Vendor Newsmaker Q&A: Michael Schagrin

Jan. 1, 2020
Michael Schagrin is the safety program manager at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office.
Research into perfecting vehicle connectivity options remains an ongoing priority for the U.S. government, according to Michael Schagrin, safety program manager at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office.

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“While America’s transportation system continues to be one of the nation’s greatest achievements and is the lifeblood of the U.S. economy, critical improvements are needed to make surface transportation safer, smarter and greener,” he says, referring to systems that will “ultimately enhance livability for Americans.”

Schagrin and his staff recently addressed of series of queries about the process:

What is connected vehicle technology?

Connected vehicle research is a multimodal initiative that aims to enable safe, interoperable networked wireless communications among vehicles, the infrastructure and passengers’ personal communications devices.

How will the surface transportation system be changed as a result of connected vehicle technologies?

The vision for connected vehicle technologies is to transform surface transportation systems to create a future where:

  • Highway crashes and their tragic consequences are significantly reduced.
  • Traffic managers have data to accurately assess transportation system performance and actively manage the system in real time, for optimal performance.
  • Travelers have continual access to accurate travel time information about mode choice and route options, and the potential environmental impacts of their choices.
  • Vehicles can talk to traffic signals to eliminate unnecessary stops and help drivers operate vehicles for optimal fuel-efficiency.
  • Connected vehicle research is being sponsored by U.S. DOT to leverage the potentially transformative capabilities of wireless technology to make surface transportation safer, smarter and greener. If successful, connected vehicles will ultimately enhance the mobility and quality of life of all Americans, while helping to reduce the environmental impact of surface transportation.

Why are connected vehicle technologies needed?

Connected vehicle technologies aim to tackle some of the biggest challenges in the surface transportation industry, in the areas of safety, mobility and environment.

Safety: In 2009, there were 5.5 million crashes, resulting in 33,808 fatalities and 2.2 million injuries. Our children and young people are particularly vulnerable. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for ages 3 through 34. Connected vehicle technologies provide the tools to make transformational improvements in safety – to significantly reduce the number of lives lost each year through connected vehicle crash prevention applications.

Mobility: U.S. highway users waste 4.8 billion hours a year stuck in traffic – nearly one full work week (or vacation week) for every traveler. The overall cost (based on wasted fuel and lost productivity) reached $115 billion in 2009 – more than $808 for every U.S. traveler. Delays in truck operations alone result in $33 billion. Connected vehicle mobility applications will enable system users and system operators to make choices that reduce travel delay.

Environment: The total amount of wasted fuel topped 3.9 billion gallons in 2009 according to the Texas Transportation Institute – 130 days of flow in the Alaska Pipeline (nearly a third of the year). Connected vehicle environmental applications will enable system users and system operators to make choices that reduce the environmental impacts of surface transportation travel.

How do connected vehicle technologies deliver networked connectivity?

Connected vehicle applications provide connectivity:

  • Among vehicles to enable crash prevention.
  • Between vehicles and the infrastructure to enable safety, mobility and environmental benefits.
  • Among vehicles, infrastructure, and wireless devices to provide continuous real-time connectivity to all system users.

Like the Internet, which provides information connectivity, connected vehicle technology provides a starting point for transportation connectivity that will potentially enable countless applications and spawn new industries.

What types of connected vehicle applications are being developed?

Connected vehicle technologies are envisioned to ultimately encompass safety applications, mobility applications and environmental applications.

Connected vehicle safety applications would enable vehicles to have 360-degree awareness to inform a vehicle operator of hazards and situations they can’t see. These safety applications have the potential to reduce crashes through advisories and warnings.

For instance, vehicle operators may be advised of a school zone, sharp ramp curve or slippery patch of roadway ahead and may be warned in more imminent crash situations, such as during merging operations or if the vehicle ahead stops suddenly. Vehicles can also be warned of bicycles and pedestrians through connected vehicle technology, enhancing the safety of these travel modes.

Connected vehicle mobility applications are intended to provide a connected, data-rich travel environment based on information transmitted anonymously from thousands of vehicles that are using the transportation system at a particular time. This information could help transportation managers monitor and manage transportation system performance – for example, by adjusting traffic signals, transit operations, or dispatching maintenance crews or emergency services. This information could also help transportation agencies and fleet operators to manage crews and use resources as efficiently as possible.

Providing travelers with real-time information about traffic congestion and other travel conditions helps them make more informed decisions that can reduce the environmental impact of their trip. Informed travelers may decide to avoid congestion by taking alternate routes or public transit, or by rescheduling their trip – all of which can make their trip more fuel-efficient and eco-friendly.

The ability for vehicles to “talk to” the infrastructure could provide information to the vehicle operator so that he/she can drive through a traffic signal network at optimum speeds to reduce stopping.

How will we track progress? What are potential performance metrics for connected vehicle technologies?

Potential metrics for success are:

  • Reduction in highway fatalities.
  • Reduction in traffic incident-related travel delay.
  • Reduction in vehicle emissions.

What are the key challenges in developing connected vehicle technologies? How are they being addressed?

The key strategic challenges at this stage of connected vehicle technology development include:

  • Resolving remaining technical challenges.
  • Testing and determining actual benefits of applications.
  • Determining whether overall benefits are sufficient to warrant implementation.
  • If so, how the systems would be implemented.
  • Addressing public acceptance issues such as maintaining user privacy and whether the systems in vehicles are effective, safe and easy to use.

U.S. DOT and its public and private partners are currently developing strategic plans to address these challenges.

The U.S. DOT strategic plan for connected vehicle technologies focuses on technical, non-technical, and safety, mobility and environmental application area research.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has also developed a connected vehicle strategic plan.

For more information, visit

About the Author

James Guyette

James E. Guyette is a long-time contributing editor to Aftermarket Business World, ABRN and Motor Age magazines.

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