Guest Opinions

We need a deliberate approach to 21st Century transportation technologies | Guest Opinion

The ability to get from point A to point B in a reliable, safe, cost-effective way is central to Washington’s quality of life and strong economy.

Transportation plans developed by local, regional, and state agencies ensure that our policies and investments work together to keep Washington moving. Washington Transportation Plan 2040 and Beyond, adopted recently by the State Transportation Commission, is a key part of our state’s coordinated planning and investment.

When my fellow transportation commissioners and I listened to input from constituents across the state as we were developing 2040 and Beyond, we heard growing concerns about transportation challenges people face, and we also heard innovative ideas and strategies to address these challenges.

A common concern we heard across the state is whether Washington is prepared for the technological advances in transportation that are already upon us.

The first 20 years of the 21st Century have seen remarkable change. The introduction of smart phones in 2007 made possible a whole array of mobility options that didn’t exist even ten years ago, such as Waze, Lyft, and Uber. Automation has changed the way goods are shipped and delivered. Wireless technology makes it possible to collect data and manage the transportation system in ways that we couldn’t imagine 20 years ago.

Driverless cars and trucks are being deployed in pilot programs across the country, including in Washington State. Are we ready for this?

Washington Transportation Plan 2040 and Beyond recommends objective consideration of the benefits and risks of new technology in order to make the best decisions to meet our mobility needs.

For instance, while fully-automated vehicles may be years away from production, many new vehicles include automated driver assistance systems, including computerized crash avoidance systems. While these systems demonstrably reduce crashes, insurance industry studies also indicate that these advanced systems are challenging for drivers to understand. Drivers are unsure of what to expect and how to react to the vehicle’s behavior, especially when the vehicle behaves unexpectedly.

We need more data and experience to better understand the many and varied impacts of technology on transportation. Automated driver assistance technology is in vehicles today and how it impacts drivers, other vehicle traffic, and pedestrians will help us better prepare for fully self-driving cars when they arrive.

A collaborative discussion between government and the companies bringing innovation to market, along with a robust public communications and outreach strategy, are important first steps towards developing a comprehensive, effective technology strategy that improves transportation in Washington.

Washington Transportation Plan 2040 and Beyond challenges us to find innovative solutions for addressing many long-standing mobility issues. Our state is a national leader in both technology and transportation, the home of Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, and innovators at the Pacific Northwest National Labs, and our research universities.

Supporting research and communication about transportation technology is but one example of how Washington can improve safety and mobility for everyone. Nothing less than Washington’s great quality of life and vibrant economy depends on it.

View the entire transportation plan online, including new videos illustrating the six transportation policy goals, at

Jim Restucci is a member of the WA State Transportation Commission and lives in Sunnyside, WA. Appointed by Governor Inslee for a term that expires in 2024, as a commissioner he serves as Vice-Chair of the Autonomous Vehicle (AV) Work Group Executive Committee.