of] congestion,” she says. “[And] there are significant challenges involving accessible and equitable mobility in our country right now.”

Moreover, the way a society organizes its systems of transportation affects our planet and the fight to mitigate climate change, most notably in our efforts to reduce global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. As the world’s heaviest CO2 emitter since the Industrial Revolution, the U.S. has a pivotal role to play in staving off climate change’s worst effects – and transportation lies at the center of decarbonization. “The transportation sector is the largest emitter of greenhouse gas [in the U.S. by economic sector] at 29%,” she says. But despite these challenges, Chace always returned to a reassuring message: “We have the tools and technologies to make a difference.”


How Connectivity and Autonomy Can Reshape Transportation

Chace believes that prominent technologies – often shaped by machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), high-performance computing (HPC), and digital twin – are poised to create a better future at both the individual and national level. These technologies, she says, can help create new systems and frameworks that transform the ways we live and move. Connectivity, Chace believes, is an especially promising area. “Connected vehicle technology is a game-changer in creating safer roadways for all users, for people both within and outside vehicles,” she says. “Connectivity in our transportation system is our best tool to reduce crashes and deaths on our roadways.” On this front, ITS America has created a roadmap that outlines how this technology could be deployed on a national scale, and has begun working with organizations of all stripes (public, private, etc.) to get the wheels turning. 

Chace also believes that automated and advanced driver-assistance (ADAS) technologies are promising to improve safety frameworks. But first, she says, ITS America is working to better educate people on the differences between the two. “There’s a lack of understanding among the public and even policymakers [as to] what’s automated driving and what’s driver assist,” she says. “If you don’t understand what the technologies can do then your expectations will be different, [which] can cause misconceptions and confusion.” And while she believes full Level 5 vehicle autonomy is some years away, she says it will take more than the vehicles to bring it to fruition. 

Indeed, Chace stresses the need for the combination of connectivity, infrastructure, and autonomous/ADAS to bring about true transformation in transportation and its safety frameworks. “Not to say you can’t do automation without connectivity – we support both – but we believe that the safest vehicle is a connected automated vehicle,” she says. “[And] if you’re talking about true Level 5, I think that’s going to be hard to do unless our infrastructure becomes as smart as our vehicles.” Thankfully, she says every day both public and private sector companies are working to drive innovation and implementation. 


Building a Better Society: Sustainability and Equity

And in terms of sustainability, ITS America sees a promising future if we’re able to capitalize on a combination of technology and smart, coordinated systems-level thinking. Chace says that sustainability in transportation will be a long road with multiple levels to think about. In many ways, she says the push to electrification is just the first step. “An electric car is only green if the power source is green,” she says. “As everything becomes electrified, the load on the grid is going to be significant. Ultimately, we’re going to be looking at how to reduce [overall] energy use in transportation – it’s not just about electrifying. We look at it with a systems approach.” This encompasses reducing idling, increasing public transit use, implementing adaptive stoplights and intersections, and much more.

Above all, Chace says that the goal of creating a better, greener transportation system is about creating a more equitable system for all. As mentioned earlier, transportation is the bridge that connects us from point A to point B in our lives, both physically and metaphorically. By favoring certain areas, groups, or types of transport, she says, we risk marginalizing populations and exacerbating inequity. For example, Chace highlights how, for a variety of reasons, women must often take longer, more costly, and less efficient transportation options than men. This means women often wind up paying more than men each year in transportation costs. Some of the solutions, Chace says, are simple but vital. For example, if a woman can’t fit her stroller on the bus, that may place an undue burden on her; the same applies if there are no buses available to her, only congested highways. Scaled to the national level, inequity can manifest in costly ways for both individuals and society at large. 

ITS America’s job is to help us create a transportation system built for a connected, automated future, one that caters to everyone, in a way that will help us forge a cleaner, greener planet. Laura Chace sits at the forefront of such efforts and sees the technology shaping these efforts like few others. Seeing everything helps her remain optimistic: “There are still a lot of problems and challenges to solve to get where we want to go. But there’s a focus on it in a way we haven’t had before in the U.S,” she says.

Click here to listen to the full episode with ITS America’s Laura Chace. To check out the rest of Future Says season five, visit And be sure to subscribe to Future Says on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music/Audible, YouTube Music, and Podcast Addict.