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As some states seek to restrict trucks, others work on smart cities

An illustration of Panasonic’s Smart City concept.

South Carolina is looking to increase the fines for driving slower than the average speed in the passing lane, and that is just one of the legislative bills working their way through state legislatures that will affect transportation.

On a similar note, Mississippi has proposed bill HB80 which expands the state’s current law on keeping traffic to the right unless passing (drivers turning or exiting from the left lane are exempt). The bill was first introduced in 2017 but did not pass the Senate floor. In a similar fashion, bill HB193 isolates truck drivers, restricting operation to the right-hand lane only on U.S. Highway 49. The bill would only allow left-lane travel “when the vehicle is making a left-hand turn, is in an emergency situation or is required to travel in the left-hand lane by state law.”

Mississippi also introduced bills that would set highway speeds at 75 mph on rural interstates and four-lane highways. A second bill would limit trucks to a top speed of 45 mph in bad weather. Current state law requires trucks to slow to 45 mph when visibility is reduced due to inclement weather, but lawmakers want to remove the visibility portion.

“First, if inclement weather is present, all motor vehicles should decrease speed at a rate of travel that is safe; not just trucks,” Mike Matousek, Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association director of government affairs, wrote in a letter to Mississippi lawmakers. “Second, (the provision) is overly vague and subject to interpretation by the law enforcement community.”

In South Carolina, Bill S809 has been submitted to the Senate Transport Committee for consideration. The current law allows penalties of up to $100 for vehicles driving slower than the average speed while in the passing lane. S809 will would increase the fine to as much as $200.

While the individual bills are only in the consideration stage, they seek to regulate traffic flow more efficiently. However, the benefits of connected vehicle technology are less appreciated in statehouses, but not forgotten. No longer would vehicles be considered individual entities – instead, roads and vehicles would be harmonized into one integrated smart transportation system.

In Colorado, The Smart 70 Project will eventually establish a connected vehicle environment along the I-70 Mountain Corridor road; this will allow human drivers to view and digest real-time data to make the best-informed decision possible.

How the app will work is shown in this tutorial video, delivered by the Colorado Department of Transport.

One overarching feature of ‘smart’ roads is the safety element. Drivers and vehicles knowing exactly where you are at any snapshot in time will help prevent crashes and enhance the overall safety environment, thus, reducing stop-and-go traffic, allowing the roadway to move more traffic, enabling more regular trips, and accurately estimating transit times.

Panasonic is building a smart city

In other news, as part of the CityNow initiative, Panasonic is building a smart city near Denver, CO, with hope for transformation to be completed by 2026. The company has already installed free WiFi, LED street lights and pollution sensors powered partially by a new partially solar-powered microgrid. Panasonic has equipped the area for autonomous vehicles. In spring 2018, a self-driving shuttle will serve as a network connection between rail and bus routes in the area.

In 2017, the company teamed up with the U.S Department of Transportation on a $72 million autonomous vehicle project. The aim is to deliver a 15-mile stretch of highway with the ability to communicate with autonomous vehicles. For example, it will provide navigation recommendations and create virtual guardrails that would alert drivers leaving lanes.

City populations across the U.S. are expanding, and while it can offer substantial economic benefits, transport networks can feel the strain. The first response is for lawmakers to act to penalize and restrict traffic flows. However, forward thinking ‘smart’ road infrastructure can even increase traffic while being more efficient.

In the American Trucking Associations’ Freight Transportation Forecast 2017, it projects 3.4% annual freight growth through 2023, and therefore an increase in demand for freight transportation. For infrastructure, this will mean an increase in truck usage on U.S. roads. Consequently, cities will need to address the rise in demand, working in harmony with smart infrastructure such as that seen in Colorado could well be the most effective response.

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