Intelligent Transportation Systems: The Key to Safer Roads and Environmental Sustainability

Intelligent Transportation Systems: The Key to Safer Roads and Environmental Sustainability


  • Road traffic injuries continue to be among the leading causes of death globally 
  • The increase in motorization rates worldwide is directly linked with increases in road traffic injury and fatality rates, as well as other environmental and social impacts
  • Intelligent transportation systems aim to reduce the adverse effects of the increase in motorization rates via smarter traffic management and law enforcement.

Motorization is increasing at a very rapid pace. Back in 2004, the number of motor vehicles was estimated at around 700 million cars worldwide, with approximately 1.3 billion cars forecasted by 2020 (Sperling and Clausen 2004). A more recent study published by Wards Auto set the number of motorized vehicles worldwide at around 1.32 billion vehicles at the end of 2016, surpassing the earlier forecast for 2020 with four years to spare. It is expected that the number will surpass 2 billion before 2035.

“The number of motorized vehicles worldwide is expected that the number will surpass 2 billion before 2035.”

The reasons for the increase in motorization rates are numerous. Inhabitants of rural areas and small cities of major countries like China and India are finding in motorized travel an adequate mode of transportation and moving around. Businesses rely on motorized travel as a means of improving the transport of resources and increasing productivity. Individuals in many areas of the world view motor vehicles as secure means of travel and status statements. In brief, the reasons are many, yet this increase comes at high physical, environmental, and social costs.


Despite its several advantages, the global increase in motorization poses several challenges that, if kept unchecked, will negatively affect countries, businesses, and individuals.

1. Increase in Road Traffic Injuries and Fatalities

An increase in the number of motorized vehicles directly leads to an increase in road traffic collisions, which in turn leads to an increase in road traffic injuries and fatalities. As per the World Health Organization, road traffic collisions are the 8th leading cause of death for people of all ages, and “road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5-29 years”.

“Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5-29 years.”

The World Health Organization

Plus, the WHO reports that 93% of all road traffic fatalities “occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately 60% of the world’s vehicles.” That is a clear indicator of how the increase in motorization, especially in rural areas and small cities, directly affects road traffic collision figures. 

The trends of both motorization rates and road traffic injury rates are also comparable. The WHO’s latest Global Status Report on Road Safety (2018) mentions that yearly road traffic deaths have increased from 1.15 million deaths in 2000 to 1.35 million deaths in 2016, further linking motorization and road traffic injuries. However, it should be noted that global efforts to enforce traffic laws and implementing traffic solutions have managed to reduce the road traffic death rate / 100,000 population by more than 50% since 2000. Yet, some work is still needed to ensure this reduction compensates for the rapid increase in the global population and motor vehicle numbers.

2. Increase in Global Pollution Levels

It goes without saying that increasing fossil-fuel-based motor vehicles leads to an increase in emissions and pollution levels. However, such effects start before cars are put into operation (as vehicle production and manufacturing of vehicle components, which require the creation of material such as steel, plastic, and rubber, generate a sizeable carbon footprint.) The consequences continue after vehicles have been put out of operation (due to improper recycling and disposal of a vehicle’s non-renewable material that will have severe environmental costs).

When it comes to vehicle emissions when in operation, the numbers are concerning. The US Environmental Protection Agency identifies the Transportation sector as the sector with the highest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions, generating 28% of all greenhouse gases emitted. In the United States, Greenhouse gas emissions increased from 1,527.1 Tg CO2 equivalent to 1,883.9 Tg CO2 equivalent, an increase of around 23%.

These emissions’ effects on global warming and individual health have become common knowledge and require extra efforts to reduce these effects.

3. Degradation of Road Infrastructure

The increased number of motor vehicles worldwide has created additional stress on existing roads and increased demand for new paved roads and highways. Both have adverse effects on traffic road safety as well as environmental impacts, i.e., degraded and improperly maintained roads are a contributor to traffic accidents and road collisions, and development of new paved roads and highways leads to several environmental impacts, such as biodiversity reduction, animal habitat fragmentation, and pollution.

How Intelligent Transportation Systems can mitigate the effects of Motorization

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) are advanced traffic/transportation management and law enforcement systems that aim to reduce the adverse effects of the increase in motorization rates via improving traffic safety and mobility and promoting a smarter use of traffic networks. That would ultimately lead to decreased road traffic injuries and fatalities and a decrease in fuel consumption and pollution levels.

Intelligent Transportation Systems are already being deployed worldwide to advance traffic management. Some of these are listed below, along with their key benefits:

  • Automated traffic law enforcement: The use of CCTV cameras to collect traffic and vehicle images and videos, coupled with the help of Artificial Intelligence engines to analyze and identify violations and infringements, results in an improvement in driving behaviour and, consequently, a decrease in traffic collisions, injuries, and fatalities.
  • Traffic video surveillance systems: Surveillance of traffic flows using CCTV cameras. Artificial Intelligence modules allow for automatically detecting and classifying moving vehicles and counting the number of passing cars. This information is then analyzed to manage roads better; forecast expected traffic flows, identify any incidents or traffic queues, inform commuters of traffic status, and overall encourage safer driving.
  • Electronic toll collection: Collection of tolls on specific highways and roads using automated radio transponder devices in vehicles. Electronic toll collection aims to reduce traffic flow on major roads and highways and decrease congestion, resulting in a higher road infrastructure lifespan.
  • Traffic Signal Coordination (TSC): Synchronizing traffic signals at different intersections along familiar routes. Signals on these intersections are timed using criteria such as traffic volumes, average speeds, and distances between signals to ensure smooth movement of traffic and reduce congestion levels.

In brief, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and their extensive use of Artificial Intelligence represents the future of traffic monitoring and management. Their effects have already started to show, and hopefully, with persistent focus and concentrated deployment, these will eventually succeed in reversing motorization’s numerous safety, environmental, social, and economic impacts.

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