At some point in the mid-90’s, I received the most coveted gift an ex-urban teenager could hope for: a Virginia driver’s license and all the freedom afforded to it by law. Alas, included in the deal was not the sleek speedster of teen movie dreams, but instead a primer-gray 1985 Dodge Caravan, the third row bench seat removed. (My parents assumed this modification would lend itself to less teens piling into the minivan. I plead the fifth on how accurate the assumption turned out to be.)
I didn’t love driving an un-air conditioned “mom-mobile” at 17, but I didn’t hate it, either. A car was a car, and it reliably transported me to the places I needed to be: sports practices, friends houses, summer jobs, boring parties. It required few repairs, which was a good thing, since I had no money. There was very little public transportation available in my hometown, far west of D.C. proper - at the time, the closest Metro stop was still a 40 minute drive east.
The story of the minivan is uneventful. It lived a happy life, with a fairly responsible high school driver. The car to follow, however - a beautiful European sedan with leather seats - met an untimely death. I still mourn it’s loss. It was the first car I ever loved, and the first car I ever crashed. It would not be the last.
Jeff Davis, Senior VP at ITS America, has recommended changing our organization’s main mission to “Keeping Lindsay Off the Road.” He’s only semi-joking. I am a notoriously not-so-great driver. I listen to music too loudly. I am not particularly aggressive, but I am certainly impulsive, especially when it comes to lane changes. My kids distract me with snack requests and general bickering. I don’t look at my smartphone while behind the wheel, but I’ll admit I have committed that grievous sin in the past. I am a daydreamer, and poor with directions. I gravitate toward used cars that could be better maintained. That first automobile love of my life was t-boned when it’s electrical system failed, mid-left turn. Coasting through a yellow light in a non-operational car while a pick-up truck bears down on you? Twenty years later, I still get the shivers.
I have been a part of multiple fender benders. I have broken down on sides of highways, urban and rural roads, and in the parking lot of a questionable tourist trap near Myrtle Beach, SC. I have had an airbag deploy. My very first date in college involved a minor car accident. I have rear-ended; I have been rear-ended. I witnessed a horrific motorcycle crash 4 years ago, the memory of which makes me cringe. The second car I owned had an unfortunate post-market alarm system connected directly to the battery - the only way to disable the sound was to pop the hood and pull out a series of mystery wires. There was the crushed front end of an SUV. There was another sedan, hit twice in two days (neither my fault!) I have shattered numerous tail lights, and slightly fewer headlights.
The years have passed, the cars have changed, the insurance rates have skyrocketed. To be very clear: I’m not proud of any of this. It’s terrifying, and it’s a little shameful.
All this said, I like to think there is good news on the horizon. The deployment of intelligent transportation - connected and autonomous vehicles, infrastructure modernization, traffic management, MaaS - is primarily an issue of safety. I know promoting the convenience, efficiency, sustainability, and technological advancements of the transportation sector is important (and the success of ITS pays my mortgage, I suppose), but I’m no longer just any ol’ bad driver, or employee of any ol’ association - I’m also a mom of two impulsive sons, boys who will one day crave that very same square of plastic I received at 16.
Or… maybe not. Perhaps my kids will happily jump into an automated shuttle that takes them wherever they please. Maybe they will hop on the nearest dockless bike. Maybe a driver’s license won’t carry the same kind of cache it did for a teen in the early '90s. Maybe my sons will still get licenses, and the luxury of advanced vehicles outfitted with technology to help avoid the situations their mother has not. Hopefully, they will make it well into adulthood without having to collect their insurance card and registration for a brief meeting with law enforcement on the side of the road.
My heart seizes at the notion of anything worse.
ITS America President and CEO Shailen Bhatt has a refrain: “We save lives. We make people’s lives better.” That is, ultimately, the very core of the organization’s mission, and something I repeat to myself throughout the workday. In Detroit’s COBO Center June 4-7, our 2018 Annual Meeting attendees have remarkable programming to choose from, much of it focusing on how ITS is saving lives, and making those lives much, much better.
Although agenda planning is still underway for our “Transportation 2.0” event (call for papers and sessions closes March 1st!), historically, ITS America conferences have showcased a variety of sessions dealing with transportation safety:
Designing Safe, Useful and Trustworthy Automated Vehicles (ITS America Pittsburgh, 2015)
Safety Benefits of Integrated DOT/911 Dispatch System (ITS America Pittsburgh, 2015)
Bicycle Detection - Achieving “Vision Zero” Success (ITS America Pittsburgh, 2015)
Connected Vehicle Benefits for the Emergency Responder (ITS America San Jose, 2016)
Using ITS to Protect Motorists Against Wrong Way Drivers (ITS World Congress, 2017)
Over the next few weeks, you’ll be reading more on this blog about how topics at the Detroit conference - cyber security, traffic operations, vehicle connectivity, ride sharing, infrastructure improvements, and more - are contributing to a safer future for drivers and pedestrians. According to NHTSA, 37,461 people were killed in 34,436 crashes in 2016, an average of 102 per day. There is a significant human cost for delaying the deployment of ITS technologies. I will breathe a sigh of relief for myself, for my friends, for my family, and for the world swirling around me when I have assistance in safely maneuvering a 5,000 pound steel behemoth. Or better yet, when I don’t have to maneuver a car at all.
I hope to be a part of the saving. I hope to be a part of the solution. I hope to see you in Detroit.
Lindsay Shelton-Gross is Vice President of Membership and Marketing with ITS America. Tweet all Detroit restaurant and museum recommendations to @lsheltongross.