As a part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1933, each industry sector was asked to create a “code of fair competition.” The trucking industry did its part to establish its code, and in 1935, congress passed the Motor Carrier Act, which adopted the code and authorized the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate the trucking industry. In the mid-1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower engaged in a multi-year raucous debate between various transportation interests, such as the rail, truck, tire, oil, and agricultural industries, on creating and funding the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The passage of this Act authorized the construction of the Interstate Highway System and changed the world. In the 21st century, the transportation world is changing again – but this time, it is through 1’s and 0’s, not from asphalt and concrete.
Throughout the last half of the 20th century, we witnessed the largest construction project in history to build the road network across the United States to physically “connect” us all. During the age of mechanical innovation, we constructed roads, built bridges, and made the vehicles that traveled on them. Along the way, there was always a need to ensure that the equipment used to construct, and the cars and trucks that operated on, this new network were safe. The 20th century was the Mechanical Age of Safety, but the 21st century will look much different.
Our road network has been in operation for years, and while adding capacity is still necessary, we are largely in an operations and maintenance mode. The advent and introduction of technological innovation and wireless communications are changing the transportation paradigm. In this new technology-centric world, innovation and change are much more rapid – even Moore’s Law is becoming obsolete. This change is driven by the relentless competition creating the need for businesses to improve through innovation and optimization, not to mention the insatiable thirst for data.
Data is the new Interstate Highway System in this new age of transportation. It enables everything we do as businesses and consumers, much like the road network did in the last century. In this new world, mechanical innovation is being replaced with digital innovation. Asphalt, concrete, and steel are being replaced by 1’s and 0’s running through fiber optics, microchips, wireless, and cloud-based networks.
The transportation “connections’ occurring in this century are through wires and over the air. While we still have physical and mechanical assets to do “stuff,” data is what makes them work. Therefore, as we contemplate how we manage safety in this new digital and data-driven world, we must develop new strategies for industry and government to operate harmoniously and in partnership. The government as the primary arbiter of safety may no longer work in the digital world. The safety challenges before us are much more diverse and far-reaching in the world of data and information – and it requires government and industry to work together in ways that have not been contemplated before. Data is driving change, and we all must change without losing sight of the fact that safety must still be at the forefront.