Connecticut recently had an anniversary that likely went unnoticed by most, but stands as a rather interesting moment in the state’s history. In May of 1901 – just over 117 years ago – Connecticut became the first state in the nation to adopt a speed limit. With only 4,200 automobiles in the U.S. at that time, our country was embarking on a new era of faster transportation, and Connecticut became the first state to regulate how fast those autos could travel—12 miles per hour in the city, 15 miles per hour on country roads.
It’s hard to imagine a time when automobiles and speed limits weren’t a part of our everyday life. As automobiles started becoming mass-produced, life as we knew it had changed forever. They continue to dominate every aspect of our transportation landscape, with more than 260 million autos on U.S. roads today. But as technology advanced over the years, the basic foundation of the automobile remained the same for a century—a human driver operating a motorized vehicle, and in total control of it.
Until now. The advent in recent years of autonomous transportation—driverless cars and machine-operated mass-transportation, in lay terms—is changing the game once more. And while this technology has not quite taken over, its presence is increasing. Are we ready for it like those Connecticut lawmakers who passed that first speed limit law back in 1901?
This technology is being slowly incorporated into our lives—most new cars have automatic braking, lane departure alerts, blind spot notification and other safety features that may have seemed unthinkable 10 years ago. These advances seem like the beginning steps on a path towards driverless vehicles and increased road safety.
The desired end result of autonomy in transportation is an obvious one—a safer, greener and more efficient way of getting from Point A to Point B, and a decrease in the number of cars and drivers on the road.
To that end, Europe and Asia are ahead of us in transportation innovation. From elevated buses and Hyperloops in Europe to magnetic trains in Japan, these new systems meet their needs of moving large number of people with a growing population. The question remains – will our country embrace the unknown in considering these possibilities?
What about getting things off the ground, literally? What about physically elevating our transportation systems to free up our clogged roads? What about considering the impact a modernized transportation system could have on businesses and our economy? Fewer travel hours wasted sitting in traffic, more efficiency in our schedules, less wear and tear on our roads and bridges. These are very real, tangible benefits—along with all of the safety and environmentally friendly features.
It all comes down to a new way of thinking, a new way of looking at the world and the future. Surely there were people in 1901 who likely never thought we needed to move on from horse and carriages. Can we imagine the future possibilities and if we can, will we embrace it?